California Sikh who accused deputies of inaction after hate crimes wins in federal court

A practicing Sikh man who accused a Northern California sheriff’s office of inadequately investigating a pair of racist hate crimes he said he experienced in 2021 has been awarded a $25,000 judgment after suing the county and two deputies in federal court.

Rouble Claire, a retiree living in the community of Sutter, west of Yuba City, was making a routine trip to a convenience store in May 2021 when a woman threatened to ram him with her car while shouting racial slurs at him, he told The Sacramento Bee in an interview last spring. That same afternoon, Claire caught a different woman, chalk in hand, writing slurs in front of his home and on his driveway.

Claire further alleged, in a civil lawsuit filed last May in Sacramento federal court, that unnecessary delays and inaction by Sutter County sheriff’s deputies assigned to the case resulted in prosecutors declining to pursue charges in the parking lot incident.

Attorneys Gina Szeto-Wong, of Szeto-Wong Law; and Sean Tamura-Sato, of Minami Tamaki LLP, on Monday announced the case had been resolved with a judgment in Claire’s favor.

Federal court records show the judgment was handed down against Sutter County and two Sutter County sheriff’s deputies in August, awarding Claire $25,000 plus legal fees.

The court case remained active until this month due to the involvement of a fourth defendant — the alleged perpetrator of the parking lot threats, identified in court documents as Sara Hollis. Claire and Hollis agreed to handle the issue using the court’s voluntary dispute resolution program. An order staying the case was served last week, court records show.

“This is a step forward for my own peace of mind – but more importantly, it will hopefully help to ensure that nothing like my experience ever happens to anyone in Sutter County again,” Claire said in a written statement Monday. “It is the responsibility of our law enforcement officials to take all crimes and threats seriously, and accountability is essential when they do not live up to that standard.”

Sutter County incidents involved alleged threats, racial slurs

The initial incident began May 11, 2021, when Claire drove from his home in the town of Sutter to the nearby South Butte Market, where he was allegedly confronted in the parking lot by Hollis, his neighbor, whom Claire said falsely accused him of hitting and killing her dog with his vehicle.

Hollis began cursing him out, Claire said in an interview with The Bee last year, and called him a “f------ Hindu,” before threatening to ram Claire with her vehicle. She then sped toward him in her car before briefly boxing Claire’s vehicle in, he said.

Hours later that same day, Claire witnessed a different woman writing in chalk in front of his house. The woman had written the words “sand (expletive),” a racial slur, on the street and on the corner of his driveway, along with arrows pointing to his house.

Claire said a pair of deputies who arrived to investigate the chalking incident acted unprofessionally.

One deputy, Vishaal Virk, poured water on the slur written on the driveway before taking any photos of it, which Claire said amounted to destroying evidence. Another deputy, Earl Manion, failed to properly document Claire’s intent to pursue hate crime charges, according to the lawsuit.

A racial slur written on the driveway of Rouble Claire’s home in Sutter, California, on May 11, 2021. Claire says a Sutter County sheriff’s deputy partially washed away the slur with his water bottle without taking any photos of the chalk as evidence. Courtesy of Rouble Claire
A racial slur written on the driveway of Rouble Claire’s home in Sutter, California, on May 11, 2021. Claire says a Sutter County sheriff’s deputy partially washed away the slur with his water bottle without taking any photos of the chalk as evidence. Courtesy of Rouble Claire

Ultimately, the Sheriff’s Office in December 2021 filed a declaration in support of an arrest warrant for Hollis. But the Sutter County District Attorney’s Office two weeks later declined to pursue charges, in part citing the nearly six-month delay between the incident and Claire’s report. Claire argued that this long delay was a direct result of inaction by the Sheriff’s Office.

Sutter County officials did not respond to The Bee’s requests for comment last year following the lawsuit’s filing. Efforts to reach Hollis for comment were unsuccessful.

The county, Manion and Virk offered a federal “Rule 68” judgment in Claire’s favor of $25,000, which Claire and his attorneys accepted. Rule 68 judgments are similar to but distinct from settlement offers.

“This judgment reflects the unavoidable fact that Sutter County’s institutions failed our client,” Szeto-Wong and Tamura-Sato said in a joint statement Monday. “No one should have to experience hateful words or conduct – nor should they go months without an adequate investigation or have their legitimate concerns belittled and ignored when the safety of them and their family is at risk.”

Before filing the lawsuit, Claire sought legal help from the Sikh Coalition, a national nonprofit. The coalition did not represent Claire in his civil lawsuit, but in the preceding months, urged the Sheriff’s Office and Sutter County’s then-District Attorney Amanda Hopper to pursue charges in the case, including hate crime charges.

The Sikh Coalition in a Monday statement said it plans in the coming weeks to contact recently elected District Attorney Jennifer Dupre to continue the discussion about criminal charges.

“Mr. Claire experienced inaction tantamount to injustice that no one else should suffer,” Amrith Kaur Aakre, the Sikh Coalition’s legal director, said in a statement.