One man and a 17-year-old juvenile were arrested Tuesday for allegedly beating and running over a 68-year-old Sikh man in December, Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer announced at a news conference.
“I have no doubt in my mind that they (the suspects) intentionally struck him,” Dyer said. “They left him in the middle of the street, where he lie motionless for six minutes.”
Fresno police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation worked together to investigate the crime, which stirred outrage and fear within the Sikh community. Investigators recommended that Daniel Wilson Jr., 22, and the teen be charged with assault with a deadly weapon, conspiracy and a hate crime.
Dyer said the evidence indicates both suspects targeted Amrik Singh Bal solely because of his traditional Sikh dress, which includes a turban. Bal was injured but survived.
Bal was standing on Shields Avenue between Blythe and Brawley avenues around 6:30 a.m. Dec. 26 when he was attacked. He was waiting for a ride to work in the cold fog when a black Dodge Challenger stopped near him. The 17-year-old driver and Wilson exited the vehicle and began to beat Bal with their fists, Dyer said.
“He (Bal) carried a lunch box, and he showed me on the day of the attack how he held it up to try and prevent the beating,” said Iqbal “Ike” S. Grewal, a member of the Sikh council who routinely speaks for the local Sikh community.
After the beating, the suspects got back in their car. Bal attempted to run away, Dyer said, when he heard the muscle car accelerate toward him. He tried to avoid it, but the 17-year-old veered into Bal, knocking him into the air briefly before he slammed into pavement.
A private security video from a camera mounted on a nearby home captured the car hitting Bal.
Dyer said Bal remained unconscious for six minutes until his friends, who were on their way to give him a ride to the farm he worked at, found him. He was rushed to the hospital with serious injuries and has since recovered.
The investigation was intensive. Officers canvassed a mile in every direction looking for information, but did not have much luck, Dyer said. Most of the tips and anonymous calls to Crime Stoppers also were not helpful.
Most of the breaks came through electronic evidence obtained by the FBI, Dyer said. He would not elaborate on exactly what was intercepted, but investigators tracked electronic devices in order to place the suspects at the scene. The FBI also intercepted “comments made by suspects after the fact that led us to believe it was a hate crime,” Dyer said.
Dyer was joined at the news conference by Marty Robinson, the FBI special agent in charge of the Fresno area, and Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp.
“This arrest shows that this behavior – racist, bigoted, hateful attacks – will not be tolerated in Fresno,” Smittcamp said. “Particularly given this man’s age – if you can’t protect the elderly and children, who can you protect?”
Smittcamp’s office will now review the evidence to determine what specific charges will be filed. Hate crimes are notoriously tricky to prosecute, as they have both state and federal proof requirements. Prosecutors worked with investigators to ensure they collected enough evidence to reach these marks, but nothing is certain.
The 17-year-old may also be charged as an adult, Smittcamp said.
Investigators have also handed the evidence off to the U.S. Attorney’s office, which may file federal charges, Dyer said.
Grewal, with the Sikh council, said the arrests bring some solace to a community ravaged by violence near the holidays.
Just days after a town hall meeting designed to educate Fresno residents on Sikhism, another 68-year-old Sikh man – Gurcharan Singh Gill – was killed while working at a central Fresno convenience store. No arrests have been announced in this case, but police didn’t rule it out as a hate crime.
Grewal thanked Dyer, who he said was committed to solving the case and quieting the fear within the Sikh community. He added that Bal and his family were pleased to see the crime resolved.
“The Sikh community believes this was a hate crime, and we’re glad to see the charges by police,” he said. “I hope the DA decides to charge it as a hate crime.”
Although the investigation appears to be wrapped up, Grewal believes more work is needed.
“This brings closure, but Sikhs continue to suffer – continue to be mistaken for terrorists and not the hard-working, peace-loving people we are,” he said.