A homeless man yesterday plead not guilty to serious felony charges of attempted murder and elder abuse with a dangerous weapon for severely beating an elderly Sikh in Fresno, California, but has not yet been charged with a hate crime.
There is a possibility of having the hate crime charge in future, said Sonia De La Rosa, spokeswoman for the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office. It could be filed before the preliminary hearing on May 14.
The case is still being actively investigated, said Sgt. Jaime Rios, spokesman for the Fresno Police Department. The charges can be added once detectives make their recommendation.
Police received a 911 call at approximately 7:45 a.m. on Sunday, May 5, that an elderly man had been beaten.
Piara Singh, 81, had already gone to the local gurdwara and was walking toward the family farm, about a mile away, when Gilbert Garcia, 29, rode up to him on a bicycle and began beating him with a metal rod.
Garcia never said anything, Piara Singh told officers when they arrived. He repeatedly hit the elderly Sikh man on his head and upper body until a couple of witnesses yelled at him and told him to stop, police told SikhNN. Garcia then rode away.
When officers arrived at the scene on Cherry Avenue, south of North Avenue, they saw Piara Singh “bloodied and bruised, and in need of medical assistance,” Rios said. He was taken to the Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno.
Piara Singh suffered a fractured jaw, broken ribs, a punctured lung and head injuries, said his nephew, Rajbir Singh Beasla, of Clovis. He is expected to go home in a couple of days if his lung heals well.
Subsequent police investigations led to Garcia who had fled the area and hid in the back yard of a home. When officers approached the house, they saw someone that matched the witness’ description come out to the front of the house. He was arrested at approximately 9:50 a.m., and identified by at least one of the witnesses.
Garcia made “inflammatory” statements while in custody, which the police department is not yet releasing.
He pled not guilty yesterday to all charges. His bail is set at $1,650,000. He is being held at the Fresno County Jail.
“Mr. Singh was targeted because of who he was, what he was wearing, his ethnicity, his religion,” said Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer at a meeting with the local sangat that took place at Nanaksar Satsang Sabha on Tuesday, May 7, according to a May 8 news release from the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
But hate crime charges have not yet been brought against Garcia.
“Sikhs are peace loving, hard working and community minded… I promise to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Sikh community in our efforts against hate crimes,” Dyer added.
“We must combat the growing wave of violence and intolerance that threatens the safety and civil liberties of all Americans, including the Sikh American community,” said Judy Chu (D-Pasadena, California), co-chairwoman of the American Sikh Congressional Caucus. “That is why I have pushed the FBI to finally begin tracking hate crimes against the American Sikh community. This will help law enforcement officers in every locality to do all they can to prevent violence against this – and all – communities. We cannot wait any longer”
SikhNN notified Chu’s office of the lack of hate crime charges in this case, but has not receive a response to several requests for input.
Joe Crowley (D-Queens, New York) in a May 14 news release said: "I’m pleased the authorities are involved and I encourage them to exercise due diligence in determining whether this attack was a hate crime."