Fairfax County police have arrested an 18-year-old Centreville High student and charged him with felony assault and battery after an altercation last week that police say was ethnically motivated. He is Gurtej Singh of 14237 St. Germain Drive in Centreville's Knolls of Newgate community.
The incident occurred last Wednesday, April 24, at the school. According to police, Singh and two other boys, 17 and 14, allegedly blocked a 15-year-old boy's way by trapping him against some lockers on the third floor of the school. Police say Singh reportedly assaulted the victim repeatedly with his fists until a teacher intervened.
"At one time, [the victim] fell to the ground and became dazed," said police spokeswoman Sophia Grinnan, adding that he didn't need hospital treatment for any injuries sustained. Police said the victim's ethnic origin motivated the attack, and Centreville Principal Pam Latt confirmed it. Singh is an Indian Sikh, and the victim is Pakistani.
"We have a very large Pakistani and Indian population here, and there's a natural, cultural animosity that they've taken from their home or home country with them," she explained. "I have about 52 kids named Singh, alone."
Latt said Fairfax County schools have been dealing with this particular issue for awhile now, but Singh's alleged actions surprised her because "he's not a violent person. Usually, Sikhs are passive, nice people."
Still, she took prompt action and, while declining to elaborate further, she said the school gave Singh "the sternest discipline it can give." She said Singh hasn't been in this country very long and "there have been years of turmoil between India and Pakistan, fighting over borders."
But Latt has to consider the safety of the entire student body. "We work hard to dissipate this issue but, now and then, things get out of control," she said. "I take a hard line and don't mess around when it comes to this — it's a hate crime."
Basically, she said, "No school is going to tolerate bringing political issues into the school environment. This sent a positive message that we act swiftly when something like this happens. Kids know they're protected here and that's unacceptable behavior."
Singh was taken to the Adult Detention Center and later released to his parents' custody. He has a June 3 court date. Unlike simple assault and battery — a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of a year in jail — felony assault and battery carries a possible five-year prison sentence. Police sought juvenile petitions for assault against the other two boys.
Recognizing the potential harm that bias crimes and incidents can cause in a community, police encourage people to report them. All such offenses are thoroughly investigated.