Crime

Fresno man sentenced to 13 years in prison for 2013 hate crime

Piara Singh, then 82, spent at least a week in the hospital after he was attacked in May 2013. Fresno police said the attack was a hate crime.
Piara Singh, then 82, spent at least a week in the hospital after he was attacked in May 2013. Fresno police said the attack was a hate crime.

A Fresno man who pleaded no contest to a hate crime was sentenced Tuesday to 13 years in prison for clubbing an elderly Sikh man outside a southwest Fresno temple in May 2013.

Gilbert Garcia Jr. never explained in Fresno County Superior Court why he attacked 82-year-old Piara Singh outside the Nanaksar Sikh Temple in south Fresno.

But after the attack, Garcia made inflammatory remarks about Muslims, prosecutor Tim Donovan said.

The prison sentence was a relief to the Sikh community, whose members have been the victims of many hate crimes since the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001.

“Justice has been served,” said Ike Grewal, a local Sikh community activist. “Not only does the victim and his family have closure, but so does the entire Sikh community because there was an acknowledgment that a hate crime occurred.”

The prison sentence was a relief to the Sikh community whose members have been the victims of many hate crimes since the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001.

Police said Garcia was riding a bicycle when he came upon Singh walking on Cherry Avenue just south of North Avenue during the morning of May 5, 2013.

Without saying a word, Garcia beat Singh in the head and body with a steel rod, police said. Garcia was arrested a half-hour after the attack in a rural neighborhood about a half-mile from the temple.

At the time of the attack, Singh was wearing a turban and traditional Sikh clothing and had just left the temple after saying his daily prayers, Grewal said.

Singh was hospitalized for more than a week with head wounds, broken ribs and lung lacerations, he said.

“This was a totally senseless crime,” Grewal said while noting that Singh has had flashbacks and is afraid to venture out in public.

But the attack gives light to what Sikhs have had to endure since the 9/11 attacks.

Grewal said police told him that Garcia made racial slurs about Muslims and told Singh: “I’m going to destroy your mosque.”

Sikhs don’t have mosques, they have temples, Grewal said, that are not only a place of worship, but a refuge for anyone who is hungry and wants a free meal.

“We are hard-working people who are part of the American fabric,” Grewal said.

The message here is that the District Attorney’s Office does not condone hate crimes, but condemns them. The only issue is how long will the punishment be.

Fresno prosecutor Tim Donovan

Garcia, now 31, has been in custody since the attack – first in the Fresno County Jail and then at Atascadero State Hospital.

In December 2013, Judge W. Kent Levis sent Garcia to the state hospital after doctors concluded he was unable to assist in his defense. While in custody at the state hospital, Garcia was required to take anti-psychotic medication until his competency was restored.

Garcia returned to the Fresno County Jail in November last year after doctors said his competency was restored.

In February, Garcia agreed to plead no contest to a felony charge of inflicting injury on an elderly person and admitted to causing great bodily injury with a weapon. He also admitted it was a hate crime, Donovan said.

“The message here is that the District Attorney’s Office does not condone hate crimes, but condemns them,” Donovan said. “The only issue is how long will the punishment be.”

Pablo Lopez: 559-441-6434, @beecourts

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