The wrongful death case of David Sal Silva

May 18, 2016 | 7:41 am


On the night of May 7, 2013, David Sal Silva fell asleep in front of a home in east Bakersfield, across from Kern Medical Center. Several law enforcement officers arrived on scene and proceeded to use unreasonable and excessive force in striking Silva with batons several times all over his body, while he screamed for his life and repeatedly begged the officers to stop.

After being repeatedly beaten, bitten and hog-tied, Silva stopped breathing. And shortly after midnight, Silva was taken to Kern Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

These events and those that followed after this night made international news, including the wrongful death lawsuit filed by Chain | Cohn | Stiles on behalf of Silva’s family in 2013, to the settlement reached in May 2016.

Below is a chronological order of events and media coverage in the death and civil case of David Sal Silva.

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‘BEGGING FOR HELP’

Early reports from law enforcement officials claimed officers struggled with a man in his 30s for eight minutes in front of a home on the corner of Flower Street and Palm Drive in east Bakersfield. Officers used batons and a K-9 unit before officers noticed the man was struggling to breath, called an ambulance, which rushed him across the street to Kern Medical Center emergency room. He would die shortly after.

The man was David Sal Silva, 33, a father of four.

Local media soon after reported a total of seven Kern County Sheriff’s Office deputies, including a K-9, and two California Highway Patrol officers arrived to the scene. They struck Silva with batons, released the K-9 on him, took him to the ground, restrained him and handcuffed him.

Immediately, witnesses stepped forward and described the incident.

“I watched a man deliberately murdered in my face,” one man who did not want to be identified told KBAK/KBFX Eyewitness News. “I see an officer and the K9 dog, with a man detained on the ground, and the man was screaming for help … They were just sitting on him. And the guys, they were holding him down and punching him, too … He wasn’t resisting. He was begging for help, and begging for his life.”

Besides witness statements, media also reported audio and video documented the beating.

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CIVIL RIGHTS VIOLATED

Surveillance video obtained by KERO-23 News after the beating death showed Silva being repeatedly beaten with a stick while more law enforcement officers arrive.

A 911 call, too, helped document the incident.

“There is a man laying on the floor and your police officers beat the (expletive) out of him and killed him,” the caller tells dispatchers. “I have it all on video camera. We videotaped the whole thing.”

“He was like a piece of meat,” the caller later told Los Angeles Times. “We were telling them: ‘He’s dead. You guys already killed him.'”

Details also emerged of how officers took witness cell phones that contained videos of officers beating Silva, hogtying him, lifting him and dropping him twice. Witnesses described how they were essentially harassed and held kept captive inside their own home by officers until they released their phones, without a search warrant being presented. Officers promised to return phones the next day, but were told when they inquired about their phones that the Sheriff’s Department was keeping the phone until the investigation was over.

At the same time, the Silva family reached out to and obtained the representation of Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

“I have two grieving parents and one grieving brother who want to see the body of their son and brother,” David K. Cohn, managing partner of Chain | Cohn | Stiles told news media. “But we will get to the bottom of this and I ask the sheriff’s department, once again, what are you hiding?”

The public feared a cover up by law enforcement officials was in the making, media reported. Chain | Cohn | Stiles would plan to file a federal civil rights complaint on behalf of the family.

Meanwhile, Silva’s family mourned his death.

“I can’t believe this happened,” David’s father Sal Silva told The Bakersfield Californian at his vigil, sobbing while kneeling down and touching the blood stains left on the sidewalk from the incident. “My son was a family man who loved his kids and family and in the back of my mind I still hold on to the possibility that the body we haven’t seen, might not be my son.”

The beating death of David Silva brought back memories for many of the infamous Rodney King beating, in addition to other high-profile deaths of minorities at the hands of law enforcement. The coverage would continue for years.

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PHONES & THE FBI

Fears that police were attempting to cover up details of the beating death of David Silva grew as Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood revealed that video evidence expected to be found on one of two cell phones confiscated from witnesses was not present on the phone.

The phones were handed over to the Bakersfield Police Department for examination, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation was also called upon for a “parallel investigation.”

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PROTESTS & LOST TRUST 

The beating death of Silva at the hands of police, subsequent phone confiscation, missing videos and other civil rights violations resulted in protests throughout Kern County.

Protesters stood in front of the Kern County Superior Court and held signs that read, “protection of our rights” and “stop police brutality.”

“I believe in my heart that someone has to investigate this and find out why it happened and why it’s been happening, please, just give my brother justice,” Chris Silva, David Silva’s brother, told The Bakersfield Californian.

On May 20, 2013, attorneys for the witnesses who had their phones confiscated and returned by investigators released video footage that showed the final moments of Silva’s life as he screamed while officers held him down.

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‘ACCIDENTAL’ DEATH 

On May 23, 2013, Sheriff Donny Youngblood called the death of David Silva “accidental” due to heart disease, according to a department he leads, the Kern County Coroner’s Office. Youngblood also slammed media for sending “shockwaves all across the United States” in the case.

“They’re trying to say he died of natural causes,” David Cohn told The Bakersfield Californian. “Who would believe that?”

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CLAIMS, LAWSUITS FILED

In June 2013, Chain | Cohn | Stiles on behalf of the Silva family filed wrongful death and federal civil rights claims claim against the nine officers involved in Silva’s death, Kern County Sheriff’s Department, California Highway Patrol, Kern County, and the state of California.

The complaint sought damages on behalf of David Silva’s four young children, his significant other, his parents and his brother, for the loss of love, affection, society, service, comfort, support, right of support, expectations of future support and counseling, companionship, solace and mental support, as well as other benefits and assistance of David Silva.

