Harris County Sheriff-Elect
and Judge Meet with Houston-Area Sikhs
Sheriff-Elect Adrian Garcia commits to a detailed investigation
of police misconduct and cultural awareness training for Houston
Houston, Texas: December 22, 2008
On Sunday, December 14, 2008 at the request of SALDEF Regional
Director and long-time friend Bobby Singh, Harris County Texas Sheriff-elect
Adrian Garcia met with the Sikh American community at the Sikh Center
of Houston, in the aftermath of a recent incident in which a Sikh
family was allegedly harassed by Harris County officers after reporting
The meeting allowed the Sikh American community to voice their
concerns directly to the Sheriff-elect and was also an opportunity
for the community to hear from local officials at a time when concerns
and fear of the local police are high. At the meeting, Sheriff-elect
Garcia remarked that the behavior of the Sheriff Deputies in this
incident would not be tolerated under his administration, which
takes effect on January 2, 2009.
At the meeting, the Sheriff-elect was presented with framed copies
of SALDEF’s Sikh Americans and the Kirpan, and Common Sikh
American Head Covering posters by the congregation, to be displayed
in his office as a reminder of the diversity within his community.
During his comments to the over 200 Sikhs in attendance, Sheriff-elect
Garcia committed to instituting “high quality diversity training”
for all of his officers – the third largest police force in
the United States.
On December 15, 2008, Mr. Singh coordinated a meeting with friend
and Harris County Judge Ed Emett, who along with the Harris County
Sherrif, is charged with operating the Sherrif's Office The meeting
brought together Sikhs from across te County to express concern
over the incidents.
At this second meeting Mr. Singh expressed the community’s
concerns over the actions by certain Harris County Sheriff Deputies
and further discussed the need for concrete and proactive solutions
to the threat of racial profiling and police brutality in Harris
County. Among the suggestions he offered, Mr. Singh reiterated the
need for mandated training of all Harris County Sheriff deputies
on Sikhism and Sikh traditions.
“These meetings are part of SALDEF’s continued efforts
to provide long-term and meaningful engagement with government officials
in cities across the nation,” said Mr. Singh. “Both
the community and government must take concrete steps to understand
one another and make sure that incidents like this do not happen
again. These meetings are just the beginning of a long-term partnership
that SALDEF and the Sikh American community will have with the local
officials to ensure open communication and to prevent misunderstandings
in the future.”
Through SALDEF’s Law Enforcement Partnership Program, SALDEF
previously provided law enforcement training to the City of Houston
police department. In the new year, SALDEF plans to work with the
Harris County Sheriff’s Office to provide a year-long training
program to educate the entire force about Sikhs and Sikh Americans.
Earlier this month, in the course of investigating the burglary
of a Sikh American home, Harris County police officials made suggestive
remarks to the family about Muslims, terrorism and the Mumbai terrorist
attacks. When one the officers noticed a family member wearing a
kirpan, they pointed a taser gun at her head, and handcuffed multiple
family members, including a sixty-year-old grandmother. The only
reason for this action was the Sikh family practicing their faith
freely in their home.
out to Harris County Sikhs
He promises diversity training and investigation into allegations
of misconduct by deputies responding to a burglary at a family's
By CINDY HORSWELL
Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
Dec. 14, 2008, 10:48PM
Eric Kayne Chronicle
Sheriff-elect Adrian Garcia gets help adjusting a head covering
he wore while addressing Sikh followers at the Sikh Center of Houston
Harris County Sheriff-elect Adrian Garcia took off his shoes and
put on a head covering to enter a Sikh temple Sunday, where he pledged
to expand diversity training and investigate a complaint that deputies
harassed a Sikh family whose home was burglarized last month.
"It's unfortunate that we're getting to know each other under
these circumstances," said Garcia, addressing several hundred
men in colorful turbans and women draped in bright flowing scarves,
who sat separately on the floor of the Sikh Center of Houston. "When
these type of circumstances occur, we all lose. The image of what
should be American authority suffers."
He said he could not address specifics of the case until after
he assumes office in January. Officials have said that the deputies
could face anything from disciplinary action to termination.
Ramandeep Singh, 28, an architect technician, called 911 on Nov.
26 when he discovered that his home in the 10800 block of Oak Bayou
Lane had been burglarized. Jewelry and money was missing.
Rather than investigate the burglary, a deputy focused on his turban
and the small ceremonial knife, called a "kirpan," his
sister had sheathed on her hip, he said.
After spotting the knife, a deputy pointed a taser at the woman's
head and called for backup. Deputies handcuffed four family members,
including Singh's mother.
A supervisor arrived at the home and released everyone, blaming
the incident on the deputy's "youth," Singh said.
His sister, Kawaljeet Kaur, remains distraught. "Why were
we detained and put through this humiliating experience and shown
such disrespect? We were treated as criminals when we had just been
victimized," she said Sunday.
