The Harris County Sheriff’s Office is investigating allegations that deputies harassed a family of Sikhs whose home was burglarized last week.
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 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.”
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! ‘”
He said the situation deteriorated when other deputies arrived and began handcuffing family members, including Kaur’s 60-year-old mother.
“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 back.
One of the deputies told the family he “knew about Muslims,” they said.
“But even if I was a Muslim, that doesn’t mean I’m a terrorist,” Kaur pointed out.
“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.