Civil suit filed against county, SCSO officers in possible hate crime incident

May 10—Nearly a year after a Sutter County resident and first-generation Sikh American was involved in an incident in which he was allegedly threatened with a racial slur and violence and later subjected to more slurs and hateful graffiti at his residence, a civil suit is being filed against the county, officers with the Sutter County Sheriff's Office and the individual who threatened him.

According to Graham West, media and communications director for the Sikh Coalition, the Sikh civil rights organization also is urging the Sutter County District Attorney's Office to bring criminal charges.

"Almost one year ago, Mr. Rouble Paul Claire, a first generation Sikh American and father whose family has called Sutter home since 1973, was threatened with a racial slur and vehicular violence at a local store and then, in a second separate but related incident hours later, subjected to more racial slurs and hateful graffiti at his home," West said in a statement. "Mr. Claire, age 66, immediately notified the Sutter County Sheriff's Office (SCSO); but after months of delay and inconsistent responses, he retained the Sikh Coalition for free legal help in October of 2021."

According to West and the Sikh Coalition, Claire was allegedly "accosted by a woman in his neighborhood while at South Butte Market" on May 11, 2021. The woman allegedly yelled and cursed at Claire. She allegedly called Claire a "f***ing Hindu" and threatened to "ram" him with her car. She then got back into her car and allegedly sped toward Claire in the parking lot, before swerving away at the last moment.

Later that day, a separate woman that was allegedly connected to the "assailant," wrote "sand n****r," a racist slur used against people of Middle Eastern descent, in chalk outside of Claire's house and in his driveway. She also allegedly called him a "n****r," an ethnic slur typically used against Black people.

"I have been subject to threats, harassment, and racial slurs — yet almost a full year later, no one has been held accountable," Claire said in a statement. "For months after immediately reporting these hateful acts, I sat in silence waiting for action that never came. I did not want to have to take legal action against anyone, but I believe that this failure of justice is unacceptable: No one in our community should have to face this kind of hate and bigotry."

The Sikh Coalition said Claire received "little aid," despite multiple appeals to the SCSO. The group alleged that a deputy who responded to the incident outside Claire's home "used his own water bottle in an attempt to wash away the evidence before taking photos for the office."

After the Sikh Coalition was retained by Claire for free legal guidance, the group's attorneys met with SCSO Sheriff Brandon Barnes in December 2021 and in January this year.

"In those conversations, Sheriff Barnes acknowledged that his deputies failed to follow proper investigatory protocol in the course of these cases and confirmed that one deputy had received additional training as a result," West said. "Eventually, we secured a police report detailing Mr. Claire's experiences — in which the SCSO recommended criminal charges against the woman who threatened Mr. Claire at the store six months after the incident."

West and the Sikh Coalition allege that Amanda Hopper and the Sutter County District Attorney's Office have since refused to press charges related to the incidents.

West said the district attorney's office "cited the amount of time that had elapsed between the incidents and the police finally calling for charges as reason not to move the case forward — despite the fact that this delay was due to the SCSO's failure to properly investigate and act."

Hopper responded to the allegations in an emailed statement on Tuesday.

"The Sheriff's Office did not refer this case to my office for hate crimes against Mr. Claire. The referred charge was for violating Penal Code Section 245(a)(1), assault with a deadly weapon. The probable cause statement from the Sheriff's Office did not contain sufficient evidence to prove this crime beyond a reasonable doubt, specifically as the eye witness stated that it did not appear that the suspect attempted to hit Mr. Claire but was merely trying to block him in," Hopper said. "If the alleged information contained in the civil documents are accurate, then my office has not received all of the reports and evidence referenced. Should all evidence be submitted to the District Attorney's Office, we will conduct a new review and legal analysis of the facts and make a filing decision. The statute of limitations for the requested charge is three years so the case can be filed anytime prior to May 11, 2024."

Sikh Coalition Legal Director Amrith Kaur Aakre said these kinds of verbal interactions can lead to more deadly consequences if not taken seriously.

"No one deserves to feel threatened in their own community, and law enforcement — both police and prosecutors — simply must do better," Aakre said in a statement. "Tragically, we have seen time and again that hateful interactions can lead to violent results; the case of Khalid Jabara, killed in Oklahoma in 2016 after months of verbal, bias-based harassment from a neighbor, comes to mind. The large Sikh population in this area is only more reason to ensure that all members of this community feel safe and secure."

West said the Sikh Coalition is calling on Hopper to bring charges of criminal threats, assault, and assault with a deadly weapon against the woman who initially allegedly threatened Claire with her car. The group also said it is "extremely concerned" about the inaction of law enforcement in response to the racial slurs and graffiti and "broader allegations of a pattern of inaction" by the district attorney's office in cases targeting members of marginalized communities.

Claims in the civil suit against officers with the SCSO include a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution regarding the failure to administer police services in a non-discriminatory manner and conspiracy to violate civil rights. The civil suit also includes a municipal liability claim against Sutter County for unconstitutional policy, practice or custom. The suit also alleges violations of state law, including the Ralph Civil Rights Act, the Tom Bane Civil Rights Act, and claims of assault, trespass, and intentional infliction of emotional distress against the civilian defendants.

"It is unacceptable that the law enforcement authorities sworn to protect Mr. Claire did so little over such a long time — and then ultimately refused to pursue the justice that he deserves," Attorney Sean Tamura-Sato said.

Another attorney, Gina Szeto-Wong, again highlighted the lack of action by all involved.

"This civil suit is a first step to remedying that failure, as well as taking legal action against the women who threatened and harassed him, who have faced no consequences whatsoever due to Sutter County's practice of inadequately investigating and prosecuting hate crimes against racial and ethnic minorities," Szeto-Wong said.

A representative for Sutter County was not able to provide comment when requested for this story. The Appeal was told a press release would be issued by the county at a later date.

"The Sheriff's Office is committed to investigating and enforcing hate crime statutes, and when evidence is sufficient will refer the matter to the District Attorney's Office," SCSO Undersheriff Scott Smallwood said in a statement Tuesday. "Our office welcomes continued communication with the Sikh Coalition."