Los Gatos Police Release Video of Embattled Ex-Officer's Recent Use of Force

A screenshot of Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police officer Johnathon Silva's body camera video from the April 19, 2019, arrest of a man who told police he was suffering from a brain tumor.  (Via Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Department)

Note: this article's visual assets contain violence.

Police on Friday released body-camera footage and the results of an investigation into a former officer's use of force in April, when, responding to a call about a disturbance he ended up restraining a man and in the process fracturing several of his ribs.

The investigation, by police and two commissioned experts, concluded that Johnathon Silva used "objectively reasonable" force in subduing the man, identified as 57-year-old James Russell Newlon, who ultimately was issued a criminal citation but was not taken into custody. But the finding is essentially moot, because Silva resigned from the Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Department last month, amid controversy over the violence involved in an arrest he made in 2016 when he was working for the San Jose State University Police Department.

A public statement and YouTube video of body-camera footage from the April 19, 2019 encounter, in the 100 block of Towne Terrace, was posted by the Police Department Friday in response to Senate Bill 1421, California's new police transparency law.

The law compelled the release of previously protected disciplinary records when an officer was found to have engaged in sexual assault or dishonesty, or was involved in a shooting or use of force that caused great bodily injury.

According to police, Silva was called to the apartment building after a resident reported that Newlon was yelling obscenities and scaring her. The resident, who was not identified, said Newlon's anger may have been the result of her complaining to their landlord that he was "hoarding" items in the corner of the property's carport.

As shown in the body camera footage, Silva attempted to detain Newlon, first with verbal commands. Newlon refused to comply. When he placed his right hand in his pants pocket, Silva ordered him to "get your hands out of your pocket."

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In the video footage Newlon tells the officer that he is "suffering with a brain tumor right now."

"My hormones are raging," he says. "I could actually start out and break out and fight you, bastard!"

Silva is captured on the video calmly telling Newlon to relax. But a minute later, he puts Newlon into a wrist-lock, and then brings him to the ground with his hand on Newlon's neck. He repeatedly tells Newlon to get on his stomach, and threatens to use a Taser on him. Newlon is heard screaming in pain throughout the struggle, and yells that he is afraid he is having a heart attack.

Silva eventually put Newlon into a "carotid restraint," commonly known as a sleeper hold, and Newlon passed out. Soon after, other officers arrived, ending the encounter. Records show Newlon was taken to the hospital, then cited for battery on an officer and resisting arrest and placed on an involuntary mental health hold. No record of the citation could be found in the Santa Clara County court records system.

Newlon could not be reached for comment Friday at several phone numbers listed under his name. His landlord described him to police as a Navy veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and a brain tumor, according to incident reports released by the Police Department, and the woman who called police said she only wanted him to get help.

Silva was the subject of public scrutiny after SB 1421 records released in July — first reported by KQED and the Bay Area News Group — revealed that he had been fired by San Jose State after a 2016 incident in which he brutally beat a man who was watching porn and may have been masturbating in the campus library. The civil suit filed by the subject of the beating led to $950,000 settlement. But Silva got his job back on appeal and then left the university police department to work in Los Gatos for Chief Peter Decena, who was chief at San Jose State police during the 2016 encounter. At the time, Decena found that Silva had acted within department policy.

An outcry over the San Jose State case, led by a contingent of concerned Los Gatos residents, preceded Silva's resignation from the Los Gatos department soon after the records were released.

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.