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Police arrest two more in connection to Sikh Temple brawl
Sikh temple pic1
Turlock Police Chief Rob Jackson speaks to a group of around 100 Turlock Sikh Temple members who gathered at Pitman High School Friday evening. - photo by FRANKIE TOVAR / The Journal

The Turlock Police Department made two additional arrests in connection to Sunday’s altercation at the Sikh Temple in Turlock.

Gurdev Singh, 47, of Madera was arrested on Friday for assault with a deadly weapon and elder abuse. Singh 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 nonlife-threatening injuries to the head.  Singh continued to swing the Chimta and struck a second victim in the arm.

Madera resident Balwinder Kaur Bagri, 51, was also arrested on Friday 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. It’s not known what type of weapon Kaur Bagri is suspected of using.

“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. “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.”

Both arrests came one day after Sandeep Singh, 38, of Ceres was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon. 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.

It was revealed on Friday that Singh used a ceremonial sword to swing at other members in the crowd.

“Aggression, threatening behavior and assault is unacceptable in civil society,” said Turlock Sikh Temple member Harinder Grewal. “Sandeep Singh 'Zanty' picked up a sword from in front of the holy book (Shri Guru Granth Sahib) and attacked the praying congregation at the Turlock Sikh Temple on Sunday.

“He had restraining orders against him at the Modesto Sikh Temple because he assaulted a 65-year-old gentleman. He started many more fights in the past. Today, his past caught up with him, he is in jail,” continued Grewal.

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. 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.

“When officers arrived they found a chaotic scene,” said Turlock Police Chief Robert Jackson. “It was such a large event that we had to ask for additional resources. Deputies from the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department, Merced County Sheriff’s Department, officers from the California Highway Patrol, as well as officers from California State University, Stanislaus responded.

“In time, calmness and order was restored,” continued Jackson.  

A video of the altercation has since gone viral on multiple social media sites.

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.

While last weekend’s incident was the second known time violence had erupted at the Sikh Temple in Turlock because of an ongoing dispute among members, President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Modesto/Stanislaus Branch 1048 Frank Johnson said that this is an issue that is happening throughout the nation. 

“This is an ongoing incident and it’s something that should be addressed much higher than the City and the County. Something has to stop. Women and children are getting hurt,” said Johnson. “We had over 100 people at my office wanting to file civil rights complaints. They are Americans and they have a right to freedom of speech. They have a right to worship without harm.

“I would view anything of this magnitude as a terrorist threat on religion and civil rights. In our eyes it is a form of terrorist acts,” continued Johnson. 

More than 100 members of the Sikh Temple gathered at Pitman High at around 4:30 p.m. on Friday. Victims of Sunday’s attack, including Amandeep Kaur, were also present, sporting arm slings and black eyes.

Grewal addressed the crowd and voiced concern over his group’s safety while also raising questions as to why they weren’t sufficiently protected by police on Sunday. He spoke about not feeling safe at the temple and the crowd nodded in agreement, but followed by saying he believed Chief Jackson was “a warrior and a chief of the people” and that he would do whatever he could to protect them moving forward.

When Jackson spoke to the crowd gathered at Pitman on Friday he offered words of support, explaining how officers would be at the temple on Sunday to make sure no violence broke out. He also offered words of caution and advice.

“Understand it takes two sides to have a conflict,” Jackson said. “If you anticipate any type of violence, avoid it. Don’t create a situation where you’re going to instigate violence or be a part of violence.”

— Journal Digital Content Manager Frankie Tovar contributed to this report.