Fresno police, still seeking the two men responsible for attacking an elderly Sikh man on Saturday, announced a $5,000 reward in the case, which was raised Tuesday to $12,000.
Police are investigating the attack as a hate crime. Amrik Singh Bal, 68, was walking in a neighborhood west of Highway 99 just before 7 a.m. to meet his ride to work. He wore a blue turban and has a long, white beard.
Bal suffered a broken collarbone, cuts requiring stitches on his ear and the back of his head and moderate abrasions on his nose and right hand. He also complained of leg pain.
Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer laid out what happened in a news conference Monday afternoon:
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Bal was walking south on Brunswick Avenue toward Shields Avenue. He was a block north of Shields when he saw a dark-colored compact car turn north onto Brunswick.
The car swerved west and parked on the opposite side of the street, facing oncoming traffic. Two men got out and started yelling at Bal, who speaks little English.
Fearing for his life, Bal ran south on the sidewalk, but the men caught up to him. They yelled and punched him in the face and upper body, eventually making their way into the middle of the street.
The men ran back to their car, did a U-turn and struck Bal with the front bumper. Bal fell to the ground and hit his head. Police believe that is what caused his broken collarbone.
The suspects White 5 feet 10 or 11 inches tall 20 to 25 years old One is skinny with no facial hair, a dark, waist-length jacket and dark jeans The other has a slightly heavier build and possibly some type of facial hair or a light beard, with a dark, hooded sweatshirt and dark jeans
Dyer said detectives will determine whether the men intentionally struck Bal with their car, or if it was a result of the U-turn.
Dyer described the men as white, 5 feet 10 or 11 inches tall and 20 to 25 years old. One is skinny with no facial hair and was wearing a dark, waist-length jacket and dark jeans. The other has a slightly heavier build and possibly some type of facial hair or a light beard, with a dark, hooded sweatshirt and dark jeans.
Dyer clarified that an officer who speaks Punjabi initially interviewed Bal and misunderstood when Bal said he felt the men attacked him based on a suspicion of why he is here (in this country or in Fresno). Police initially reported that one of the men yelled during the assault, “Why are you here?”
After striking Bal with their car, the men drove off. A short while later, Bal’s ride showed up and drove him to Community Regional Medical Center.
I’m confident these two people have bragged to someone about what they did.
Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer
Fresno police are working with the FBI, the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office and the Department of Homeland Security on the case. Dyer said it is being considered a hate crime, based on the way Bal was dressed, the fact that the attack was unprovoked and that the attackers did not attempt to steal from him.
“I’m confident these two people have bragged to someone about what they did,” he said.
Dyer said police will check for surveillance video and hand out fliers around the neighborhood. He said the department won’t spare any resources to solve the case.
The men could be charged with elder abuse, assault with a deadly weapon or battery causing serious bodily injury, said deputy district attorney Steve Wright. If prosecutors can prove it was a hate crime, the charges could result in up to nine years in prison. That could increase depending on variables including the suspects’ prior criminal records, Wright said.
This country is made up of immigrants. Hate is very sad.
Hardev Singh Gill, a member of the Sikh Council of Central California
The Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno released a statement Monday afternoon condemning the attack and saying that like Muslim-Americans, Sikh-Americans are innocent of the crimes of extremists such as Islamic State and al-Qaida.
The statement asks that people refrain from suggesting that Sikhs “are the ‘wrong targets’ because none of us are the ‘right targets.’ ”
“No one should have to fear assault due to the perception of hateful people,” the statement says. “We have to remain united against all terror and fanaticism because when one of us is attacked, we are all victims.”
Police don’t know whether Bal’s attackers thought he was Muslim. However, Sikhs have been mistaken targets of hate crimes and harassment since 9/11 by people who erroneously identify them as Muslim.
In May 2013, 82-year-old Piara Singh was attacked outside the Nanaksar Sikh Temple in south Fresno by a man who later allegedly made inflammatory comments about Muslims. The assailant, Gilbert Garcia Jr., pleaded no contest to a hate crime and was sentenced to 13 years in state prison.
Local Sikhs have been on alert again since the San Bernardino attacks, and Saturday’s attack intensified that. Hardev Singh Gill, a member of the Sikh Council of Central California, said he gets concerned now stepping out publicly in his turban.
“This country is made up of immigrants,” he said after the police news conference. “Hate is very sad.”
- Reward: The $12,000 reward is for tips about Bal’s attackers. Anyone with information is asked to call detective Haywood Irving at 559-621-6545. Anonymous tips are accepted through Crime Stoppers at 559-498-7867.
- Town hall meeting: Jakara Movement, a leadership and activism nonprofit for Sikh youths, will hold a meeting from 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 29, at Paaras Youth Center, 5470 W. Spruce Ave. in Fresno. Contact: Iqbal Singh, firstname.lastname@example.org or 559-677-7454