Surveillance video shows ex-Bellingham police officer throwing punch, prosecutor alleges
A former Bellingham Police officer and his brother were found guilty for their respective roles in a fight with two men that occurred at a Blaine business in mid-October, a Whatcom County Superior Court judge ruled Monday afternoon.
Judge Charles Snyder found Sukhdev Singh Dhaliwal, 32, guilty of fourth-degree assault, a misdemeanor, but found him not guilty of felony second-degree assault. Snyder found the ex-officer’s brother, Jagmeet Singh Dhaliwal, 38, guilty of both second-degree assault and fourth-degree assault.
Sukhdev and Jagmeet Dhaliwal will have a sentencing hearing at 8:30 a.m. Oct. 24. The maximum penalty for the misdemeanor charge is 364 days in jail and the maximum penalty for the felony charge is 10 years in prison. Actual sentences take into account criminal history, which neither brother has.
Sukhdev Dhaliwal was fired as a police officer with the Bellingham Police Department effective May 7 after allegations of misconduct were sustained during an internal investigation, according to Police Chief David Doll.
On Oct. 17, around 8:13 p.m., the Dhaliwals went to meet two men — 20-year-old Manjot Mann and then 21-year-old Kanwar Sidhu — in Blaine at Mann’s workplace. They were meeting to discuss rumors Sidhu was allegedly spreading about a Dhaliwal family member. There are two different versions of the events that happen next, according to testimonies given in court.
During the trial, Jagmeet Dhaliwal’s defense attorney Adrian Madrone argued that the fight that occurred outside the business, which relates to the misdemeanor charge, was a misunderstanding. He said when the brothers arrived, they were confronted by Mann outside, and Jagmeet Dhaliwal was “confused, startled” and reached out to grab him.
Sukhdev Dhaliwal then intervened, which would not be uncommon for a trained law enforcement officer, according to his defense attorney Doug Hyldahl. Hyldahl argued that Sukhdev Dhaliwal was justified in his use of force, as Mann presented a threat to both him and his brother.
The brothers then went inside the business, where they and another witness said that a conversation started, but Sidhu gave a confrontational response. Jagmeet Dhaliwal responded by punching Sidhu several times before Sukhdev Dhaliwal pulled him off, Madrone and Hyldahl said.
The victims tell it differently, though, and said both Dhaliwals were involved in the fight inside the business, which relates to the felony charge. Skagit County prosecutor Haley Sebens said that while their stories may differ, Sidhu’s injuries from the fight were not made up.
After a seven-day bench trial, Snyder had to decide which version of events was more likely to have occurred. He said that he found the Dhaliwals’ testimony more credible than both the victims’.
“Make no mistake about this finding, this is a matter of degree. It’s inescapably true that (Sidhu) was badly beaten and without any substantial provocation. So the credibility issue goes to more how did it happen, not what happened,” Snyder said.
Snyder said the evidence pointed to Jagmeet Dhaliwal’s involvement with both assaults and determined that he acted recklessly and his actions met the standard for inflicting substantial bodily harm.
But the evidence was less clear regarding whether Sukhdev Dhaliwal was involved in the fight inside the business, Snyder said. While many of the versions were plausible and Sukhdev Dhaliwal’s decision to be involved in the fight was ill-advised, his mere presence alone was not enough to mean he was an accomplice during the fight inside, Snyder said. Sukhdev Dhaliwal’s actions to pull his brother off Sidhu would negate him acting as an accomplice, Snyder said.
“This determination depends on which account is better believed. It should be noted that this portion of the decision is by far the closest and the most difficult portion of this court’s work. I have agonized over this particular decision for a long time. It has engendered a great deal of my thought, consideration, and in fact, I have been thinking about it right up until this morning,” Snyder said when finding Sukhdev Dhaliwal not guilty of second-degree assault. “It also does not mean that Sukhdev did not assist his brother in the assault, it only means that the evidence does not support that charge to the very high standard of beyond a reasonable doubt.”
When finding Sukhdev Dhaliwal guilty of fourth-degree assault, Snyder said the surveillance video from outside the business showed undisputed contact between Sukhdev Dhaliwal and Mann, and that nothing in the video suggested that such force was necessary, or that Mann posed a threat to either of the Dhaliwals.
“The defendants exercised their right to trial by judge and we are pleased with Judge Snyder’s handling of the matter,” said Sebens, the prosecutor. “It was important to see the case through trial. The verdict found both defendants accountable for their involvement in the assaults.”
Both Madrone and Hyldahl declined to comment.
Dhaliwal was with the Bellingham Police Department since Oct. 1, 2015, and was also a Whatcom County Jail deputy for about four years. He has no prior criminal record except for a driving offense from several years ago, according to court records.