“David Sal Silva was a loving young man who cared deeply for his family and his four young children,” David Cohn said in a statement to media. “On May 7, 2013, David died as a result of unreasonable and excessive force used by nine law enforcement officials, who repeatedly struck him with batons and hog-tied him despite his numerous cries for help. Those cries will forever be heard by his family, and in particular his four children, who will now have to grow up without their father. While this lawsuit will certainly not undo what happened, my hope is that it will serve as a catalyst for serious change amongst local law enforcement agencies. It is time that we put this longstanding ‘strike first, ask questions later’ culture to rest once and for all.”

A month later, local media described inconsistencies between information provided by Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood and information found in the Kern County Coroner’s autopsy report, including the use of the hogtie restraint. The tactic has been banned altogether by law enforcement agencies, including the Bakersfield Police Department and the Los Angeles Police Department.

Cohn stated the manner by which Silva was restrained may have played a role in Silva’s death by causing “positional asphyxiation.”

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NO CRIMINAL CHARGES

In April 2014, Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green announced that her office would not be seeking criminal charges against the law enforcement officers involved in the death of David Silva.

“This is the reason we need an independent advisory panel evaluating these types of cases,” David Cohn said in a statement at the time. “Kern County District Attorney’s Office personnel work with these agencies every day, and they’re the ones in charge of prosecuting cases for them. Apparently, the way it works in Kern County is that unless they catch the officers red-handed, nothing will happen. It appears that they look for ways not to prosecute.

“Given that we do not have an independent panel in place to investigate, that’s the reason we filed a lawsuit in this case on behalf of the Silva family. Through this lawsuit, we believe the truth will come out. We have the ability to question these officers under oath. We’ll be more thorough in this investigation than any investigation that the Kern County District Attorney’s Office has done thus far. We won’t just rely on the investigative reports prepared by the Sheriff’s office, which are self-serving, one-sided versions of the events leading up to David Silva’s tragic death.”

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ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY 

Dozens chanted for justice in downtown Bakersfield on the one-year anniversary of Silva’s death, including representatives from Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

“We remain committed to obtaining justice on behalf of David and his entire family, especially his four children, who will be without a father for the rest of their lives,” attorney David Cohn said on the date. “The road to obtaining justice will be a difficult one; however, we are confident that in the end, the truth will prevail and justice will be done. This case is certainly about David Silva and about what happened to him, but it is also about much more than that. It is about changing the culture of local law enforcement in this community, and holding law enforcement officers who use unreasonable and excessive force accountable for their actions.”

Protests and rallies would continue throughout Kern County.

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CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION 

In late October, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Civil Rights Division determined there was not sufficient evidence to sustain a federal criminal prosecution of officers involved in the death of David Sal Silva, which must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and the investigation was closed.

“To maintain the public’s trust and fulfill the high obligations undertaken by all law enforcement, it is critical that we diligently evaluate such allegations,” said U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner. “We undertook a careful evaluation of the evidence in this case, and we appreciate the assistance we received, particularly from our partners in the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I extend my condolences to the entire Silva family for the loss they suffered with the tragic passing of Mr. Silva.”

The Silva family now looked to the civil courts for justice.

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PROTESTS FOR CHANGE

In the months and several deaths at the hands of police throughout the United States — Michael Brown in Furguson, Miss. and Eric Garner in New York — sparked protests and riots nationwide. In Bakersfield, police shot unarmed Ramiro James Villegas (James De La Rosa) in November 2014, which helped advance the chants for more accountability locally. In Kern County, the Silva family led the charge.

“Police brutality is an issue here and we won’t let it go away,” Chris Silva said at a December 2014 rally.

In March 2015, hundreds of family members, friends and supporters of people who have lost loved ones in confrontations with local law enforcement took to the streets of Bakersfield in a march that revisited the scenes of some of the deaths, including the scene of the death of David Silva.

“I’m here to support the Silva family and all the other families who have lost loved ones because of mistakes made by the police,” Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Neil Gehlawat told The Bakersfield Californian. “We’re not saying all police officers are bad people,” Gehlawat said. “But on occasion, police officers cross the line, and when that happens it’s important the officer be held accountable so that it doesn’t happen again to another family.”

In July, the Kern County District Attorney’s Office announced it would be reviewing all officer-involved shootings resulting in injury or death, and all uses of force resulting in death, for all law enforcement agencies throughout Kern County. Protesters contended the DA’s office has already shown that it cannot provide truly independent oversight of the Bakersfield Police Department and the Kern County Sheriff’s Office.

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‘AMERICA’S DEADLIEST POLICE’ 

In December 2015, The Guardian — a renowned British national daily newspaper that also covers issues in the United States —unveiled its five-part series that examines the use of deadly force, rough justice, sexual misconduct cases and other issues involving “America’s deadliest police” of Kern County.

“Police in Kern County, California, have killed more people per capita than in any other American county in 2015,” according to The Guardian’s report. “The Guardian examines how, with little oversight, officers here became the country’s most lethal.”

Among the cases highlighted by The Guardian was the death of David Sal Silva, and other Chain | Cohn | Stiles civil rights and wrongful death cases. The series featured how the brutal tactics of officers in Kern County have ended lives, cost the public millions, and prompted claims of a police force out of control.

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TRIAL 

In March 2016, a federal judge refused to dismiss most claims, including those involving allegations of excessive force and wrongful death, in the lawsuit filed against Kern County in the death of David Silva.

“This is a resounding victory for us because the judge ruled in our favor in almost all of the claims, both federal and state,” attorney Neil Gehlawat told The Bakersfield Californian. “We’re very pleased with the judge’s ruling in that respect, and believe his ruling is consistent with the evidence in the case.”

