Maria Melendez, 53, emerged from the Kern Medical Center in Bakersfield, California early Wednesday morning to see a group of Kern County sheriff’s deputies beating a man to death — hitting him repeatedly with night sticks, kicking him, and forcing their knees into his stomach and chest.
The victim, David Sal Silva, was a 33 year-old father of four who had allegedly gotten into an altercation with the deputies. Witnesses say Silva fell still after about eight minutes, at which point the officers looked into his eyes with flashlights and attempted to administer CPR. He was then taken across the street to the Kern Medical Center, and pronounced dead less than an hour later.
“He was like a piece of meat,” Melendez said. “We were telling them: ‘He’s dead. You guys already killed him.’”
Melendez recorded much of the incident on tape, as did her daughter’s boyfriend. Both quickly found themselves wrapped up in their own police nightmare, as officers confiscated their cell phones without producing a warrant.
Both phones were later returned several hours later. A different, anonymously-submitted security camera footage of the event can be seen below:
John Tello, a criminal law attorney representing several of the witnesses, recounts the highly suspect behavior from law enforcement. “When I arrived at the home of one of the witnesses that had video footage,” Tello says, “she was with her family sitting down on the couch, surrounded by three deputies.
“This was not a crime scene where the evidence was going to be destroyed. These were concerned citizens who were basically doing a civic duty of preserving the evidence, not destroying it as [the sheriff deputies] tried to make it seem.”
Officers had been originally called by staffers at the Kern Medical Center, who reported spotting a seemingly intoxicated Silva around the edges of the premises. The Sheriff’s Office says Silva resisted, resulting in the employment of a canine and additional officers.
“For the first couple minutes he was screaming for help, basically pleading for his life” said Laura Vasquez, 26, who was present with Melendez at the time of the beating. “Then we couldn’t see him anymore. That’s how many cops were on top of him.”
“My brother spent the last eight minutes of his life pleading, begging for his life,” says Silva’s brother Christopher, 31. “I know the truth will come out and my brother’s voice will be heard.”
Civil rights activists have become increasingly alarmed at the double-standard in police surveillance as more and more departments employ increasingly sophisticated camera and tracking technologies, yet remain reluctant to apply any sort of surveillance or oversight to themselves or their officers, or even allow others to record their activity in public
On the other coast of the country, the NYPD has gotten into trouble for targeted surveillance programs against are Muslims, reported by the AP in a series of Pulitzer Prize-winning investigations. They have since begun developing an immense $30-$40 million comprehensive network of cameras, license plate detectors, and radiation detectors — all in the interest of keeping a closer eye on suspect New Yorkers. The “Domain Awareness System,” developed in partnership with Microsoft, gives officers the ability to keep watch over large swaths of the city at once.
The city has plans to sell the technology to other precincts around the country, potentially allowing more regions to soon employ similar surveillance.
Mayor Bloomberg’s boys — the “seventh biggest army in the world” by his own admission — are working on an additional project of installing license plate readers “in every lane of traffic on all of the bridges and tunnels that serve as entrances and exits to Manhattan,” as explained by NYPD Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, and have begun looking into crowd-mapping domestic drones.
(WATCH: the viral recording by a Harlem teenager caught and harassed by NYPD officers as part of their infamous “stop-and-frisk” program.)
“What you’re seeing,” explains a boastful Bloomberg, “is what the private sector has used for a long time. If you walk around with a cell phone, the cell phone company knows where you are … We’re not your mom and pop’s police department anymore.”
Jody Armour, a law professor at the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law, is concerned. Recordings like those taken by the Harlem teen and Melendez “have become powerful agents of debate,” he explains, ever since bystanders caught footage of the Rodney King beatings by Los Angeles police officers.
He worries that the confiscation of the Silva tapes could discourage citizens from recording similar events in the future. “It could have a chilling effect on the willingness of bystanders to make these recordings,” he says, “if they worry that they could have been accosted by law enforcement.”