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Brothers claim police harassment
Pair linked to ongoing murder investigation
Daljit Atwal and Baljit Atwal (pictured here holding the sign asking President Obama to get involved) have had their homes and businesses searched multiple times in connection to an ongoing homicide investigation and feel they are being harassed. - photo by SABRA STAFFORD / The Journal

Turlock’s Pop-N-Cork owners Baljit and Daljit Atwal, subjects of multiple search warrants in the ongoing homicide investigation of Korey Kauffman, protested outside the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office Wednesday for what they feel is an ongoing pattern of harassment and intimidation by law enforcement.

“I have no idea why they keep targeting us, but we will keep at this until we get some answers,” Baljit Atwal said while standing outside the district attorney’s office. “We want justice.”

The two brothers were joined by about 20 family and friends outside the district attorney’s office in Modesto, calling for federal intervention into the investigation. This was the second protest the brothers have staged in regards to the homicide investigation. On Saturday they were joined by a similar sized crowd outside the Turlock Police Department.

The brothers' two Turlock liquor stores and their Ceres homes were searched by law enforcement on March 3 in connection to the murder of Kauffman.

Baljit Atwal claims that investigators damaged a lotto machine, cut wires, broke bottles and damaged a prayer room they had at the store. He estimated the damage at $30,000. He also said his young son was terrified by the investigators when they searched his home.

“We don’t deserve this,” Baljit Atwal said. “Something needs to be done. We want justice and we want justice for the victim too.”

Kauffman was last seen March 29, 2012 headed towards Ninth Street. His body was found Aug. 19, 2013, in the Stanislaus National Forest by a trio of hunters who stumbled upon the unearthed remains.

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.

Woody was taken into custody about a week after his last known residence on East Avenue was searched by investigators.

Baljit Atwal 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 Atwal said he last spoke with Woody about six month ago, saying he cut off contact when Woody started using drugs again.

“We knew him from around the store and we would help him out sometimes, but we do that for lots of people in Turlock,” Baljit Atwal said. “We are always helping people in the community.”

During the March search of the stores and homes, investigators took computers, phones, security cameras, passports, iPads, and guns. Baljit Atwal 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 Atwal and the detective were taken to the hospital with what was reported as minor injuries. Baljit Atwal said the injuries were more ongoing.

“Every day I wake up in pain and have to take a pain pill to get through the day,” he said.

The searches served in March were not the first served on the brothers in connection with Kauffman. On July 15, 2012, months after Kauffman was last seen and more than a year before his body would be discovered, law enforcement searched the brothers’ stores and a home in Hughson.

Baljit Atwal says they took similar items during that search.

Daljit Atwal claims he was threatened by a Turlock Police detective during the search. In a letter dated July 31, 2012, to the TPD, Daljit Atwal wrote that while he was handcuffed and surrounded by law enforcement, Officer Frank Navarro pointed a gun at his face and said, “If you die who is going to take care of your family?”

After the letter was sent Daljit Atwal retained defense attorney Frank Carson and filed a civil suit against Navarro and the City of Turlock. The suit alleges Navarro’s actions amounted to an assault and that Daljit Atwal has suffered emotional distress and anxiety from the event. The suit also alleges the City is liable because they approved and allowed the behavior. The suit seeks unspecified damages both real and punitive, as well as court and attorney fees.

Daljit Atwal changed attorneys on the case and retained Steven O’Connor.

Since the initial filing the court has ruled that the City could not be held liable and agreed with the defense’s argument that words do not “amount to an actual assault or deprivation of plantiff’s rights as alleged.”

The lawsuit remains open.

Daljit Atwal said he was given a lie detector test after the last search warrant was served.

Both brothers have repeatedly denied knowing Kauffman or even remembering him coming into the store. However, one individual close to the investigation says otherwise.

Mike Cooley was the last individual to see Kauffman before he disappeared. The two were at Cooley’s Lander Avenue home March 29, before Kauffman headed out that night. Cooley was the one to report Kauffman missing and has also taken a lie detector test regarding the case.

Cooley claims that in the weeks after last seeing Kauffman and reporting him missing, he came out of his house to find Woody and Baljit Atwal sitting in a parked car in front of his home.

“They told me I had better mind my own business and quit looking into things that didn’t concern me,” Cooley said.

Baljit Atwal had a different recollection of the event. He says he and Woody were asked by Carson to keep an eye out for some property stolen off of Carson’s land. Carson suspected Cooley of the theft and Woody and Baljit Atwal went to a local recyclers to find out where Cooley lived. Baljit Atwal said he was driving by the home when Cooley came out and said something like, ‘can I help you friend?’

“I said ‘I’m not your friend’ and that was it. We drove off. There was no threat,” Baljit Atwal said.

The investigation into Kauffman’s murder remains open and ongoing.