By Johnathan Silver, The Texas Tribune, texastribune.org
A Sikh advocacy group wants criminal charges to be filed against three people who restrained two fellow Greyhound bus passengers in Amarillo and called 911 to report them as terrorists. Potter County sheriff’s deputies arrested the two on terroristic threat charges, but released them after finding no basis for the claims.
Daljeet Singh, an Indian asylum seeker bound for Indianapolis, left Phoenix, Arizona, on Feb. 20 on a Greyhound bus. On board, he met Mohammed Chotri, a Pakistani, and the two began speaking to each other in Punjabi.
The men changed seats throughout the ride and spoke on multiple cell phones, arousing the suspicions of passenger Tianna Lynn Decamp, according to a sheriff’s deputy report, who thought they were speaking in Arabic and discussing a bomb on the bus.
When the bus stopped in Amarillo the next day, Decamp shared her suspicion with the bus driver, who called Potter County dispatch and relayed a complaint that the two men were “acting weird” and “gradually made their way to the back” as seats opened up, the incident report shows. One of the two supposedly had said there was a bomb on the bus.
While waiting for police, passengers Anthony Lamar Lillie and Kelly Michael Morris confronted Singh, who wears a turban, and held him in his seat, the reports say. As passengers evacuated the bus, deputies with rifles drawn ordered everyone to the ground and arrested the two men on suspicion of making a terroristic threat. After investigating, law enforcement determined there was no bomb or threat, and the men were released. Singh was in custody for 30 hours, according to his attorney.
Singh, who does not speak English, had no idea what was happening during most of the ordeal, said Gurjot Kaur, a staff attorney for The Sikh Coalition, which is representing Singh.
“While safety is paramount, so are our values, and we can’t let fear and bigotry control or trump common sense and reason and kindness.”— Gurjot Kaur, staff attorney for The Sikh Coalition
“He didn’t find out about a bomb threat, that somebody accused him of saying the word bomb, until he was interviewed by the FBI through a translator,” Kaur said.
Kaur said Islamophobia, discrimination based on skin color and a misunderstanding of Sikhs and turbans perpetuated the incident. Sikhs are often mistaken for Muslims, inviting scrutiny and misconceptions such as connections to terrorism, she said.
Officers took Singh’s turban off for security reasons and took his mug shot. The organization is criticizing the removal because the article is worn for religious purposes and the claim that Singh was plotting an attack was weak, Kaur said.
“While safety is paramount, so are our values, and we can’t let fear and bigotry control or trump common sense and reason and kindness,” she said.
Singh wants Decamp to be charged with making a false report and for Lillie and Morris to be charged with unlawful restraint, both of which are misdemeanors. He isn’t pursuing a lawsuit, nor does he want to see the passengers put in jail, Kaur said.
Decamp, Lillie and Morris could not be reached for comment.
“[Singh] wants education out of this, but he wants accountability through a criminal process,” she said, offering community service and diversity training as solutions.
Potter County Sheriff Brian Thomas said everything was done by the book.
“It doesn’t matter who you are,” Thomas said. “If you call into the sheriff’s office and have someone talking about a bomb, we’re going to investigate that information.”
Potter County County Attorney Scott Brumley said pursuing charges against the passengers simply to punish them for any beliefs they may hold is unjust, but if those beliefs led to knowingly making a false report, that is criminal.
Limited access to witnesses and the parties involved might complicate the investigation and affect whether charges are filed, Brumley said.
“Getting them back to provide live testimony may be a challenge of some significance,” the county attorney said. “When we look at a case, we have to consider is this a case we can consider beyond a reasonable doubt, and the availability of witnesses always has to play some role in determining whether the case is one that can be successfully prosecuted.”