Former Bellingham police officer gets community service for fight at Blaine business

Former Bellingham Police officer Sukhdev Dhaliwal, right, and his brother Jagmeet Dhaliwal appear in Whatcom County Superior Court on the first day of their assault trial on Sept. 10 in Bellingham.
Former Bellingham Police officer Sukhdev Dhaliwal, right, and his brother Jagmeet Dhaliwal appear in Whatcom County Superior Court on the first day of their assault trial on Sept. 10 in Bellingham.

A former Bellingham Police officer and his brother were each sentenced Monday for their respective roles in a fight with two men that occurred at a Blaine business in mid-October 2017. The former officer’s case was resolved in a way that may allow for his conviction to be dismissed.

Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Charles Snyder sentenced Sukhdev Singh Dhaliwal, 32, to 30 days suspended, which will be converted to 240 hours of community service. He has six months to serve his community service. Dhaliwal was found guilty on Sept. 24 of misdemeanor fourth-degree assault, but not guilty of felony second-degree assault.

If Dhaliwal completes his community service and doesn’t engage in other criminal activity for one year, he can ask the court to dismiss the charges against him, which Snyder said he would consider.

“This is a difficult situation when we have a person who by all intents and purposes in all his past history of life is not a violent person, is not a person who breaks the law. There is a certain expectation of the society that their law enforcement officers behave in a certain way and when that trust is broken, it is difficult for the public sometimes to understand and to re-establish that trust,” Snyder said before handing down the sentence. “It reflects on every other officer on the force, every officer then carries a little bit of taint because of an officer who does something to break that trust.”

Dhaliwal said he apologized to one of the victims and said he never meant to cause any damage. While he regretted being there that night, he said he was glad to have been able to intervene between his brother and the other victim.

“I regret being there that night. I wish I never chose to go. This night has changed my life, I think about it every day. I want to apologize to the court and hope your honor can take everything into consideration and I can be given a better opportunity,” Dhaliwal said.

Dhaliwal’s defense attorney, Doug Hyldahl, argued during the sentencing hearing Monday that jail time and active probation wouldn’t serve a real purpose and instead asked for Dhaliwal to be sentenced to community service.

“This is a one-off kind of thing that Sukh has learned his lesson from,” Hyldahl said. “He has always been an active part of the community and continues to be an active part of the community.”

Snyder said he didn’t believe jail time was appropriate in this case, and said he would be “absolutely shocked” if Dhaliwal committed a similar offense.

“I do think, however, there needs to be consequences and I think those consequences need to be enough to reinforce the feelings that you (Dhaliwal) have and the regret that you have for this behavior,” Snyder said.

Sukhdev Dhaliwal
Former Bellingham Police officer Sukhdev Singh Dhaliwal City of Bellingham Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Prior to Dhaliwal’s sentencing, Hyldahl had asked for a compromise of misdemeanors, which is when the charges are dropped because the victim agrees to resolve the case that way.

Two police officers, including a sergeant who has been with the Bellingham Police Department for two decades, wrote to the court praising Dhaliwal’s character and work ethic. They also urged the court to consider accepting the compromise of misdemeanors.

“I remember feeling a variety of emotions ranging from disbelief to anger then back to disbelief before ultimately feeling an incredible sadness for Sukh; not necessarily because he had been arrested but rather for what I saw was the loss of a huge amount of potential that I had seen in the kid. Sukh had made it obvious to me as one of his supervisors that he loved coming to work as an officer and took great pride in his role as a public servant,” the sergeant wrote.

“Through experience, I have found that (it’s) a lot easier to find the measure of a man’s character when times are tough as opposed to when everything is going great. Sukh has shown what I believe is an incredible amount of that character in how he has handled himself in his current situation and truly believe that he will continue demonstrating that character wherever this path leads next,” he continued.

The sergeant also said he would “heartily welcome” Dhaliwal back to the department, if given the opportunity.

Dhaliwal was fired from being a police officer with the Bellingham Police Department effective May 7 after allegations of misconduct were sustained during an internal investigation, according to Bellingham Police Chief David Doll. Dhaliwal had been with the department since Oct. 1, 2015, and was also previously a Whatcom County Jail deputy for about four years. He has no prior criminal record.

The Bellingham Police Guild has filed a grievance about his firing.

Snyder rejected the compromise of misdemeanors, saying that Dhaliwal should have used his skills as a police officer to stop the situation involving him and his brother from happening.

Dhaliwal’s brother, Jagmeet Dhaliwal, 38, was given a sentence of three months. He has until Jan. 23 to see if he is eligible for jail alternatives, such as electronic home monitoring or out-of-custody work release, but if not, he will be required to serve that time in the Whatcom County Jail.

Jagmeet Dhaliwal was found guilty of felony second-degree assault and misdemeanor fourth-degree assault for his role in the fight. No-contact orders were also put in place between Jagmeet Dhaliwal and the victims.

“The bottom line and the fact that cannot be ignored is there was a beating here, and a severe, significant one. It’s not high on the level of seriousness in terms of injury, but it’s sufficient for assault in the second degree,” Snyder said during the sentencing hearing.

Jagmeet Dhaliwal also has no prior criminal history. His defense attorney Adrian Madrone declined to comment.

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Jagmeet Dhaliwal in court Nov. 3, 2017. Staff The Bellingham Herald file

On Oct. 17, 2017, the Dhaliwals went to meet two men, then 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.

A surveillance video showed Sukhdev Dhaliwal punch Mann outside the business when the brothers arrived before they all continued inside. Two different versions of what happened inside the business were recounted during the seven-day bench trial, but ultimately Snyder determined that Jagmeet Dhaliwal’s actions met the standard for inflicting substantial bodily harm to Sidhu during the fight.

Dhaliwal is one of three Bellingham police officers to be arrested in as many years for assaultive behavior. A jury found former Bellingham police officer Brooks Owen Laughlin, 33, guilty Nov. 13 of five felonies and four misdemeanors relating to a pattern of domestic violence abuse. Laughlin’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for Dec. 12.

Reporter Denver Pratt joined The Bellingham Herald in 2017 and covers courts and criminal and social justice. She has worked in Montana, Florida and Virginia.