Chain | Cohn | Stiles worked together on the civil case with the Law Offices of Dale Galipo, as a lead trial attorney. The trial was set to begin in U.S. District Court in Fresno on May 12, 2016.

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SETTLEMENT

On Wednesday, May 4, 2016, a settlement was reached for $3.4 million.

“The settlement today, nearly three years to the date of Silva’s death, is a vindication of a three-year campaign by the Silva family for justice, which brought national and international media attention to police brutality in Bakersfield,” Chain | Cohn | Stiles said in a statement announcing the settlement.

Attorneys from Chain | Cohn | Stiles and Law Offices of Dale Galipo hosted a press conference for media on May 5, 2016, along with Silva’s family. You can watch the complete press conference here.

“This case is now over, and this settlement is a bittersweet end to a long journey to achieving justice,” said attorney Neil Gehlawat during the press conference. “It’s bitter in that David is not here with us, and he is not here today to be a father to his children, to be a brother, to be a son. But it’s sweet because we know that the money that we’ve obtained in this case is going to go a long way to helping David’s children secure a bright future.”

 

* Editor’s Note: Neil Gehlawat is no longer an attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles *

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Chain | Cohn | Stiles responds to Kern County DA’s office decision to not file charges in wrongful death case

March 16, 2016 | 7:55 am


The attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles responded to the recent decision by the Kern County District Attorney’s Office to not pursue criminal charges against the deputy involved in the fatal crash in Bakersfield that killed motorcyclist Larry Maharrey.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed a wrongful death claim related to the crash. On July 14, Larry Maharrey was driving his motorcycle eastbound on Norris Road, when Kern County Sheriff’s Deputy Marvin Gomez abruptly made a left turn against a red light onto Airport Drive directly into Maharrey’s path. Maharrey was unable to avoid the collision with Deputy Gomez’s patrol vehicle, and died as a result of the crash.

Deputy Gomez violated KCSO policies and procedures by failing to pre-clear the intersection before turning left against a red light. And the California Highway Patrol Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team suggested a vehicular manslaughter charge against Gomez.

The widow of Larry Maharrey, Paula Maharrey, as well as Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matthew Clark, shared their statements with local media regarding the District Attorney’s Office decision to not file charges against Sgt. Gomez in the fatal crash:

PAULA MAHARREY, WIDOW

“I’m very disappointed by the District Attorney’s refusal to prosecute Sgt. Gomez. My family is upset by the fact that the District Attorney and Sgt. Gomez are both employees of the County of Kern. It appears that one county agency is defending another, and it screams of a conflict of interest. We wish that an independent investigating agency such as the state Attorney General’s Office would look into this matter. We are also saddened by the fact that the needless loss of my husband’s life will do nothing to discourage this kind of reckless driving in the future.”

MATTHEW CLARK, ATTORNEY

“I, like my clients, are very disappointed in the Office of the District Attorney’s decision not to prosecute Sgt. Gomez. We’ve had four innocent lives lost in the county in the last four years due to the reckless driving exhibited by some employees of Kern County Sheriff’s Department. This is the most offensive kind of loss of life in light of the fact that people are being killed by those very officers who have taken on a duty to protect them.

“In an approximately 250-page report, the CHP Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team concluded that Sgt. Gomez’s conduct substantiated a violation of California Penal Code Section 192 (c) (2) – Misdemeanor Vehicular Manslaughter. The District Attorney’s decision not to prosecute appears to be in conflict of interest given the fact that the District Attorney and Sgt. Gomez are both employees of the County of Kern.

Without question, Sgt. Gomez conduct in this case was in violation of Kern County Sheriff’s Office policy regarding emergency driving in that he failed to pre-clear the lanes of the intersection. His failure to do so killed Larry Maharrey. The failure to prosecute sends the wrong message to law enforcement, suggesting that they are above the law.”

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Chain | Cohn | Stiles files lawsuit in case of Tehachapi teenager killed in DUI hit-and-run

February 17, 2016 | 10:41 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed a wrongful death lawsuit in the hit-and-run death of a pedestrian — a Tehachapi teenage girl — in which the driver was driving under the influence, according to California Highway Patrol reports.

Local media covered a press conference Wednesday morning hosted by Matthew C. Clark and Neil Gehlawat from the personal injury and workers’ compensation* law firm. They were joined by the mother and sister of Leslie Balderrama, who was killed in October last year.

Read the news release and click the media links to see full coverage of the press conference and criminal case.

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Bakersfield, Calif. – Leslie Elaine Balderrama was a freshman at Tehachapi High School who excelled in school and out of school, including on the basketball court and through various volunteer endeavors. Add her contagious smile and bright personality, and Leslie was in a league of her own, her family says.

On Oct. 10, 2015, Leslie was walking home from a friend’s house when she was suddenly struck by a pickup truck on the dirt right shoulder of State Route 202.  She eventually succumbed to her injuries, just 15 days shy of her 15th birthday.

The occupants of the truck – Issac Macias, 20, and passenger Ibrahim Essa Gomes, 19 – fled the scene of the crash without calling the police or summoning medical help.  Both Macias and Gomes were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the crash.  After the pickup collided with Leslie, Gomes got out of the pickup and looked at her, telling CHP officers later that “she didn’t look like she got that messed up,” despite her not moving. Macias never got out of the pickup.

Despite driving under the influence of alcohol, killing Balderrama, and fleeing the scene, Macias to this date has not been charged with a crime. Gomes, too, has not been charged.

