A San Jose State University police officer was fired for using excessive force leading to hospitalization on a mentally ill man and was rehired by the same chief at a different agency who said he did nothing wrong.
Jonathan Silva was working for the university when he responded to a call concerning a man watching pornography and possibly masturbating on the eighth floor of the on-campus Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library in March, 2016. The man was not a student, but the library is open to the public.
As seen in the video linked above, Silva asked the man for his legal name and birthday, but he responded with “Satan for Earth” and said his “birthday will occur whenever you tell me it will.”
“I need you to stop [expletive] around and give me your birthday or I’m going to take you to jail,” Silva said.
He originally was only going to give the man later identified as Philip Chi Chong a citation and ask him to leave the library, but Chong’s defiance appeared to set Silva over the edge. Within seconds, Silva dragged Chong out of his chair and along a bookshelf in the library and told him to “roll on to your stomach or your going to get tased.”
Silva tried to tase Chong multiple times in the chest and although the taser malfunctioned, other damage was done. Records showed Chong spent 10 days in a hospital to get treated for broken ribs, a fractured wrist, collapsed lungs and cuts to his face and head.
“Officer Silva used excessive force…which set a chain of events into motion that called for Silva having to use more and more excessive and unreasonable force on Chong,” conclusions from the second investigation at the request of the university stated.
In his report, Silva claimed Chong has pushed him against a wall which is why he responded with such aggression but the video shows otherwise.
San Jose State University released the internal affairs investigation on Wednesday in response to a public records request under California’s new police transparency law, Senate Bill 1421.
The first investigation, headed by the school’s university police, concluded Silva made no mistakes that day so he was never reprimanded.
“Based on the administrative review and recommendations, it was my determination that the use of force was within policy,” then Police Chief Peter Decena said in a press release on Wednesday. Decena quit the force in 2017 and was hired as chief at the Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Department in San Jose County where he hired Silva in 2018.
However the university launched a second, internal investigation into the incident two months after Chong filed a claim with the school in September, 2016 that paid him $950,000 to settle. Silva was placed on administrative leave until it concluded.
Chong’s attorney, Stuart Kirchick, said he was a “very intelligent young man, but [was] suffering, unfortunately, from a mental illness that started unusually only a few years prior.”
Kirchick said that Chong spent a few days in jail, but Santa Clara County prosecutors dropped all charges after they saw the body-camera footage from the library.
“I mean he just completely lost his temper and used unreasonable force in the process of detaining him… to just find out his name,” Kirchick said.
Police had been called on Chong at the library before. He was found vaping one time and was arrested for talking to himself and being on drugs on a different occasion.
Attorney Morin Jacob, with the help of then university police Chief Jason Wu conducted the second investigation and concluded Silva “lost control of the situation early by reacting emotionally to Chong.”
Not only did Silva violate the university’s use-of-force policy, but he also lied about what initiated the brawl.
“Officer Silva claims that Chong pushed him into the wall, but the videos do not support Officer Silva’s account,” Jacob wrote in her report. “Chong did not push Officer Silva into the wall.”
The university fired Silva in August, 2017 but he appealed with the support of his department and colleagues.
Silva’s attorney, Steven Welty, told the judge overseeing the appeal, “there isn’t a single peace officer that was involved in this incident…that says John did anything wrong.”
Silva won his appeal and was reinstated in May 2018, but SJSU contested that decision with the help of the university’s attorney, Katherine Winder.
“It is likely, especially on a college campus, that Silva may encounter a situation in which a subject, perhaps a college co-ed, would be uncooperative or somehow challenge his authority,” Winder wrote in the letter for appeal. “Without acknowledging his past mistakes, it is likely that this type of scenario, Silva losing control and harming someone, will likely reoccur.”
History showed it already did.
A former university student, Alan Chen, filed a federal excessive-force lawsuit against Silva and five other university cops that alleged Silva and another officer “flung” him into a sidewalk causing him to lose consciousness during an April 2015 incident on campus. Silva had worked for the university for a year by that time. The lawsuit was settled last year, but the university would not comment on the details of it.
Silva was given a warning in 2015 on a performance evaluation to “not let his frustrations get the best when dealing with uncooperative subjects in the field.””
In the letter for the university’s appeal of reinstating Silva, Winder wrote, “In revoking Silva’s dismissal, the [judge] determined that Silva’s severe beating of a mentally ill minority member of the public was proper, in a public library at a university.”
But the personnel board chose to reinstate Silva anyway, authorizing Silva to return to work on Oct. 2, 2018.
But he had already been hired by his former chief at the Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Department the previous month, so he resigned instead.