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Stabbings, melee at Yuba City Sikh temple
Two men were stabbed, a third was assaulted, more than a dozen were pepper-sprayed and several others were hurt Saturday night during a brawl outside the Tierra Buena Sikh Temple in Yuba City.
"It's the worst thing that's ever happened here," said Dave Chima, a temple director. "It's just awful."
No arrests were made, the Sutter County Sheriff's Department said.
"It's so, so sad, the group came to attack the people," said Tejinder Singh Dosanjh, another director.
It was not clear who was responsible for the clash. Dozens of witnesses told wildly differing stories. Both sides of an ongoing power dispute within the board accused each other of starting the fight.
Violence erupted around 6:45 p.m. as a board of directors meeting ended at the temple in the 2400 block of Tierra Buena Road, witnesses said.
As some directors left through the north parking lot, they were confronted by group of men and attacked with shovels, broom handles and sticks, according to multiple witnesses.
"They jumped on us with sticks when we were walking to our cars," said Surjit Bains.
There were also multiple reports of firearms being drawn, though no reports of gunfire.
"It was a plan, they had a plan," said Jasbir Bains, who said his brother was one of the men stabbed.
The three injured men were taken to hospitals by ambulance. Others may have sought medical treatment on their own, Sgt. Chad Niswonger said. Their conditions were unknown.
At some point during the fighting, someone showered as many as 15 men with pepper spray.
A large number of women and children were still inside the temple during the incident.
Deputies could not confirm the identities of the victims or suspected attackers. Investigators struggled to sort out conflicting accounts. "What happened depends on which group is telling the story," Niswonger said. "Both sides are saying they were attacked."
Investigators interviewed dozens of witnesses late into the night.
Patches of blood were still on the ground outside the committee rooms Saturday night, the ground strewn with broken broom handles and sticks. A small folding knife was recovered in the parking lot.
Two groups of more than 30 men each were kept separated by the deputies, but continued to hurl bitter comments at one another while emergency responders cleaned up the scene.
The Tierra Buena Gurdwara has been embroiled in an ongoing power struggle, and Saturday's brawl appeared to be the latest chapter in an increasingly nasty saga centered around the normally peaceful temple community.
In September, a Sutter County judge denied a petition from five board members seeking to force the election of a new board in December. Control of the 73-member board has been at the heart of the controversy.
Deputies have been called to the temple multiple times in recent months to prevent violence.
Lines have been drawn between a group in power that includes board President Paul Purewal and an opposition group, led by longtime director Karm Bains, among others, the leading voice behind the legal petition earlier this year.
The opposition group wants to force an election of new directors, while the group in power voted earlier this year to scrap the election, calling it an unnecessary expense, and voted to extend their own term limits by another two years.
Both sides have accused each other of manipulating the more than 4,400 temple members.
Purewal was inside the committee room Saturday when the fighting started.
"I'm ashamed of both sides, whoever started it and whoever did it," Purewal said. "There's no need for it."
Karm Bains declined comment Saturday.
Violence at the temple was also reported Aug. 12 and both sides gave conflicting accounts of that incident, as well. One man claimed he was assaulted by several members of the group of directors in power because he opposed the term limit extension.
Deputies were called to the temple again Aug. 25, the night the term limits were extended, after arguing spilled out into the parking lot, though no violence was reported and no arrests were made.
Saturday's brutality was the darkest moment in the temple's 43-year history, according to Chima, one of the Tierra Buena Temple founding members.
"All of this conflict between the two groups is very sad," Chima said. "The Sikhs have a rich religious history of peace and service, and there just seems to be a disconnect because it's contrary to those beliefs. It never used to be like this — we were always able to work out the conflicts peacefully before."
CONTACT Rob Parsons at firstname.lastname@example.org or 749-4785. Find him on Facebook at /ADcrimebeat or on Twitter at @ADcrimebeat.