On Wednesday, Chain | Cohn | Stiles will file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Leslie’s mother, Evelyn Denise Natividad, against Macias and Gomes, as well as Exelon Generation Company, LLC and First Solar, Inc., who employed Macias at the time of the collision and entrusted him with the pickup.

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During the press conference, attorney Matt Clark called the suspects in the crash “despicable” and said he has confidence that the Kern County District Attorney’s Office is working on filing criminal charges against the two.

“In my opinion, that is truly despicable conduct. They have every obligation to summon medical help,” Clark said of the hit-and-run under the influence that left Leslie dead. “I have every reason to believe charges are coming. In this type of case, there really needs to be an example set.”

Additionally, mother Denise Natividad spoke about her daughter, and her commitment to school, sports and her community.

“It’s hard every day I have to live without her.”

* Editor’s Note: Neil Gehlawat is no longer an attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles *

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Wrongful death, auto accident cases headline million-dollar results in 2015

January 6, 2016 | 11:31 am


As the New Year begins, let’s take a look back at 2015 at several real results Chain | Cohn | Stiles obtained for the people of Kern County in their accident, wrongful death and workers’ compensation* cases.

$6 Million – Wrongful Death

Jesse Rios was going for his routine morning jog when he was struck and killed an employee of West Coast Casing, LLC. The driver was driving a company truck home from work when he fell asleep at the wheel in a residential neighborhood, allowing his truck to veer up onto the sidewalk, where he struck Jesse.

Jesse left behind a young daughter, a new wife, and his devastated mother. Before his death, Jesse had worked two jobs to help care and support his family.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed a wrongful death lawsuit on his family’s behalf, claiming that Eliseo Soto was negligent when he fell asleep at the wheel.

During the lawsuit, it was discovered the driver had previously had an accident due to falling asleep at the wheel. Also, he admitted that he was tired on the morning of the accident and that he should have pulled over to the side of the road and slept. In addition to proving that both the driver and West Coast Casing, LLC, were liable for the accident, Chain | Cohn | Stiles was able to prove that Jesse, a cook and dishwasher at two chain restaurants, would have financially supported his young family for many years to come.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles retained vocational and economic experts to prove the value of Jesse’s financial contribution to the family. The case settled at mediation for $6 million less than seven months after the accident.

$3.5 million – Big Rig Accident

The plaintiff was driving in his work truck as he was returning to Bakersfield, having performed a job in Lancaster, Calif. As the plaintiff was traveling on the high-way, a dust storm caused visibility to drop to almost zero. The plaintiff came to a stop, as vehicles in front of him stopped. At that time, the defendant, who was driving a tractor trailer for Market Transport, failed to see traffic stopped ahead of him, and he rear-ended the plaintiff.

The plaintiff did not seek immediate medical care after the accident. Instead, his employer drove him back to Bakersfield, and he sought urgent care treatment later that same day. Upon retaining Chain | Cohn | Stiles, the lawyers suggested that the plaintiff seek additional emergency medical care. Shortly thereafter, the plaintiff was diagnosed with a brain bleed.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed suit against the defendant and his employer, Market Transport, for negligence in the big rig accident.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles, recognizing the significance of the plaintiff’s injuries, asked that he be evaluated by a neurologist. Ultimately, the plaintiff was diagnosed with a mild to moderate traumatic brain injury. Chain | Cohn | Stiles retained experts in neurology, psychology, neuropsychology, endocrinology, vocational rehabilitation and economics to offer opinions regarding the plaintiff’s future needs.

The case ultimately settled at second mediation for $3.5 million.

$2.35 million – Auto Accident

The plaintiff was driving a 20016 GMC Denali safely northbound in Tehachapi. At the same time and place, a driver of a 2007 Sterling truck was going northbound on the same road while in the course and scope of employment for Shred-It USA Inc.

The defendant carelessly and unlawfully maintained and operated the vehicle so as to cause a crash and rear-end the plaintiff’s vehicle, which caused serious and permanent injuries to his body. As a result, the plaintiff suffered a disability and was unable to resume his pre-injury occupation as a correctional officer.

The case settled in 2015 for $2.35 million.

$2.15 million – Industrial Accident

Plaintiff John Doe was a tractor trailer driver assigned to pick up a load of pipe from Doe Pipe Manufacturer, loaded by the company, and deliver it to a customer in Colorado. The plaintiff’s only involvement in loading the pipe was throwing straps over the load to secure it. When he arrived in Colorado, he began unstrapping the load, when a large piece of pipe rolled, striking plaintiff’s foot. He suffered a broken foot, and eventually developed Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS).

Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed suit against Doe Pipe Manufacturer, alleging they negligently loaded the pipe. Specifically, the firm alleged the defendant failed to place anti-roll blocking or chalks around the piece of pipe. The defendant claimed they were not responsible, citing federal safety regulations that state truck drivers are responsible for the safety and securement of loads.

In addition to its trucking expert, Chain | Cohn | Stiles hired a computer graphics expert to create a simulation of the load on the plaintiff’s truck, which proved the plaintiff could not see the top of his load to ensure that the pipe on top was properly chalked into place, and the defendant prohibited him from climbing on top of his load to check. Chain | Cohn | Stiles also retained medical experts to assist in determining what future medical care the plaintiff would require.

The case settled before the court for $2.15 million.

$2 Million – Dog Bite

The plaintiff called the Kern County Sheriff’s Office for assistance with domestic violence. Her child’s father was being abusive.

When Sheriff’s department officers arrived, the plaintiff began walking toward the deputy’s patrol car, and the K-9 inside of the patrol car was released, and began attacking the plaintiff. The department claimed the K-9 was released accidentally.