The New York-based Sikh Coalition has called for a formal apology
and firing of the four deputies involved. The deputies' names have
not been released, and Sheriff Tommy Thomas has declined comment.
Bobby Singh, regional director of the Sikh American Legal Defense
and Education Fund, said Harris County deputies would benefit from
training about the Sikh religion that he has helped provide for
Houston police recruits for the past eight years.
A monotheistic religion, the Sikh religion emerged about 500 years
ago in Punjab, a state in India, by gurus who have sometimes been
persecuted by some Muslims, church members said. With about 25 million
followers, the religion preaches messages of honesty, equality and
Bobby Singh said he hopes sheriff-elect Garcia keeps his promise
to change the culture of the Harris Country Sheriff's Office.
Garcia said the incident may be the result of "misunderstandings"
caused by the fact that sheriff's deputies do not have the training
about the Sikh faith that Houston police do.
He hopes to change that by expanding diversity training, creating
an advisory committee composed of all the county's diverse groups,
recruiting Sikh police trainees, and arranging for Sikh families
to host Houston police supervisors for dinner.
He estimated that it would take one to three months to complete
Garcia, Sikhs to meet
Sheriff-elect to listen about alleged abuse by deputies
By LINDSAY WISE
Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
Dec. 12, 2008, 11:23PM
Sheriff-elect Adrian Garcia will meet with members of the local
Sikh community on Sunday to listen to their concerns about allegations
that Harris County deputies harassed a Sikh family last month.
"I will be offering just a good ear," said Garcia, who
will take office in January. "I think that this is one of those
roles that an elected official serves. We've got to always be ready
to listen to any segment of the community when there's concern and
Sheriff Tommy Thomas has yet to comment publicly or respond to
a letter sent last week by the Sikh Coalition, based in New York,
that called for his office to fire the four deputies involved and
issue a formal apology to the family. "He feels it would be
inappropriate, even for media purposes, to presumptively make comments
regarding an ongoing investigation of sheriff's office personnel,"
said Sheriff's Office spokesman John Legg.
Members of the Sikh family have said they called 911 when their
home in the 10800 block of Oak Bayou Lane was burglarized the night
of Nov. 26. But instead of investigating the break-in, they said,
the responding deputy became alarmed when he noticed one of the
women wore a ceremonial knife sheathed on her hip.
Symbol of faith
Kawaljeet Kaur, 35, said she explained to the deputy that she wears
the small, blunt Kirpan as a symbol of her faith and offered to
leave the room. The deputy aimed his Taser at her and called for
backup, she said.
Matters got worse when other deputies arrived and began cursing
and handcuffing family members, including Kaur and her 60-year-old
mother, relatives said.
One deputy reportedly asked if the family had "heard about
the bombings in Bombay." Another allegedly said he had been
to Kuwait and "knew about Muslims."
Legg said the investigation into the deputies' actions remains
"a top priority" for the sheriff's office.
"We're very disturbed by the allegations and if proven to
be true there would be consequences," he said.
He declined to release the names of the deputies or any official
records of the incident pending the probe's outcome.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, misperceptions about
Sikhs' religiously mandated turbans and beards have led to an increase
in discrimination and hate crimes.
But the cultural diversity training required for sheriff's deputies
every few years does not include information about the Sikh religion,
a monotheistic faith with more than 25 million followers worldwide.
That could now change, said Legg, the sheriff's spokesman.
"That's certainly a point of interest for us now in expanding
our training to include other religions perhaps that we may have
overlooked and that may have grown in population in our area,"
Earlier this week, the head of the Sheriff's Internal Affairs Division,
Lt. Dennis Field, met with the family members "and had an open
dialogue," Legg said.
"It went very well and there was excellent progress made,"
he said. "They were working together."
Kaur confirmed that her family had met with IAD officials and made
arrangements to give formal statements to investigators. She and
her relatives plan to attend the meeting with Garcia at the Sikh
Center in west Houston on Sunday.
The invitation for Garcia to visit the center came from longtime
friend Bobby Singh, regional director of the Sikh American Legal
Defense and Education Fund.
Singh said the family's story shocked the Sikh community, locally
"I think people are outraged," he said. "I think
everyone in the community feels that we are law-abiding citizens."
Sikhs aren't asking for preferential treatment, Singh said, "but
I think that if this is what equates to serving and protecting,
not only the Sikh community but the Harris County community at large
should be very concerned. This is not what we deserve."
Garcia felt it was important to take a proactive step.
"We need to make sure that our folks have the right training
to understand the diverse community that Harris County is, and I
think it starts with leadership and that's why I'm making myself
available," he said. "But overall this is an opportunity
to learn and obviously to do better than we have done in the past."
Sikh family accuses
deputies of abuse, taunts
By LINDSAY WISE
Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
Dec. 5, 2008, 10:44PM
MELISSA PHILLIP CHRONICLE
Kawaljeet Kaur, with her brother, Ramandeep Singh, shows her Kirpan,
a ceremonial dagger required by the Sikh faith. Deputies handcuffed
family members after they reported a burglary at their home.
