One year later: Singh suspect remains at large
by Dan Aiello
It's been just over a year since Satendar Singh was brutally attacked at a recreation area near Sacramento, allegedly by Russian immigrants who perceived him to be gay. But without the inclusion of sexual orientation in the federal hate crimes law the man authorities believe delivered the fatal blow remains a fugitive from justice.
Singh, a 26-year-old worker at the AT&T call center in Sacramento, was attacked while picnicking at Lake Natoma with friends in July 2007. His attackers, authorities say, were Russian and Slavic immigrants believed to have ties to Sacramento's virulently anti-gay, Slavic evangelical movement. Singh was first verbally then physically assaulted because the perpetrators perceived him to be gay, according to the Sacramento Sheriff's Department's arrest report. He died four days later at a local hospital, having never regained consciousness.
One of those arrested, Alexsander Schevchenko, 22, was sentenced to 150 days in county jail after being found guilty on two misdemeanor charges. But Andrey Vusik, 30, identified as the man who threw the fatal punch, fled the country following Singh's death.
An arrest warrant has been issued for Vusik, who faces charges of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Singh and with committing a hate crime. Sacramento County Sheriff's Department spokesman Sergeant Tim Curran said last week that authorities believe Vusik fled the area shortly after Singh died.
Vusik is believed to have returned to Russia, according to longtime Sacramento LGBT activist Jerry Sloan, who is concerned that the recent Schevchenko sentence and Vusik's flight from justice will be a green light for further violence.
"Five months in jail for the murder of a man was a slap on the wrist," Sloan said of the sentence Schevchenko received. "It indicates that if you harm a gay person, chances are its not going to be costly."
Singh's death is a reminder of the tension between Sacramento's gay community and the local Slavic evangelical and Pentecostal communities, which continue to spread anti-gay rhetoric.
Sloan has been a critic of the way the Sacramento sheriff's office and District Attorney Jan Scully have handled the case.
"This whole case from the beginning to the end of [Schevchenko's] trial has been fucked up," he said.
Sloan believes the attack - according to testimony at Schevchenko's trial and police reports, the perpetrators first sent their families home then called friends for additional back-up - "was a conspiracy and should have been prosecuted as one."
Vusik's flight from justice has been successful, so far, in part, because his crime was allegedly perpetrated based upon his hatred of homosexuals. While the attackers and the victims both threw racist comments (Singh was Fijian-born and his friends were Indian), the sheriff and district attorney determined that Singh was not attacked because of his race, but his perceived sexual orientation. This was something that the jury in Schevchenko's case also determined.
Crimes based on sexual orientation are covered under California state law, but not covered under the current federal hate crimes law. It's the federal law that qualifies a fugitive for the FBI's "Most Wanted" list, and it is that list where the FBI focuses reward money and additional monetary and personnel resources.
"We're using our resources and that's all we are going to say," stated FBI agent Steven D. Dupre of the Sacramento FBI office, regarding the pursuit of Vusik.
Dupre explained that in the case of a fugitive's flight beyond U.S. borders, the FBI uses "Legal attache offices that work with local agencies to capture and extradite" fugitives like Vusik. "We develop information as to where we believe the fugitive is, then we send that information to the legal attache in that country. It's up to the legal attache to then work with local agencies" to capture the fugitive.
"There are a lot of procedural issues" involved with capture and extradition, Dupre explained. "There's a provisional arrest warrant," which the legal attache will present to the local agencies, along with the information the FBI has as to his whereabouts. Vusik's capture is even more difficult because the United States does not currently have extradition treaties with many of the states of the former Soviet Union where Vusik is believed to be living.
So where does the FBI believe Vusik is hiding?
"We have several possibilities," said Dupre, but he declined to indicate where the FBI currently believes Vusik is living. He did note that the families involved in the case have "admitted to speaking to him."
Dupre said that to divulge any information on the progress of the pursuit could jeopardize the FBI's efforts to capture Vusik.
Curran, of the sheriff's department, was more candid.
"He's in Russia," Curran said.
Curran also contradicted Dupre's assertion that the FBI is using its resources to capture Vusik.
"The FBI doesn't have anyone on the ground looking for him. There is not any active pursuit, as far as I know," Curran said.
The sheriff's department has done what it can, Curran explained.
"We have an active warrant out for his arrest, his passport has been flagged, and that's about it," said Curran. "We're certainly not going to send officers to Russia to look for him."
Dupre admits that the FBI's efforts are focused on the capture of international fugitives who qualify for the agency's Most Wanted list than those who do not.
Vusik, whose hate crime charge is based on sexual orientation, "does not qualify," according to Dupre, because he killed Singh "based upon sexual orientation, which is not a federal hate crime."
Vusik cannot qualify as one of the agency's top priorities until federal law changes to "qualify" the crime with which he is charged as a federal hate crime, according to Dupre. Once returned, Vusik would face a state hate crime charge of "commission of a crime for purpose of interfering with civil rights of another."
Former Sacramento Mayor Anne Rudin, who pioneered some of the most aggressive local anti-discrimination laws in the country between 1983 and 1992, is particularly concerned with the anti-gay, Slavic immigrant community.
