Lack of witnesses in Sikh shooting case challenges police

Taylor Mirfendereski reports.

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KENT -- There were no known witnesses to a shooting last Friday in a Kent driveway, where a Sikh man told police a stranger shot him after saying, "Go back to your country."

Almost a week later, Kent detectives have a sketch, but not a specific suspect in the puzzling case that's drawn national media attention and led to a federal civil rights investigation into the suspected hate crime. Earlier this week, their only account of what happened came from the 39-year-old victim, Deep Rai, according to the city's police chief.

RELATED: Police release sketch of Sikh shooting suspect, ask for community assistance

"That is one piece in this case that's very frustrating," Kent Police Chief Ken Thomas said in an interview. "And there's not a significant amount of physical evidence, so we are very challenged in this investigation."

Rai, an Indian native and member of the Sikh community, has a beard and wears a turban. That's why the incident that occurred in the Seattle suburbs has the national and international community on high alert. It follows another hate-driven attack that targeted two Indian men at a Kansas bar last month. It also comes in the wake of simmering political tensions involving immigrants in the United States.

Members of the Sikh community and some neighbors to the Panther Lake home where the shooting occurred are on edge since public details about what happened Friday are vague, and there's presumably still a shooter on the loose. Yet, Thomas assured community members that the shooting was a "crime of opportunity," and that he doesn't believe it will happen again.

"I do not believe that any other members of our community are in imminent danger," he said. "I have no indications outside of that specific incident that further violence would occur. Like, there were no indications of information put online or any statements made to anybody other than the intended victim."

Victim 'Lost Consciousness' Before Shooting

Rai is the landlord at the property in Kent's East Hill neighborhood where he was shot.

He told police officers he was putting air in the front tire of a car parked in the driveway around 7:30 p.m. on March 3 when a man he didn't know walked toward him from behind. An altercation followed, and that's when the suspect apparently told the victim to go back to his own country. Rai told police he then lost consciousness. When he woke up, he realized he had been shot in the upper left arm.

Rai said the person who shot him fled. He described the suspect to police as a 6-foot tall white male who was wearing a mask on the lower half of his face. Police released a sketch of the suspect at a press conference on Thursday. 

The police chief said the tenants at the property came home and found Rai. Police iinterviews, 911 calls and the incident report from Friday's shooting haven't been released, and officials said they won't release the public documents until the investigation is complete.  That means our only account of what happened comes from Kent police, as the victim has not shared his story with the media or responded to requests for interviews. Rai's wife said Tuesday that her husband was "doing OK" after the incident.

Below is a timeline of events, as described by Kent police officials . 

Surveillance Footage Doesn't Capture Incident 

Thomas would not share specific details about the evidence collected at the scene or share the kind of weapon that was used to commit the crime.

The police chief said earlier this week that his detectives were reviewing and analyzing some surveillance video from the area, but in a Thursday press conference, he said he doesn't believe the incident was captured on camera.

"Somebody knows something. I believe that the person who did this likely has told somebody else that they did this or somebody out in the community may know of a person who has a gun that is in the area that may have done this. We are very open and looking at all options or opportunities to solve this," Thomas said earlier this week. 

In the days after the shooting, six Kent detectives and two FBI agents canvassed the East Hill neighborhood to look for clues and conduct interviews with neighbors in nearby homes.

Parveen Kumari lives next door to the scene. She said she was home that night, but did not hear gunfire or see anything occur. She didn't know there was a shooting until police came knocking on her door.

"I'm OK. But a little bit afraid. But it's OK," she said.

Other neighbors echo her story, and were puzzled when police came by. The family who rents the home where Rai was shot declined to talk.

FBI Opens Civil Rights Investigation

FBI officials have been assisting Kent police with the incident since Saturday, when Thomas announced that the department was investigating the incident as a hate crime.

On Monday, the FBI's Seattle Field Office, in conjunction with the Department of Justice, formally opened a civil rights investigation into the shooting.  

"We are particularly focused on reviewing facts and evidence specifically to determine if the shooting had a factor of bias. Given that this investigation is ongoing, it's still too early to make any comments or conclusions. But the joint investigative team is certainly attentive to the victim's report of the assailant's comments," said Jay Tabb Jr., special agent in charge of the FBI's Seattle Field Office. 

The bureau investigates hundreds of hate crime cases every year. The FBI defines a hate crime as "a criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity."

In 2015, 14,997 law enforcement agencies participated in the FBI's Hate Crime Statistics Program. Of those agencies, 1,742 reported 5,850 hate crime incidents involving 6,885 offenses, according to an FBI of analysis of hate crime statistics.

The city of Kent reported 13 hate crime incidents to FBI officials that same year. Twelve of the incidents in 2015 -- the most recent year data is available -- were motivated by race and ethnicity, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program. One incident was motivated by sexual orientation.

Copyright 2017 KING


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