The recent horrific beating death of David Silva by Kern County Sheriff’s deputies raises a host of issues for those concerned about police brutality and the difficulties citizens face when they use cell phones to videotape police brutality.
The David Silva tragedy is yet another example of how police brutality continues on a daily basis throughout California. The incident also highlights the underhanded tactics cops sometimes use to avoid consequences when they abuse power.
In the case of David Silva, who was allegedly beaten to death by a throng of Kern County sheriff’s deputies, witnesses allege that deputies confiscated the cell phones they used to record the beating and videotape police brutality – and that the cops deleted footage that could be used to hold them accountable.
Thankfully, the FBI has been asked to look into the situation. In doing so, they might want to consult a letter issued last year by the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. In the letter, which was designed to provide nationwide guidance on the emerging issue of videotaping police brutality by witnesses and citizen journalists, DOJ explained that citizens have a First Amendment right to videotape police brutality and a Fourth Amendment right not to have the footage confiscated without a warrant.
In the DOJ letter, guidance such as the following was provided to police departments: "Policies should prohibit officers from destroying recording devices or cameras and deleting recordings or photographs under any circumstances. In addition to violating the First Amendment, police officers violate the core requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process clause when they irrevocably deprived individuals of their recordings without first providing notice and an opportunity to seized object."
As the DOJ letter makes clear, the right of citizens to videotape police brutality like that endured by David Silva and to not have those recordings destroyed without due process is part of the fundamental right we have as citizens to monitor peace officers in discharge of their public duties and to criticize and hold accountable officers who abuse their power.