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Arrests continue to mount in Sikh Temple brawl
Bagri2c Anjit
Anjit Kaur Bagri

The Turlock Police Department’s investigation into the melee at the Sikh Temple in Turlock continues to spawn more arrests, as investigators took two women into custody for their alleged roles in the violent altercation.

On Thursday arrest warrants were issued for Manjit Kaur Johal, 47, of Hilmar and Anjit Kaur Bagri, 45, of Delhi. Both women were charged with two counts of assault with a deadly weapon from the fight on Jan. 10. Anjit Bagri also faces a charge of robbery, said Turlock Police spokesperson Sgt. Stephen Webb.

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. Jan. 10 for a report of a fight involving 100 people, Webb said. Officers arrived and found no fight, however, they remained on scene for some time to provide extra patrol due to heightened tension among the members.

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 in a news release. “Stanislaus Sheriff’s Department, CHP and Merced Sheriff’s Department responded to assist in gaining control of the situation.”

No arrests were made at the scene as officers were tasked with trying to restore order among the large congregation. Subsequent interviews with witnesses and the review of cell phone videos taken during the fight have lead to five individuals facing criminal charges with more arrests remaining a real possibility as the investigation continues.

In the latest arrests, investigators believe Johal and Anjit Bagri were part of a violent altercation that took place outside a restroom at the Temple. According to the police department the two women, along with Balwinder Kaur Bagri, 51, of Madera, accosted two people outside the restroom and attacked them with their hands and feet.

The attack left the two victims seeking medical attention for their injuries.

During the fight Anjit Bagri allegedly took personal property from one of the victims, Webb said.

Balwinder Bagri was taken into custody on Jan. 15 on allegations of assault with a deadly weapon and criminal conspiracy.

Anjit Bagri and Johal both surrendered to the Stanislaus County Jail on Thursday for booking.

The first arrest in the case was made on Jan. 14 when Sandeep Singh, 38, of Ceres was taken into custody on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon. Cell phone video, backed up by witness statements, show Singh picking up a ceremonial sword and swinging it around at people. Stanislaus County Superior Court records indicate Sandeep Singh is facing a misdemeanor charge of exhibiting a deadly weapon other than a firearm.

On Jan. 15 the Turlock Police Department announced the arrest of Gurdev Singh, 47, of Madera on allegations of assault with a deadly weapon and elder abuse. Cell phone video of the fight, which has since gone viral on social media, show a man believed to be Gurdev Singh forcefully striking two people with a Chimta. A Chimta is a religious musical instrument that is shaped like a long set of tongs with pointed ends. Two people were struck in the attack, both sustaining non life-threatening injuries.

All five individuals have been released on bail and have a court appearance scheduled for Feb. 11, according to court records.

The altercations involving the Sikh Temple members stems from a dispute that started with the dismissal of Temple priest Attar Singh in 2013. The dismissal was made by the Temple’s board of directors, a body elected by the Temple populace. The tension over the dismissal erupted into a physical fight outside the Temple on June 2, 2013. A few weeks after the fight a group of Temple members took over the Temple by seizing control of all the records, the office and changing the locks on the Temple doors.

The board of directors sought to regain control by filing a civil complaint in court. The complaint claimed the change in leadership was invalid because it had not been done through an election. For two years the issue was argued in the courtroom before a ruling was finally issued. The court ruled in favor of the board and ordered the defendants to cede control of the Temple. The court also barred the named defendants from serving as officers or directors at the Temple until April 2016. The court also will oversee the upcoming election.

The latest altercation and subsequent arrests prompted city officials to address the ongoing dispute.

“Irrespective of faith, no religious institution should be a place where personal security is threatened. Violence, in any form, will not be tolerated,” said Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth at a press conference on Jan. 15. “This is why Turlock’s police department will be charging individuals directly involved in Sunday’s conflict and any future conflicts, and we will be charging them to the fullest extent of the law.”