Three people charged in the March 2 killing of immigrant store owner Harnish Patel are accused of a conspiracy to commit robbery, in what police documents describe as a “smash an Indian” incident.
Patel, 43, was gunned down outside his home in Lancaster.
Arrest warrants released Wednesday say that Jaquinton Tradell Blair, 23, of Lancaster, LaJames Arteian Ross, 22, of Charlotte, and Richard Stewart, 42, also of Lancaster, had roles in the robbery and conspiracy.
Blair and Ross are charged with conspiracy to commit armed robbery. They are both jailed under $85,000 bond. They were charged in early June. Stewart is charged with conspiracy and accessory to armed robbery before the fact. Stewart is being held without bond.
Police have not charged anyone with murder.
Stewart allegedly consulted with the suspects, provided ammunition and information for the robbery and “did nothing to prevent the incident,” arrest warrants state.
The warrants cite the words “smash an Indian,” as used by the three people arrested. The phrase is the first indication that the crime could possibly have been a hate crime.
Doug Barfield, spokesman for the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office, declined to discuss details about motive, and said he is not aware of any hate crime probe launched by federal authorities. Hate crimes are generally considered federal offenses.
For example, Dylann Roof who killed nine blacks at a Charleston church in 2015 was convicted in federal court of 33 hate crime violations, but was convicted in state court of nine murders.
It remains unclear if the FBI or U.S. Department of Justice has launched a hate crime or civil rights investigation. Efforts to reach the U.S. Attorney’s Office and FBI in Columbia were unsuccessful Wednesday. However, the FBI has assisted Lancaster County deputies and State Law Enforcement Division agents with the investigation, Barfield said.
Patel’s death did raise concern among area immigrants from India.
“We helped the family through this tough time, but this news raises some questions about where we stand and how safe we are in the country,” said Shard Patel, president of the Rock Hill Indian Association.
Sharad Patel is not related to Harnish Patel, but the families know each other through a tight social network of people who immigrated from India and now live in York, Chester and Lancaster counties. The killing of Harnish Patel came after other perceived hate crimes against Indians in other parts of the country.
“We definitely want justice for the family,” Sharad Patel said. “As an Indian community, everybody is there to assist and help one another. ... It’s alarming and frightening.”
Sushma Swaraj, External Affairs Minister in India, wrote on Twitter that the Indian consul had spoken to Harnish Patel’s family in Lancaster.
Patel’s death and the potential ethnic motive was first reported in The Herald on March 3. The crime was covered in India’s largest media outlets, including the Times of India, National Herald of India and Hindustan Times.
Harnish Patel was killed minutes after he closed his Speedee Mart convenience. The store is near the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office, and Patel was beloved by regular customers.
Lancaster County Sheriff Barry Faile vowed to find all of those involved.
Police “will not slow down until we are satisfied we have the whole story and have arrested the person or persons directly responsible for Mr. Patel’s death,” Faile said in a statement Wednesday.