Rock Island County State’s Attorney John McGehee said Friday that he has referred the case of a local member of the Sikh community and Uber driver who alleges that a passenger made racist remarks to him put a gun to his head last month to the Illinois State’s Attorney Appellate Prosecutor's Office.
McGehee said he discovered in the last couple days that there was a conflict of interest in his office when the case was referred to him for review.
"The law in Illinois is clear that when a conflict arises by the County State's Attorney in the discharge of their duties the case will be assigned to the Illinois State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutors Office for an objective, independent State's Attorneys discharge of duties without the conflict," he said in a news release.
He declined to disclose the conflict “so that the process is fair to all involved.”
McGehee said prosecutors appeared Friday in front of Associate Judge Norma Kauzlarich, who granted their motion to refer the case to the appellate prosecutor’s office.
At 10:39 p.m. Jan. 28, Gurjeet Singh, an Uber driver, picked up a white man and woman in the alley in the area of 15th Street and 15th Avenue in Moline, according to a news release from the Sikh Coalition, which is representing Singh.
As Singh was taking the passengers home, the male passenger allegedly asked him about his immigration status and his country of origin, according to the release.
Singh claims that the man wielded a handgun and pointed it at his head and allegedly said, “I hate turban people. I hate beard people,” according to the release.
Singh slammed on the brakes and the woman forcibly removed the man from the car, according to the release. The woman apologized for the man’s behavior and instructed the driver to take her home but told him to avoid taking the same route back to avoid another encounter with the man, according to the release.
Rock Island County Sheriff Gerry Bustos said earlier this week that the alleged incident was reported to his office about 11 a.m. the following day. He confirmed Friday that his office has turned the case over to prosecutors.
He declined further comment.
The Sikh Coalition, a New York-based civil and human rights organization formed after the 9/11 attacks in response to hate violence, held a press conference Friday outside the Rock Island County Justice Center to talk about the alleged incident and the developments in the investigation.
Amrith Kaur, legal director for the Coalition, said Singh had been driving for Uber for about a month before the alleged incident. He has since stopped driving for the company, she said.
Singh, Kaur said, reached out to the Coalition 12 hours after the alleged incident.
She said that the alleged incident involving Singh is a hate crime and that “we are ready and willing to fully support any hate crime prosecution that takes place.”
“The important thing is that all of our public officials, our elected officials, our state and local and federal government agencies acknowledge what’s happened, they investigate what’s happened, and they prosecute what’s happened,” Kaur said. “And the reality is that when you do that, you are sending a message to a community."
She said coalition members have been in the Quad-Cities this week and have met with the sheriff’s office.
“The reason we came out here obviously is because we felt like there was a three-week window where not much had happened during that time,” she said. “There’s a gunman who had attacked a member of the Sikh community and told him that he didn’t like people with turbans and beards, and that person was still out there that that creates a lot of insecurity within the community.”
Kaur said the coalition was not privy to details of the investigation when asked whether they have seen any of the evidence collected by law enforcement.
She said the coalition has already reached out to the appellate prosecutor’s office and are “anxiously awaiting” a response.
During the news conference, several members of the Sikh community held signs that read “Justice for Gurjeet,” “Love your neighbor,” and “Quad Cities is our home.”
One man, Gurlabh Singh, told reporters that the community refused to “let what has happened to Gurjeet just to become another crime that was committed in the community.”
“When you attack Gurjett in a hate crime, you’re attacking us all,” he said.
Singh was present at Friday’s news conference but did not make a statement.
Narveen Virdi, who has lived in the Quad-Cities since 1986, said she believed this was an isolated incident and that it appears that "somebody got drunk."
The Rock Island County community, she said, has been good to her.
"We’ve never had difficulties," she said.