The dog bite case settled with the County of Kern for $2 million.

$1 million – Wrongful Death

John Doe was a resident in a residential care facility that specialized in the care of adults with severe developmental disabilities.

While in the home, John Doe got into an argument with one of the home’s staff members. John Doe punched the staff member in the face, which resulted in several additional staff members physically restraining John Doe, face down, on the home’s floor. John Doe was restrained for a period of approximately 14 minutes, during which time he stopped breathing. No one from the home attempted to resuscitate John Doe, and he was not provided with any medical care until law enforcement and paramedics arrived on scene.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of John Doe’s mother.

Throughout litigation, the group home contended that it was not at fault for John Doe’s death, and that instead his death was due to his poor health. Moreover, the group home contended that John Doe started the altercation, by punching the staff member. Chain | Cohn | Stiles  was successful in proving that the group home should have provided special training to its staff, including training for how to safely restrain someone such as John Doe.

The case settled for insurance policy limits of $1 million.

$810,000 – Workers’ Compensation

The plaintiff was injured when a drill fell on his shoulder, causing severe injuries to his neck, upper back, shoulder and chest. The client and his family came to Chain | Cohn | Stiles because they needed help dealing with the complicated nature of the injuries and the consequences it was having on all of them.

The total guaranteed payout to the client came out to $810,000 in workers’ compensation benefits.

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For more results and case information, visit the Chain | Cohn | Stiles website at Chainlaw.com.

*NOTICE: Making a false or fraudulent Workers’ Compensation claim is a felony subject to up to 5 years in a prison or a fine of up to $150,000 or double the value of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.

These results do not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of your legal matter.

Publication highlights ‘America’s deadliest police’ of Kern County, law firm cases

December 2, 2015 | 7:35 am


The Guardian — a renowned British national daily newspaper that also covers issues in the United States — unveiled its five-part series that exgeamines the use of deadly force, rough justice, sexual misconduct cases and other issues involving “America’s deadliest police” of Kern County.

And among the cases highlighted are many of those involving wrongful death, police misconduct, sexual misconduct and civil rights cases handled by the Bakersfield law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

“Police in Kern County, California, have killed more people per capita than in any other American county in 2015,” according to The Guardian’s report. “The Guardian examines how, with little oversight, officers here became the country’s most lethal.”

PART I

The first in the five-part series, “The story of America’s deadliest police,” tackles the issue of how police officers in Kern County are reportedly responsible for killing more local residents per capita than in any other county in the country — 13 people in Kern, or about 1.5 people per 100,000 residents.

Reporters from The Guardian visited Chain | Cohn | Stiles in recent weeks to interview clients of the law firm. Among them, for this part in the series, were family members of:

  • David Sal Silva, who was killed on the night of May 7, 2013. Silva was asleep in front of a home in east Bakersfield, across from Kern Medical Center when several law enforcement officers arrived on scene and proceeded to use unreasonable and excessive force in striking Silva with batons several times all over his body, while he screamed for his life and repeatedly begged the officers to stop. After being repeatedly beaten, bitten and hog-tied, Silva stopped breathing. Shortly after midnight, Silva was taken to Kern Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed a civil rights lawsuit in connection with the wrongful death of David Silva.
  • David Garcia, who was shot to death in January 2015 by Kern County Sheriff’s deputies while leaving his house unarmed. Deputies were called to the house to assist on a suicide attempt call.

PART II

The second part of the series, “Where deputies dole out rough justice,” highlights how the brutal tactics of officers in Kern County have ended lives, cost the public millions, and prompted claims of a police force out of control.

This part also highlights a few cases represented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles, including:

  • David Sal Silva, who was killed on the night of May 7, 2013. Silva was asleep in front of a home in east Bakersfield, across from Kern Medical Center when several law enforcement officers arrived on scene and proceeded to use unreasonable and excessive force in striking Silva with batons several times all over his body, while he screamed for his life and repeatedly begged the officers to stop. After being repeatedly beaten, bitten and hog-tied, Silva stopped breathing. Shortly after midnight, Silva was taken to Kern Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed a civil rights lawsuit in connection with the wrongful death of David Silva.
  • James Moore was beaten to death by several deputies from the Kern County Sheriff’s Department while housed in central receiving downtown Bakersfield jail. On behalf of his family, Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed suit. Three deputies were prosecuted by the Kern County District Attorney’s Office for their roles in James’ death. The case settled for $6 million.

PART III

The third part in the series, “Sexual assault and the price of silence,” tackles how law enforcement officers in Kern County secretly tried to “buy off” victims in sexual misconduct cases against the men sworn to protect them.

This part includes comments from Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorneys David Cohn and Neil Gehlawat related to several cases of sexual assault involving Kern County Sheriff’s Department employees. They include:

  • Karen Frye, who was sexually molested at Lerdo Jail by Kern County Sheriff’s Department detentions deputy Anthony Michael Lavis. The law firm filed suit against the county for civil rights violations, conspiracy, sexual assault and battery, negligence, fraud, breach of contract and excessive use of force. The department also attempted to “buy off” Frye by offering her $1,500 in exchange for her agreement to not sue the department. That case settled for $300,000.
  • Jane Doe, a woman who was sexually assaulted by Kern County deputy Gabriel Lopez in her home in Tehachapi. Lopez sexually assaulted at least two other people as well. He pleaded no contest to two counts of assault by a public officer, two counts of false imprisonment, and two counts of sexual battery, and was sentenced to two years in prison.
  • Lori Kaplan, a 79-year-old woman who called the sheriff’s office during a dispute with her husband, who was diagnosed with late-stage Alzheimer’s. She, too, was sexually assaulted by Lopez in a similar fashion to his other victims. The third victim was quietly paid $5,000 by the department, and was unable to bring a civil claim.
  • Two claims against the County of Kern on behalf of two females who were sexually assaulted in separate incidents by Kern County Juvenile Corrections officers while the girls were housed at James G. Bowels Juvenile Hall. Kern County Corrections officer Cesar Holguin Navejar was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting Jane Doe 1. He is currently facing six felony charges including sexual battery, assault by a public officer and child molestation. Jane Doe 2, who was also housed at James G. Bowels Juvenile Hall. That suspect, George Anderson, has been placed on administrative leave pending further investigation.

