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Violence breaks out at Turlock Sikh Temple
Police seek video footage of brawl
Sikh temple pic2
At least 100 people were involved in a fight at the Turlock Sikh Temple on Sunday. - photo by Journal file photo

A rift between two factions of the Turlock Sikh Temple turned violent for the second time in two years on Sunday as a fight involving at least 100 people broke out during worship services.

The Turlock Police Department was called to the Sikh Temple, located on the corner of 5th Street and Linwood Avenue, at 12:30 p.m. Sunday and when officers arrived they found numerous people involved in several disturbances throughout the temple.

The Stanislaus and Merced county sheriff's departments and the California Highway Patrol also responded to the incident to assist in gaining control of the situation.

A number of people were injured during the incident and the police are still investigating reports of assaults. No arrests have been made as of Tuesday, said Sergeant Stephen Webb.

Videos of the fight have gone viral on social media and the police are reviewing cell phone footage in an attempt to identify suspects, victims and witnesses. They are asking anyone with cell phone footage of the incident to contact Detective Tim Redd at 668-5550 ext. 6625.

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.

" 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."

Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth condemned the violence and is encouraging temple members to find peaceful solutions to their differences.

"I'm disappointed with this needless violence," said Soiseth in a released statement. "While communities may have disagreements, we can't resort to such actions. Any level of violence is not representative of the Sikh community as a whole and these actions damage the reputation of a peaceful and generous faith.

"I'll be meeting with Turlock's Sikh leaders to find solutions to their disagreement and to help them refocus on their core principles: philanthropy, inclusion and equality. Unfortunately, none of this was shown last Sunday."