LODI -- Parminder Singh Shergill, a Gulf War veteran whom police shot to death last month on the street where he lived with his mother and brother, received full military honors Saturday as hundreds of members of his Sikh community gathered to celebrate his life and mourn his death.
As a color guard team assembled outdoors in a steady rain to honor Shergill’s service to the country, family members and friends who crowded inside a funeral chapel demanded answers to why a man they described as soft-spoken and law-abiding suffered such a violent death.
“He was a very calm, very gentle person,” said Rex Dhatt, committee chairman of Lodi Sikh Temple, where Shergill was a member. “He was shot by people who are supposed to protect and serve us. All we want is an open, just and fair inquiry into the death of this great soldier.”
Shergill, 43, who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, was killed after his mother, concerned about her son’s welfare, phoned police to tell them he was upset and had left the house, according to relatives. Officers shot him as he returned home, killing him a few houses from where he lived in a subdivision in the northern part of the city.
Police have released little information about what happened that day, such as how many shots were fired, at what distance and details about the knife that they said they recovered. Two veteran officers involved in the shooting, one of whom has trained others in techniques for surviving deadly assaults, are back on the job. An investigation is underway to determine whether the shooting was justified, police said.
The San Joaquin County Coroner’s Office told The Bee on Friday that the agency would release no autopsy information pending completion of the multiagency investigation. Lodi police spokesman Lt. Sierra Brucia said Friday that no new information about the case was available for release to the public. The city has declined to provide The Sacramento Bee with a transcript of the phone call to police from Shergill’s mother, citing the ongoing investigation.
Brucia previously said Shergill was armed with a “folding knife” and charged officers, who shot him because they feared for their safety. Others have disputed that account, according to Jack Johal, a Sacramento attorney and Shergill’s cousin who said he has interviewed several witnesses to the shooting.
“No force was justified under the circumstances described by eyewitnesses,” said Sacramento civil rights attorney Mark Merin, who is representing Shergill’s family in the case. He said witnesses have said they saw no threatening behavior by Shergill, and “they did not see a knife in his hands at any time.”
At Saturday’s service, an American flag was draped on Shergill’s casket and a table displayed his military honors, including a medal for “exceptionally meritorious achievement” during Operation Desert Storm. Among those who attended was Lodi Police Chief Mark Helms, who briefly expressed his condolences and said his “thoughts and prayers” were with Shergill’s family. Dhatt said the Sikh community invited Helms to the service. “We must have a dialogue with the police,” he said. “The family deserves answers.”
Johal asked those gathered to focus not on the questions that surround Shergill’s death, but on his life.
“Today is a very, very tragic day,” he said. “Today, we must forget these other questions that must be answered. We must celebrate Parminder’s life, and remember him for who he was to us, our Sikh community and all of our brothers and sisters.”
Aman Sahota, a nephew of Shergill’s, said his uncle was “the kind of guy who would do anything for anyone,” and although he had no children of his own doted on his nieces and nephews. He loved barbecue and grilling, especially on the Fourth of July, Sahota said. The long walks that he took nearly every day helped him to process his thoughts and “contemplate life,” he said. “He found peace through religion.”
“He showed me courage and bravery” when he enlisted in the Army at age 19, Sahota said. “I am pleading with God to show clarity for why this had to happen.”
Shergill was a member of one of the Central Valley’s most established Sikh families. He was born in Jagapur, India, and came to America with his parents when he was about 5 years old. After graduating from Lodi High School, he joined the Army, serving in Germany for two years before fighting on the front lines in Iraq during the Gulf War. He began showing symptoms of PTSD, which can cause severe anxiety, flashbacks and depression, after his honorable discharge from the military in 1995, relatives said.
He studied biochemistry at the University of the Pacific in Stockton and at Sacramento State, and worked for a time for a large food-production firm based in Lodi. But his disability became too disruptive for him to continue, Johal said
Manjit Uppal, president of the Sikh Temple in Stockton, said Saturday that America, its government and its police must show more respect for military veterans like Shergill.
“We train these kids to fight, to be brave,” he said. “We need to take care of them when they come back, not shoot them. We must do more to help these veterans who are dying on our streets.”
As the service concluded, Shergill’s mother and sister wailed as mourners filed past his casket, softly chanting prayers.
Then everyone went outside into the cold, pelting rain, where military men and women in crisp dress uniforms stood ready to pay tribute to one of their own.
Call The Bee’s Cynthia Hubert, (916) 321-1082. Follow her on Twitter @Cynthia_Hubert.