PART IV

The fourth part of the series, “Partners in crime,” details how Kern County officers plan to continue policing themselves. The findings by The Guardian — that Kern County officers kill more people per capita than in any other U.S. county so far in 2015 — lend weight to claims from critics that police in Kern County are effectively policed only by themselves, the article states.

The article also highlights officer-involved crashes and the investigations that take place following the crashes. In particular, the article highlights three deputy-involved fatal crashes. In all three, Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed claims and lawsuits on behalf of their families. They include:

  • Daniel Hiler and Chrystal Jolley, who were killed in December 2011, when Kern County sheriff’s deputy John Swearengin struck and killed them as they pushed a motorcycle across Norris Road. Swearengin was traveling at more than 80 mph in a 45-mph zone, without activating his emergency lights or siren. The case settled in March for $8.8 million.
  • Nancy Garrett, who was killed in September 2014 in Oildale when a Kern County Sheriff’s Office patrol car operated by Deputy Nicholas Clerico struck and killed her. The California Highway Patrol’s Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team (MAIT) found Deputy Clerico at fault in the crash, and the CHP report recommended that a vehicular manslaughter charge be filed against the deputy. The civil case is ongoing.
  • Larry Maharrey, who was killed when Kern County Sheriff’s Deputy Marvin Gomez abruptly made a left turn against a red light onto Airport Drive in Oildale directly into Maharrey’s motorcycle. Maharrey was unable to avoid the collision with Deputy Gomez’s patrol vehicle, and died as a result of the crash. The civil case is ongoing.

PART V

The fifth and final part, “A fight for answers,” focuses on what happens to the families of those who are killed by police officers.

“When someone dies after an encounter with law enforcement, he leaves behind parents and children, loss and confusion,” The Guardian writes. “What’s to be done when those people sworn to protect you are the same people who pull the trigger?”

The 13-minute video follows around the family members of those killed in officer-involved shootings as they campaign for justice of their loved ones. The video also follows around officers as the conduct their difficult jobs, and includes interviews with Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood and Bakersfield Police Chief Greg Williamson.

THE SERIES

The Guardian’s series is part of its project called The Counted, highlighting the number of people killed by police and other law enforcement agencies in the United States throughout 2015, “to monitor their demographics and to tell the stories of how they died.”

“The Counted is the most thorough public accounting for deadly use of force in the US,” according to The Guardian.

Why is this necessary? According to The Guardian, the U.S. government has no comprehensive record of the number of people killed by law enforcement. And this lack of basic data has been glaring amid the protests, riots and worldwide debate set in motion by fatal police shootings.

To read more about the series, click the media coverage below:

* Editor’s Note: Neil Gehlawat is no longer an attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles *

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THE GUARDIAN SERIES

LOCAL MEDIA COVERAGE

Chain | Cohn | Stiles files wrongful death lawsuit in case of boy who died after collapsing at Delano school

November 17, 2015 | 3:01 pm


Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the family of 13-year-old Jose Manuel Beltran, who died after collapsing in January in a Delano school gymnasium.

Jose collapsed while running sprints in physical education class in Cecil Avenue Middle School’s gymnasium. After he collapsed, school employees failed to provide and summon medical attention to Jose, including performing CPR or other life-saving procedures. When paramedics finally arrived on scene, Jose was taken to Delano Regional Medical Center where he was pronounced dead.

Wrongful death attorneys Matt Clark and Neil Gehlawat – joined by Jose’s parents, Livia Salas and Jose Beltran – held a press conference recently to discuss the filing of the lawsuit and the circumstances surrounding Jose’s tragic death.

“This tragedy should concern all parents of school-age children,” Clark said. “Every parent expects that if their child has a medical emergency at school, emergency medical treatment will be summoned immediately. It is also not unreasonable for parents to expect that P.E. teachers be trained in CPR and provide it when necessary.”

CASE DETAILS

Jose Beltran collapsed on the morning of Jan. 26 in a physical education class at Cecil Avenue Middle School in Delano. Delano police dispatchers received a 911 call that morning, via Canada, and seconds later was transferred to the Kern County Fire Department’s emergency communications center, according to findings first reported by The Bakersfield Californian.

According to the police reports, district nurse Sylvia Clines was at another school campus when Jose collapsed, and had missed a call from Cecil Avenue clerk Estefania Guzman. When Clines called back, Guzman told her a student in the school gym appeared to be suffering from a seizure. At that point, Clines told Guzman to call 911. Another call then came in from P.E. teacher Jessica Ramirez, who told Clines that Jose was not breathing.

When Clines arrived on the Cecil Avenue campus at about 9:30 a.m., she found Jose face down on the floor. This indicates that Jose lay unconscious on the floor for some minutes without CPR being administered.

Jose’s cause of death was hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease in which the heart muscle becomes abnormally thick or enlarged, which can make it harder for the heart to pump blood. The condition often goes undiagnosed because many people with the disease have few, if any, symptoms. Immediate medical attention is vital for those who experience cardiac arrest.

