A coalition of 40 local and national civil rights organizations have joined The Sikh Coalition to demand accountability and training after two South Asian, Punjabi-speaking men traveling on a Greyhound bus in February were arrested in Amarillo, Texas. In April, The Sikh Coalition called on local officials to investigate the accusers for filing a false police report and to evaluate police practices.
“What happened to these two men is unconscionable. We intend to work closely with local authorities on their training procedures and response protocols to ensure that history isn’t repeated,” The Sikh Coalition policy director Arjun Singh said in a statement.
Daljeet Singh was a Sikh asylum seeker from India and Mohammed Chotri was an asylum seeker from Pakistan when they were arrested, according to The Sikh Coalition. Although neither man knew the other previously, because they both spoke Punjabi, they sat and conversed, the organization said. Both men had just been granted asylum and were travelling from Phoenix, Arizona, across the country to begin their new lives in America.
"No one should be subject to discriminatory treatment and policing on the basis of their religion, ethnicity, or English language skills."
According to The Sikh Coalition, a woman on the bus told police that the two men were "acting weird," speaking Arabic, and discussing a bomb. In Amarillo, Texas, two other passengers detained Singh and Chotri in their seats until police came and arrested them at gunpoint. Police also removed Singh's turban and distributed mug shots of him without his turban to local media. The men were detained for approximately 30 hours and released without charges after being interviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation through a Punjabi-language interpreter.
“No one should be subject to discriminatory treatment and policing on the basis of their religion, ethnicity, or English language skills," a letter from the coalition to Potter County Attorney Scott Brumley reads. "This humiliating and offensive encounter could have been avoided if the officers were properly trained in diversity and nondiscrimination; had summoned an interpreter to the scene immediately so that the two Punjabi speakers could explain themselves; or more thoroughly investigated the basis for the terrorism allegation, including rigorously questioning the passenger who filed the false police report.”
The coalition offered to help review and develop the county’s law enforcement anti-profiling guidelines, diversity training for law enforcement officers, translation services, and redress procedures.
In an email, Potter County Attorney Scott Brumley told NBC News that his office is currently reviewing the incident.
"We are painstakingly reviewing the case to determine whether any of the conduct that occurred on the bus violated Texas law," Brumley wrote. "If our office has jurisdiction to prosecute any such offense, it will be a misdemeanor. Thus, in addition to determining whether the evidence and law converge to make out a case in which justice will be served by prosecution, we must consider whether we have adequate resources to pursue a misdemeanor prosecution against defendants who reside outside of Texas, and to secure the presence and live testimony of witnesses, who also reside outside of Texas. These are significant and complex considerations."
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He went on to say that because the allegations in the case have not been tested in a court, he could not yet accept some of the assumptions made regarding the incident.
"That Mr. Singh and Mr. Chotri were cleared of any charges is a given. But whether they were 'falsely' or — alternatively — mistakenly reported to have been engaged in conduct that might reasonably seen as a bomb threat are matters for determination by the evidence, not by a public relations and media campaign," Brumley wrote. "So, too, is whether the person who reported the conduct in fact knew the report was false. These questions of motive also are highly relevant to any criminal culpability of the people who restrained Mr. Singh and Mr. Chotri."
On training, Brumley said that officers of the Potter County Sheriff's Office currently receive state-mandated training and, while changing the standards of that training would involve the Texas Legislature, constructive input is welcome.
"Sheriff Thomas is smart, conscientious and committed to seeing that his deputies ensure safety and equal justice for all in Potter County to the greatest extent humanly possible," he wrote. "To that end, we welcome constructive input from all knowledgeable stakeholders. But assuming Potter County officers did something wrong before all of the evidence (and all sides of the story) are thoroughly considered would be a presumptuous and counterproductive way to begin that conversation."
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