SEATTLE, (Diya TV) — A man faces charges of hate crimes after Spokane law enforcement officials said he vandalized a local Sikh temple and desecrated the temple’s holy book. The man mistakingly thought the temple was a Mosque, and affiliated with the Islamic State group terror organization, according to police — the actions were immediately met with outcry from the town’s community leaders on Thursday.
Jeffrey C. Pittman, 44, was arrested Thursday morning inside of the temple, located at 1420 N. Barker Road in Spokane, after a brief altercation with local police. He was wearing no clothing and was holding a ceremonial sword which belongs to the temple, police said. He originally told police he broke into the temple through an open door on the side of the building because he was cold and hungry.
Upon entrance, Pittman became convinced the temple was actually a mosque, connected to the terrorist group ISIS.
Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, joined by two mayors, three city council members and figureheads of other faiths in the community, held a joint press conference in which the man’s actions were publicly condemned.
“No hate will be tolerated in Spokane County,” Knezovich said during the press conference.
Also in attendance was Spokane mayor, David Condon. He spoke candidly on the subject, quick to defend the morals and ethics of Sikhs in his community by saying, “Sikh values are intrinsic to who we are.” Rod Higgins, mayor of Spokane Valley, added, “This is not who the people of the Valley are. … I hope justice will be swift.”
Pittman was booked into Spokane’s county jail, and charged with armed burglary, malicious mischief and malicious harassment based on religious discrimination – Washington’s version of a hate crime. While he was inside, approximately $30,000 worth of damage was done to the temple, according to its officials.
“Our hearts are broken,” said Subarna Nagra, a member of the temple.
Gurjeet Singh Aujla, the priest at the temple, said the temple’s Sikh holy book was defaced and pages were ripped from it — the altar and bedding were also vandalized. The holy book contains the accumulated teachings of the first through 10th Sikh gurus. Each morning, the book is opened and the priest selects a passage which becomes the focus of prayer and meditation for that day.
Sikhism originated in India, and has about 20 million adherents globally — Spokane’s community consists of roughly 300 Sikhs, according to Nagra. In an effort to repair the damage and replace items for the temple, which can be viewed in the below video, Nagra has created a gofundme account to raise money.
Nagra continued by thanking the steadfast efforts of the Spokane-area police, and while speaking on behalf of the Sikh Coalition, said the authorities have the complete trust and full support of the Sikh community.
“When hate crimes occur, we must investigate and prosecute them accordingly because that is one meaningful way in which Americans are forced to acknowledge the problem for what it is,” Nagra said. “We thank the Spokane police department, the Spokane Valley police department and Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich for acting quickly and taking this case so seriously. We trust that they will finish their investigation into the motivation and the District Attorney will act fairly.”