Los Gatos Cop Resigns Amid Outcry Over Beating at San Jose State

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A screenshot from body-camera video showing former San Jose State University police Officer Johnathon Silva during a violent arrest on March 17, 2016, in the Martin Luther King Jr. Library. (Via San Jose State University)

An officer with the Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Department has resigned amid a controversy over a violent arrest he made while working as a San Jose State University cop.

After Johnathon Silva was accused of excessive force in the beating of a suspect three years ago at the campus library, the university fired him, but later was required to reinstate him when Silva won his job back on appeal.

Both the arrest and wrangling between the college and Silva over his job were mostly shielded from public view until KQED and the Mercury News reported on records and body-camera videos released earlier this month by San Jose State University under Senate Bill 1421, California's new police transparency law.

Los Gatos Town Manager Laurel Prevetti confirmed Monday morning that Silva had resigned, effective this coming Friday, July 26. She declined to comment further. A statement issued by the town later Monday also did not detail the circumstances surrounding Silva's resignation. But the statement noted that Silva — who was hired in September 2018 — was still in his one-year probationary period and that he could "be rejected at any time during the probationary period without cause and without the right to appeal."

"Prior to the culmination of Officer Silva's probationary period, he submitted his resignation giving two weeks notice," the statement reads. "Given this is a personnel matter, there will be no further comment at this time."

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Town officials also continued to defend Silva's hiring, saying he underwent a "rigorous selection process."

Los Gatos resident Maureen Fox, one of many who objected to Silva's hiring once she learned about his past conduct, said that she and her husband met with the town manager to voice their concerns about Silva, and that Prevetti mentioned Silva was still on probation.

"She said that the matter was under review, and she couldn't really comment," Fox said. "But not long after that obviously he resigned."

Fox said she is "gratified" by Silva's resignation.

"I think the town will be much safer without him," she said.

Silva was fired by San Jose State in 2017 for inflicting serious injuries — including broken ribs and a punctured lung — on a man named Philip Chong, who was apparently masturbating and watching pornography on a laptop in the school’s library in March 2016. Silva also used a Taser on Chong, who was apparently mentally ill and was refusing the officer's orders to give his real name and birthdate, but the stun gun malfunctioned, according to police.

Warning, this video contains graphic imagery and language.

Then-university Police Chief Peter Decena and his command staff, while voicing concern about the violence, ultimately decided that the force Silva used was within department policy and training, according to records released by the school. But the college overrode that decision after launching its own investigation following Chong's lawsuit over the encounter. Chong later won a $950,000 settlement.

Silva appealed his dismissal and a state personnel board ordered him to be reinstated over the objection of the university, which argued that the arrest was an “egregious example of excessive force.” He resigned from San Jose State's police force on Oct. 1, 2018 -- after starting his new job a week earlier in Los Gatos, where Decena had become police chief a few months earlier.

Silva was also the subject of a separate excessive force lawsuit settled last year for $59,900. A former student alleged Silva and another officer smashed his face into the concrete outside a campus concert.

Los Gatos resident Claud Xiao said Silva's resignation resolves his concerns about that particular officer being on the force, but he said he still has larger questions that the town manager has not responded to.

"I think we still need to get a lot more transparency about the hiring procedures and the hiring decision-making," he said.

While many Los Gatos and Monte Sereno residents were outspoken about their concerns with Silva, a more quiet contingent has surfaced to support the officer's actions at the university library.

One of Silva's supporters includes the father of a student who witnessed the 2016 confrontation and reiterated Decena's assertions that Chong was under the influence of meth and had caused a similar disturbance in the library a week earlier. The father, who asked that his name be withheld because he still has a child attending the university, said Silva was protecting the public from a serial offender.

Attempts to contact Silva have been unsuccessful. Steven Welty, the attorney who represented Silva in his appeal, echoed the state board's reinstatement ruling and said in an interview earlier this month that Silva "did absolutely nothing wrong."

"Silva got called to the scene of that to deal with him and ended up in a physical struggle that lasted more than four minutes, most of it by himself with no assistance. So the fact that he didn't come out of it severely injured or killed is actually fortunate," Welty said. "He did everything exactly the way he was supposed to. The tragedy here is that the university ... had an outstanding officer, a young officer, exactly the kind of person that you want. This is a caring guy that wanted to do a good job and do things right."

Julie Small of KQED News contributed to this report.

This story was produced as part of the California Reporting Project, a collaboration of 40 newsrooms across the state to obtain and report on police misconduct and serious use-of-force records unsealed in 2019.