RELIGION HAS 25 MILLION FOLLOWERS
Sikhism is a monotheistic religion with more than 25 million followers
Sikhism was revealed to Guru Nanak more than 500 years ago in the
Punjab, the Sikh homeland in South Asia. The word "guru"
means an enlightener and a prophet.
The religion denounces superstitions and blind ritual, preaching
a message of devotion, remembrance of God at all times, truthful
living, equality between all human beings and social justice.
Initiated Sikhs wear the Kesh (uncut hair), which is kept covered
by a distinctive turban, the Kirpan (religious sword), Kara (metal
bracelet), Kanga (comb) and Kaccha (under-shorts). This uniform
is intended to unify and bind them to their beliefs and to remind
them of their commitment to the Gurus at all times.
The Harris County Sheriff's Office is investigating allegations
that deputies harassed a family of Sikhs whose home was burglarized
Family members say the deputies handcuffed them, roughed them up
and taunted them instead of taking a report on the break-in.
One deputy reportedly asked them if they'd "heard about the
bombings in Bombay." Another allegedly said he had been to
Kuwait and "knew about Muslims."
Since 9/11, misperceptions about Sikhs' religiously mandated turbans
and beards have led to an increase in discrimination against Sikhs,
according to the New York-based Sikh Coalition.
The family reported the incident to the Coalition, which called
for the sheriff's office to fire the four deputies involved and
issue a formal apology to the family.
"The allegations, if they're true, are certainly intolerable
and inconsistent with our policies," said sheriff's spokesman
The deputies could face anything from disciplinary action to termination,
Legg said. He declined to release their names pending further investigation.
The Sikh family returned home to the 10800 block of Oak Bayou Lane
on the night of Nov. 26 to discover a broken window in a bathroom
and belongings strewn on the floor of the master bedroom. Jewelry
and money was missing.
Ramandeep Singh, 28, called 911 and went to the driveway to greet
the deputy when his patrol car pulled up.
"Right from that instant, he didn't ask us what was going
on or if we were OK, he just looked at me and he goes, 'Do you have
an ID?'" recalled Singh, who has a beard and wears a turban.
Singh offered to retrieve his ID from the house and invited the
officer to accompany him.
After handing over the ID, Singh and his relatives showed the deputy
the broken window. But the deputy couldn't seem to focus on the
break-in, Singh said.
"It just looked like he didn't want to be there," he
said. "I sensed a little uneasiness from him."
Deputy 'freaked out'
Then the deputy noticed his sister's Kirpan, a small ceremonial
knife she wears sheathed on her hip.
The Kirpan is a religious article mandated by the Sikh faith, explained
Kawaljeet Kaur, 35. "It's a constant reminder to me that I
need to promote justice for all," she said.
The deputy "freaked out," Singh said.
"Before you know it, he has a taser pointed at her forehead,
he's calling for backup, he's raising his voice, like, 'Shut up,
shut up! '"
"I told him, you know, I'm a law-abiding citizen," Kaur
said. "Treat me with respect."
She offered to leave the room if the Kirpan upset him, but pointed
out that it was her constitutional right to practice her religion
in her own home.
"He said, 'I don't care about that,' " Singh remembered.
He said the situation deteriorated when other deputies arrived
and began handcuffing family members, including Kaur's 60-year-old
"They were using the f-word, and we had an 8-year-old in the
house," Singh said.
One deputy pushed Kaur to the ground and pressed his knee to her
"They basically didn't treat us like humans," she said.
"They didn't think they had to give us any answers or talk
One of the deputies told the family he "knew about Muslims,"
"But even if I was a Muslim, that doesn't mean I'm a terrorist,"
Kaur pointed out.
Helpless, in shock
"It was a terrifying experience," she said. "When
a hate crime is committed at your own home, you feel so helpless
and so vulnerable as to who do you call for help. I will probably
think a hundred times before calling 911 ever again."
Although more than a dozen deputies had swarmed the scene, none
of them made any effort investigate the burglary, Singh said.
"Imagine the kind of resources that they're putting into this
kind of thing instead of all the real crime that's going on out
there," he said. "I mean I was just in shock. I didn't
think this kind of thing could happen in Houston."
Hours after the initial 911 call, a supervisor showed up and ordered
the deputies to unhandcuff the family, Singh said.
"He was like, 'Yeah, these guys are young. They don't know
any better,' " Singh said. "I'm like, 'That's fine but
that's no excuse to treat anybody this way.'"
Singh said his family moved to Houston from India more than 20
years ago and consider themselves proud citizens.
Racial profiling people won't make anybody safer and will erode
trust in law enforcement, especially in immigrant communities, said
Neha Singh, western region director for the Sikh Coalition.
"For an incident like this to occur is shameful and shocking,"
she said. "I really don't understand how they could justify
what they did here, and I'm sure they would not have behaved the
same way had the family looked different."