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Sikh: Race was factor in arrest
5/15/08 - A 44-year-old Santa Fe Sikh from India says a city police officer overreacted earlier this month when he arrested him during an incident that began when the man ran a stop sign.
In fact, Sarub Singh said, he thinks the officer saw his dark skin and his turban and jumped to conclusions about him. "I think maybe the problem was that there are not very many Indian Sikhs with turbans (in the Santa Fe area)," Singh said. "If I wore a white turban and was white, it would have been different."
However, Santa Fe Deputy Police Chief Benjie Montaño said Officer Scott Waite's report indicates he followed proper procedure. Still, Montaño met with Singh, who is charged with resisting arrest and running a stop sign, and City Manager Galen Buller earlier this week. Montaño said Wednesday that he's looking into the arrest.
The incident occurred about 9:50 p.m. May 1 when Waite, who was parked in the lot of Tiny's Restaurant and Lounge, 1015 Pen Road, saw Singh's 2008 Ford Mustang run a stop sign at Calle Grillo and Early Street, according to Waite's police report. Waite pulled behind the Mustang and turned on his flashing red lights, but the Mustang speeded up and proceeded north, the report states.
Waite followed the Mustang into a parking lot at 802 Early St., where it stopped, according to the report. The officer started to call in the stop, but put down the radio when he saw Singh exit the car. "I got out of my car and told the driver to sit in his car," Waite wrote in his report. "He did not do so and instead asked what he had done."
The report indicates the officer told Singh to get back in his car twice more before Singh started walking toward Waite, telling him, "Calm down, officer." The officer told Singh two more times to get back in the Mustang, but Singh continued "closing distance toward me," the report says.
"I perceived his walking towards me as a threat so I ran up to him and took hold of his right arm and pushed him up against his car attempting to control him and handcuff him," the report states. "Singh would not let me bring his arm back behind him and handcuff him."
In a phone interview Wednesday from Southern California, Singh said he was on his way to his office to conduct business with people in India at the time of the incident. He admitted he came to a rolling "California stop" at the stop sign, but said he never saw the officer behind him or the red flashing lights.
Singh said he didn't notice anything was amiss until he pulled into his office parking lot, got out of his car and realized a cop was behind him shouting. "I step out and he's there and he's ... yelling at me to stay in the car," Singh said. "In my panic, I lost my English for a few seconds. I just froze."
After the officer told him for the third time to stay in the car, Singh said he began to understand and started to get back in the car. Instead, the officer told him, "Come here," then placed him up against the officer's car and grabbed his arm.
"I didn't resist at all," he said. "I was just surprised. I was so docile."
He said his arm was in a sling for a period of time, and it still causes him pain as do his shoulder and wrist.
Singh has taught math and computer science at various high schools and colleges in Northern New Mexico for about 15 years and lately has been trying to attract Indian software companies to the area. A group of Indian businessmen was scheduled to come to Santa Fe later this month and meet with the head of the city's Chamber of Commerce, but they now believe they'll be hassled by police and will instead meet Singh in Los Angeles, he said.
"This guy (Waite) had an attitude," Singh said. "He made up his mind once he saw me."
Montaño said Waite is a good officer who has a clean record with the department.
-By Jason Auslander - The New Mexican
Contact Jason Auslander at 986-3076
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