By Monica Luhar, India-West, March 14, 2012
The San Jose Police Department March 2 arrested one of the suspects involved in a November assault, which is no longer being investigated as a hate crime.
The victim, Atul Lall, was assaulted in a San Jose Lucky supermarket parking lot Nov. 21. As he pulled out of a parking spot, several males walked towards him, he told India-West in an earlier interview (I-W, Dec. 16.)
Another male approached him and struck him with a tequila bottle while another suspect spat on him and allegedly called him a “terrorist.”
“This has been a long investigation,” Sergeant Jason Dwyer told India-West. “We have been working on it since November of 2011 and originally treated it as a hate crime based on the victim’s statement. We are happy to finally take this violent criminal off the streets.”
The suspect, 21-year-old Emilio Romayor, has been charged with assault with a deadly weapon and enhancements for infliction of bodily injury and the use of a weapon. He is currently booked in Santa Clara County Jail.
According to a press release issued by SJPD, Romayor faces up to seven years in prison. Bail has been set at $75,000 and police are still on the lookout for two other suspects involved in the assault. The suspect’s brother was also arrested in connection with the assault.
Lall, who has criticized the SJPD for the way in which the investigation was handled, alleges that he and his friend provided SJPD Detective Michael Villanueva with the name of the suspect, after putting up posters around town and allegedly finding an anonymous source who then provided the name of the suspect.
“I’d like to say thank you for the individual for giving us the name, because that’s what led to the arrest. I’d like to stay to the cops: ‘I want to know why they are not acknowledging the fact that they got the name from me and my friend,’” said Lall.
“The actual victim found his attacker,” he added.
According to Sergeant Dwyer, the SJPD received a tip the week of Feb. 24 from an anonymous individual. “Information from this anonymous source helped us identify the suspect; it wasn’t information from the victim,” asserted Dwyer.
“The anonymous tip information, coupled with the partial fingerprint, led to the identification of the suspect,” added public information officer Jose Garcia.
San Jose District 8 councilmember Rose Herrera originally offered a $1,000 reward through Crime Stoppers. Other local Bay Area advocacy groups and organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Hindu American Foundation and South Asian Bar Association of Northern California later in by offering individuals an additional $2,000 joint reward Feb. 23.
“We are grateful that police have been able to arrest one suspect and that the DA is planning to charge them. We appreciate that, but are disappointed that they won’t charge the suspect with a hate crime,” Samir Kalra, director of Hindu American Foundation, told India-West.
“We welcome news of the recent arrest in this horrific assault. It is our hope that this will send a message to everybody that such crimes will not be tolerated in our communities. We are closely monitoring developments in the case and working with the DA’s office, the victim and allied organizations towards the most appropriate outcome,” said Zahra Billoo, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The assault is being treated as a “traffic-related altercation,” according to Deputy District Attorney Erin West.
“Based on the surveillance footage, it appeared that the origin of dispute was some sort of traffic-related dispute. It appeared that the victim drove his car and almost made contact with the defendant. And from there, the physical assault took place,” West told India-West.
“A hate crime requires that hate-related conduct be a substantial factor in the crime. And in this case, even if the word ‘terrorist’ were used, it was used once the physical altercation had already begun,” she said.
A surveillance video, which was originally withheld during the ongoing investigation by SJPD, was released March 2 along with an image of the suspect and the original sketch.