LAWSUIT FILED

Defendants in the suit are the Delano Union School District and five of its employees, as well of the City of Delano, County of Kern and State of California in an effort to determine which agency is responsible for routing the call to Canada, and therefore delaying treatment for Jose.

After Jose’s death, his parents attempted on several occasions to obtain information from school administrators and Delano Police Department about exactly what happened with their son following his collapse, but were stonewalled and advised to retain an attorney.

Several questions remain for the moment, but the filing of the lawsuit will allow Chain | Cohn | Stiles to get the answers, including whether teachers in the gym were CPR-certified, when the 911 call was made, how much time elapsed between Jose’s collapse and the 911 call, and why the call was routed to Canada, among others.

At the recent press conference, Jose’s parents described him as a shy and studious teenager who enjoyed playing video games and sports, and never caused any trouble. He leaves behind two younger siblings.

To see complete coverage of the press conference and news of the filing of the lawsuit, click the links below.

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PREVIOUS MEDIA COVERAGE (CLAIM FILED)

PRESS CONFERENCE, LAWSUIT MEDIA COVERAGE

Law firm files wrongful death claim in fourth deputy-involved fatal crash in four years

August 18, 2015 | 10:05 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles recently filed a wrongful death claim against the County of Kern related to a Kern County’s Sheriff deputy involved crash with a motorcyclist. Local media covered a press conference hosted by Matthew C. Clark and Neil Gehlawat from the personal injury and workers’ compensation* law firm, which included the release of surveillance video of the crash.

Read below and click the links to see full coverage of the press conference and media mentions.

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(Bakersfield, Calif. – Aug. 12, 2015) For more than 20 years, Larry Eugene Maharrey, 59, worked for Golden State Drilling as a diesel mechanic to provide for his family. At his vigil, friends and family described him as “a good man” who would do anything for anyone in need. He especially enjoyed fishing and riding his motorcycle.

On July 14, Larry Maharrey was driving his motorcycle eastbound on Norris Road, when Kern County Sheriff’s Deputy Marvin Gomez abruptly made a left turn against a red light onto Airport Drive directly into Maharrey’s path. Maharrey was unable to avoid the collision with Deputy Gomez’s patrol vehicle, and died as a result of the crash.

Deputy Gomez violated KCSO policies and procedures by failing to pre-clear the intersection before turning left against a red light. In what has become a tragic and unfortunate trend, Maharrey’s death comes at the heels of another wrongful death lawsuit filed by Chain | Cohn | Stiles on behalf of the family of Nancy Garrett, who was struck and killed by KCSO deputy Nicholas Clerico.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed a wrongful death claim against the County of Kern on behalf of Maharrey’s wife, Paula, and other family members. Attorneys Matthew Clark and Neil Gehlawat – joined by Maharrey’s widow – will host a press conference to discuss the filing of the claim. A copy of the claim will be provided to media, as well as surveillance video of the crash.

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During the press conference, Paula Maharrey, Larry’s wife of 14 years, described him as a “crack-up,” a family man who would give his shirt off of his back to a stranger, and an all-around “good man.”

“I miss him every day,” Paula Maharrey said during the press conference. “I just want the Kern County Sheriff’s Office to take responsibility for their actions, follow their own set rules, and train their staff better.”

This wrongful death claim against the County of Kern follows another wrongful death lawsuit filed by Chain | Cohn | Stiles on behalf of Nancy Joyce Garrett’s family. Nancy Garrett was driving home from a Dodgers game when she was struck and killed by Deputy Nicholas Clerico’s Kern County Sheriff’s Office patrol car. Chain | Cohn | Stiles also represented the family of Daniel Hiler, who was struck and killed by Sheriff’s deputy John Swearengin as he crossed the street.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

Claim filed against county in connection with fatal crash involving deputy (The Bakersfield Californian)

Family of man who died when his motorcycle hit a deputy patrol car has filed a wrongful death claim (KGET 17, NBC)

Kern County faces wrongful death claim in deputy crash (KBAK-KBFX 29-58, CBS-FOX)

Attorneys release video of fatal crash between KCSO deputy and motorcyclist (KERO 23, ABC)

Oildale man’s death comes as sheriff’s office tries to crack down on speed (The Bakersfield Californian – July 15, 2015)

Chain | Cohn | Stiles files lawsuit for family of woman killed in crash with Sheriff’s deputy

July 15, 2015 | 11:13 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the family of 72-year-old Nancy Joyce Garrett, who was killed when a Kern County Sheriff’s Office patrol car operated by Deputy Nicholas Clerico struck and killed her.

The filing of the lawsuit is on the heels of the release of the California Highway Patrol’s Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team (MAIT) report regarding the crash that occurred on Sept. 28, 2014, at the intersection of North Chester Avenue and China Grade Loop in Oildale. The report finds Deputy Clerico at fault in the crash, and the CHP report recommended that a vehicular manslaughter charge be filed against the deputy.

Nancy was a friendly neighbor, a caregiver for our community, an active blogger, and the pillar of her family. She was a drug and alcohol counselor for the Kern County Mental Health Department, and also volunteered her time as a substance abuse counselor for STEPS, a local nonprofit that provides DUI awareness services. At the time of the crash, she was returning home from a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball game she attended with her family and friends.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark was joined by Garrett’s grown children, Mark McGowan and Deborah Blanco, for press conference on July 9 to discuss the case, the 230-page MAIT report, and the lawsuit.

To view media coverage of the crash involving Garrett and Clerico and Chain | Cohn | Stiles representation of Garrett’s family, click here. To see media coverage following the press conference and filing of the lawsuit, view them below.

