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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Three Oregon men accused of taking turban from Sikh truck driver

Three men accused of snatching the turban off the head a Sikh truck driver have been accused of third-degree theft and misdemeanor harassment. The Douglas County grand jury declined to indict the men on a felony charge of intimidation.

Ryan Robbins, 21, Kyle Simmons, 22, and Ryan Newell, 28, all of Yoncalla, are accused in the Aug. 25 incident that occurred as Ranjit Singh left a truck stop convenience store, according to court records.

One of the men grabbed the turban, ran around the building, then drove away with it, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office said. Investigators, with the help of a store surveillance video, found their suspects several days later.

The felony charge of intimidation deals with threats or assaults committed due to the perception of a person’s race, color, religion, national origin or sexual orientation.

Singh, 37, of Manteca, Calif., contacted the New York-based Sikh Coalition after the incident. The group considered the theft a hate crime and were disappointed with the grand jury’s decision on the intimidation charge.

Amardeep Singh, the executive director of the Sikh Coalition (no relation to Ranjit Singh), said the jurors apparently viewed the man who took the turban as “a prankster, but not a bigot.”

“It doesn’t seem that the grand jury got the injury to a whole community that occurs when you go after its most sacred article of faith,” he told the News-Review newspaper of Roseburg.

Said Rick Wesenberg, the assistant district attorney in Douglas County: “We presented the grand jury with the facts and the law, and the grand jury made the ultimate decision.”

The suspects could not immediately be reached for comment. Robbins’ attorney could also not be reached, according to the newspaper, and it was unclear whether the other two men have retained attorneys.

Ranjit Singh said he was troubled that the dollar value of his turban came up for debate during the grand jury process — to determine which level of theft should be charged. He says the turban is priceless.

“I’m not fighting for four or five dollars,” he said. “I am fighting for justice.” [Link]

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