Ceres brothers and the owners of the Pop and Cork stores in Turlock, who have led a vocal outcry against their inclusion into a murder investigation, took their campaign to the State Capitol Friday.
Brothers Baljit and Daljit Athwal of Ceres have had their businesses and homes subject to search multiple times in relation to the death of Korey Kauffman of Turlock. One search was conducted in 2012, after Kauffman was reported missing, and the second was March 3.
Kauffman was last seen March 30, 2012 headed towards Ninth Street in Turlock. His body was found Aug. 19, 2013, in the Stanislaus National Forest by a trio of hunters who stumbled upon the unearthed remains.
Baljit Athwal said the stores were damaged during the last search, including a lotto machine and a prayer room they had at the store. He estimated the damage at $30,000.
During the March search of the stores and homes, investigators took computers, phones, security cameras, passports, iPads, and guns. Baljit Athwal said he was put in an unmarked patrol car to go to the station to speak with investigators. On the drive the car was struck by another vehicle and Baljit Athwal and the detective were taken to the hospital with what was reported as minor injuries. Baljit Athwal said the injuries were more ongoing.
The brothers say they are experiencing an ongoing pattern of harassment and intimidation by law enforcement and have vowed to continue protesting until they "get some answers."
The brothers have staged other protests, once in front of the Turlock Police Department and once in front of the Stanislaus County District Attorney's Office.
Friday's protest drew about 20 friends and family, who joined the brothers with protest signs on the capitol steps in Sacramento.
"Got a great deal of help from all sorts of political parties," said Iqbinder Randhawa, sister of Baljit and Daljit Athwal, who joined them at the protest. "There are honest politicians that are willing to hold law enforcement accountable for the brutality they cause in the community without just cause. We are still looking for answers for more and our items returned and will not stop until our store is properly restored to its entirety and until we get our items all returned to us and an apology from the local agencies involved."
On March 4, investigators from a multi-agency task force arrested Robert Lee Woody on homicide charges for Kauffman's death. The criminal complaint filed against him alleges he killed Kauffman sometime around or on March 30. It also carries a special allegation that Woody lied in wait to kill Kauffman and an additional charge of conspiracy to obstruct justice. The criminal complaint also states Woody had three co-conspirators that remain unnamed as of this time. They are referred to as co-conspirators B, C, and D.
Baljit Athwal said he has known Woody for several years as a customer of the Pop-N-Cork's East Avenue location. He also said they would hire Woody to do odd jobs around the store. Baljit Athwal said he last spoke with Woody about six month ago, saying he cut off contact when Woody started using drugs again.
Woody was taken into custody about a week after his last known residence on East Avenue was searched by investigators and a day after the Pop and Cork stores were searched.
Woody was appointed counsel on Tuesday in Stanislaus County Superior Court. At that time Judge Ricardo Cordova stated he, along with the entire bench in Stanislaus County, would likely recuse themselves from the case if the co-conspirators are arrested and charged in the case.
The brothers had their residences searched both in 2012 and on March 3. The search in 2012 prompted Daljit Athwal to file a lawsuit against a Turlock Police detective and the city of Turlock. The lawsuit alleges the detective threatened Daljit Athwal with a gun, causing him to suffer emotional distress and anxiety from the event. Since the suit was filed a judge ruled the city could not be held liable. The suit against the detective remains open and is seeking unspecified damages.
Daljit Athwal's suit was originally filed by defense attorney and Stanislaus County District Attorney candidate Frank Carson. Carson also had his Turlock property searched in 2012 in connection with the Kauffman case. The Journal was contacted Monday by Percy Martinez who said he was representing Carson and that he had advised him to not make any statements about this matter.