A Ceres man has been arrested on assault charges as one of three connected to the violent outburst Sunday, Jan. 10 at the Sikh Temple in Turlock.
Sandeep Singh, 38, of Ceres, was arrested by the Turlock Police Department Thursday for assault with a deadly weapon. It's not known what type of weapon Singh is suspected of using in the altercation.
His arrest was followed by two additional arrests in Gurdev Singh, 47, and Balwinder Kaur Bagri, 51, both of Madera. Singh, arrested for assault with a deadly weapon and elder abuse, was identified by witnesses as swinging a religious musical instrument, called a Chimta, at a large group of men and striking a victim, who sustained head injuries. Singh struck a second victim in the arm. Kaur Bagri was also arrested for assault with a deadly weapon and criminal conspiracy. Kaur Bagri and others confronted two victims outside of the temple's restrooms and proceeded to physically assault them. The victims sustained nonlife-threatening injuries that required medical attention.
Investigators identified Singh as a suspect through review of cell phone video from the melee, along with witness' statements, said Turlock Police spokesperson Sgt. Stephen Webb.
The incident was the second known time violence had erupted at the Sikh Temple because of an ongoing dispute among members.
The Turlock Police Department was first called to the temple, located at the corner of 5th Street and Linwood Avenue, around 9:40 a.m. Sunday for a report of a fight involving 100 people, Webb said. Officers found no fight, however, they remained on scene for some time to provide extra patrol due to heightened tension.
At 12:30 p.m. officers were once again responding to a report of a fight, this time inside the temple.
"Officers went inside and found numerous people involved in several disturbances throughout the temple," Webb said. "Stanislaus Sheriff's Department, CHP and Merced Sheriff's Department responded to assist in gaining control of the situation."
There were numerous injuries reported in the altercations, though an exact number has not been disclosed.
Sunday's fight is the result of increased tension following a Stanislaus Superior Court ruling that found a group of Turlock Sikh Temple members acted illegally in taking control of the temple in June 2013.
According to court documents, a rift developed between two factions of the temple over the decision of the board of directors to terminate the contract of Attar Singh, a priest of the temple. The disagreement turned physical on June 2, 2013, when a fight broke out in front of the temple. A few weeks after the fight, a group of temple members changed the locks on the temple doors, took control of the office and corporate records of the temple and began running its affairs.
The directors who were elected by temple members in January 2013 filed a complaint against this group claiming the change occurred by force and without a proper election. The court agreed.
The court ruled that the defendants must give up control of the temple's facilities, records and finances immediately and are prohibited from serving as officers or directors of the Turlock Sikh Temple for the next five years.
Harinder Grewal, a member of the Turlock Sikh Temple who testified on behalf of the elected board, said that the recent fight began when the elected board attempted to gain control back of the temple's administration and finances.
"We thought it was a very clear judgment through the legal process. They thought they could stay in control through the appeal process," said Grewal.
According to Grewal, Sunday's violence started when a member of the non-elected committee was at the podium and attempted to announce activities.
"They wouldn't let him speak. The congregation started praying very loudly," he said.
A woman who asked the man to stop speaking was hit by another woman and the whole room erupted in violence, according to Grewal.
"I am really saddened and embarrassed. This is all about money and ego," said Grewal.
"The majority of Sikh people are hard-working, peaceful people. [This fighting] is not who we are. If you are not safe in God's house, what good is that?"
Over 250 temple members attended a meeting held at Pitman High School on Monday, as the local Sikh community looks for a way to safely return to worship services. They'll be holding a second meeting there at 4:30 p.m. today and the community is invited to attend.
"The Temple is suffering; the congregation is suffering. They don't feel safe going to Sikh Temple, I don't feel safe going to Sikh Temple. We thought after the legal process that common sense would come back...but that didn't happen in this case."