"They don't seem to be fitting in very well," she said. "I'm concerned about this immigrant community and how they are not reacting well to the diversity of Sacramento."
Rudin was known for promoting tolerance and diversity during her tenure.
"For them to come to our community and behave the way they
"The recent rise in hate crimes in Sacramento are disheartening to us all," said Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-Sacramento) in an e-mail to the Bay Area Reporter about the recent attacks against members of Sacramento's LGBT community and recent racially-motivated attacks in the area. "Now more then ever, it is vitally important to promote and encourage equality and end discrimination."
New hate crimes legislation
Legislation that would include hate crimes based on sexual orientation (HR 1592) recently passed in the House and has been sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee. HR 1592 provides for technical, forensic, prosecutorial, or any other form of assistance in the criminal investigation or prosecution.
"We must get the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act signed into law. The House has passed it, now the Senate must act," Matsui said. "This significant legislation would properly define a 'hate crime' and ensure that those who commit these terrible crimes are given the punishment they deserve."
"Satendar Singh's death must not have been in vain and it is time to unite as a country to end discrimination and stand up against hate," she added.
President Bush has stated he will veto the hate crime legislation.
Whether or not Vusik is captured and returned to face charges, Sacramento's LGBT community remains uneasy with the recent rise in the area's number of hate crimes. Ironically, in 2002 Harvard University's Civil Rights Project called Sacramento "America's most integrated city," and promoted the California Capital as "an example of a community tolerant of diversity."
A lot has changed.
Part of a greater movement
Called "a growing and ferocious anti-gay movement in the Sacramento Valley" by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Sacramento's local anti-gay demonstrations are being orchestrated and attended mostly by Russian- and Ukrainian-speaking immigrants, according to a fall 2007 article by the SPLC.
The SPLC article states that many of the demonstrators are members of an international extremist anti-gay movement whose adherents call themselves the Watchmen on the Walls.
In Latvia, the Watchmen are popular among Christian fundamentalists and ethnic Russians, and are known for presiding over anti-gay rallies where gays and lesbians are pelted with bags of excrement. In the western United States, the Watchmen have a following among Russian-speaking evangelicals from the former Soviet Union. Members are increasingly active in several cities long known as gay-friendly enclaves, including Sacramento, Seattle and Portland, according to the SPLC.
What SPLC did not mention, however, was that the orchestration of the anti-gay rallies often are done in partnership with a small, non-Slavic, Placerville Pentecostal group that calls itself "The Church of the Divide," according to Sloan. Sloan believes that the group includes a member with a printing business and is responsible for the demonstrators professional signage and T-shirts that are seen at area events, including this year's Sacramento Pride festivities.
This is one example of how the Slavic evangelicals have been embraced by the existing conservative movement in the U.S., Sloan said.
Vlad Kusakin, the host of a Russian-language anti-gay radio show in Sacramento and the publisher of a Russian-language newspaper in Seattle, told the Seattle Times in January that God has "made an injection" of high numbers of anti-gay Slavic evangelicals into traditionally liberal West Coast cities.
"In those places where the disease is progressing, God made a divine penicillin," Kusakin said.
Last summer, the Speaker, a Russian-language newspaper in Sacramento, urged readers to attend a massive anti-gay rally: "Make a choice. It's your decision," the paper stated. "Homosexuality is knocking on your doors and asking: 'Can I make your son gay and your daughter lesbian?'"
At that rally and others at the California Capitol, thousands of Russian-speaking teens crowded the halls of the Capitol building rotunda, wearing "Sodomy is a Sin" T-shirts. Scarf-wrapped babushkas held up signs that read, "Perversion is never safe" and "I am not learning about gay people" according to the Times article.
Dennis Mangers, a former California state assemblyman who is gay and who now lobbies for the cable communications industry, told the B.A.R. that when he and a group of community leaders met with Slavic community leaders following a violent picket of the 2006 Rainbow Festival, a prominent leader told him through an interpreter, "You all seem like nice people but you have to understand, we equate homosexuals with thieves, adulterers, and murderers. To us, you are an abomination."
Despite the barb aimed directly at Mangers and the other LGBT leaders present at that meeting, both sides agreed to schedule a second meeting. But before that meeting could take place, Singh was killed.
"After Singh's death we met with the sheriff, police chief, and district attorney and they all met with the Slavic community leaders and told them that [the LGBT community] here was a well-respected, contributing part of the Sacramento community and this sort of violence would not be tolerated," Mangers said.
"[The Slavic] community seems to have quieted down some," said Mangers. "A lot of that community is receiving social program benefits and others are beginning to get good paying jobs like cable installers, and I think they weren't prepared for the kind of response they got from the community."
Mangers believes that the LGBT community has been an easier target in the former Soviet bloc states than it's proven to be in Sacramento, Seattle, and the other traditionally liberal cities targeted by the Slavic evangelical movement.
"Gays and Lesbians are suffering violent attacks" in Eastern Europe, said Mangers, who believes the violence in Sacramento has been part of an international campaign orchestrated by evangelicals from Latvia, Russia, and the Ukraine.