The unveiling of the MAIT report, the filing of the lawsuit by Chain | Cohn | Stiles and subsequent media coverage of the wrongful death case also comes in the midst of yet another tragic crash involving a Kern Count Sheriff’s deputy.

A 59-year-old motorcyclist Bakersfield man riding a motorcycle died Tuesday evening in Oildale when his motorcycle struck a patrol car driven by a deputy responding to an emergency call, according to local media reports. The crash is under investigation.

The crashes and lawsuits also come just a few years following another high-profile case represented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles involving a fatal crash with a Kern County Sheriff’s deputy.

On Dec. 16, 2011, Kern County sheriff’s deputy John Swearengin struck and killed Daniel Hiler, 24, and Chrystal Jolley, 30, as they pushed a motorcycle across Norris Road. Swearengin was traveling at more than 80 mph in a 45-mph zone, without activating his emergency lights or siren. Chain | Cohn | Stiles sued the County of Kern on behalf of the families, and settled last year for $8.8 million.

In the lawsuit related to Nancy Garrett, her family and attorneys are asking for changes within the sheriff’s department in how deputies are trained properly throughout Bakersfield and other communities across Kern County.

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PRESS CONFERENCE MEDIA COVERAGE

LAWSUIT MEDIA COVERAGE

Chain | Cohn | Stiles represents family of boy who collapsed, died in Delano school

May 20, 2015 | 5:32 pm


Thirteen-year-old Jose Manuel Beltran was participating in physical education class on Jan. 26 at his school’s gymnasium in Delano when he collapsed.

Moments later, the eighth-grader was pronounced dead.

How and why exactly are just some of the questions that the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles will figure out for the family of Jose Manuel Beltran. The law firm is representing the family in a potential wrongful death lawsuit against the Delano Union School District.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Neil Gehlawat spoke with The Bakersfield Californian recently regarding Jose’s death, and the questions that remain four months after his death. In the article, which appeared on the front page of the May 17 edition of The Bakersfield Californian, he stated:

“We need more information at this point … Was Jose given medical assistance? If so, was it timely? If there was a significant delay, did that delay in treatment cause his death?”

He added:

“Our approach is not to file a lawsuit no matter what. Our approach is to get more information.” 

The questions relate to how the emergency call was handled following Jose’s collapse, and the how much time elapsed between that call and arrival of first responders. Records show that the initial 911 call was routed to Canada before being transferred to Kern County Fire Department communications center. Additionally, there appears to be a delay in district medical personnel responding to attend to Jose, who was said to by “facing down, his back towards the sky” when a district nurse arrived to attend to him, The Californian reported.

In order to establish liability in a wrongful death action, a plaintiff must show that the death was caused by the negligence or unlawful conduct of the defendant.

The family has been devastated by the loss of their son, and they’re looking for the facts, Gehlawat told The Californian.

“I think when a parent has lost a child in such a tragic fashion, I think at the very least, they should get the reports …  We should have time stamps showing when the 911 call was made.”

As of now, many of the questions remain unanswered. But Chain | Cohn | Stiles is committed to finding the answers for the family of Jose Manuel Beltran. 

To read the complete article from The Bakersfield Californian, click here. And to see more news reports on this case, click the links below:

* Editor’s Note: Neil Gehlawat is no longer an attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles *

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If you or someone you know has been injured due to the fault of another, contact the personal injury or workers’ compensation* attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at 661-323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney David Cohn comments on L.A. Times update of Silva wrongful death case

November 25, 2014 | 10:16 am


“This was a beat down,” Chris Silva told the Los Angeles Times in an article updating readers on his brother’s wrongful death case. “Seven deputies and two CHP officers failed at their jobs.”

The newspaper’s columnist Robin Abcarian provided an update last week on the infamous David Silva case, which is being represented by the Bakersfield personal injury law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

In the column — which you can read by clicking here — Abcarian outlines what happened on the night of May 7, 2013, when officers approached David Silva as he lay on the grass across the street from Kern County Medical Center in east Bakersfield.

When Silva woke up, officers tried to arrest him and released a police dog on him. Over 20 minutes, six more Kern County Sheriff’s Office deputies and two California Highway Patrol officers arrived. Silva was hit with batons, bitten dozens of times, hobbled with a hog-tie-like restraint and sat on by the officers, Abcarian described.

“He vomited, then stopped breathing,” Abcarian wrote. “He was pronounced dead at 12:44 a.m. on May 8.”

David Silva left behind four children, and a loving family who is now advocating for an end to police brutality.

Silva had gone to the hospital that night seeking help. After he fell asleep on the grass outside of the hospital, a security guard escorted him away. Officers were called after he fell asleep again across the street.

The Sheriff’s Office stated Silva was on drugs.

“How high could he have been?” Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney David Cohn told The Times, who is representing the Silva family in a federal wrongful-death lawsuit. “He was sleeping. That hardly sounds like someone who is amped up on methamphetamine.”

The case received national media attention, including the aftermath when officers confiscated witness’s videos of the incident.

Nearly a year after Silva died, Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green declined to file charges against the officers. And last month, the U.S. Department of Justice also refused to file criminal charges.

Still, the wrongful death lawsuit continues.

Last week, Bakersfield personal injury lawyer Neil Gehlawat, who is also assisting with the Silva case as part of Chain | Cohn | Stiles, appeared on The Groove 99.3 with Sheri Ortiz to discuss police misconduct cases, as well as the Silva case.

Click here to listen to that show.

* Editor’s Note: Neil Gehlawat is no longer an attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles *

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To read all about the Silva case represented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles, read the media coverage below: