A 45-year-old man accused spray painting remarks disparaging the Black Lives Matter movement on the walls of a Palm Springs community center was arrested Tuesday on suspicion allegedly committing a hate crime.
Charinda Godakanda of Palm Springs was arrested at about 5 a.m. outside the James O. Jessie Desert Highland Unity Center and booked at the Smith Correctional Facility in Banning on suspicion of felony vandalism, and misdemeanor interference with civil rights by damaging property — a hate crime — according to the Palm Springs Police Department.
The community center, which has been shuttered for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, suffered multiple broken windows, according to center manager Jarvis Crawford, and tires and rocks were allegedly thrown at it, on top of the graffiti.
“I was totally surprised,” Crawford told City News Service. “I thought it was a teenager that did it.”
Crawford said the building was constructed in the 1970s in what was at the time a predominately Black community. Tuesday, the center is still known as a “Black community center,” although Crawford said the center has since morphed into a multicultural “melting pot.”
Pictures posted on social media showed phrases such as “all life matters fools” spray painted on a wall, along with the phrase “not a safe space.”
Palm Springs police referred to some of the remarks as being “directed towards the LGBT community,” although Crawford said he did not see such remarks. The graffiti has since been cleaned up.
Godakanda’s arrest stemmed from a series of events that began about midnight when police officers responded to a shots-fired call at the intersection of Rosa Parks Road and Granada Avenue, about a half-mile from the community center on Tramway Road.
Officers found Godakanda at the scene, who reported seeing multiple people shooting in the area before fleeing. Police found “evidence of a shooting,” but no victims or witnesses.
Five hours later, someone called dispatch to report a fire in Desert Highland Park, which is adjacent to the community center. Instead of a fire, responding officers found Godakanda again, and saw the building vandalized.
Police said they found an unloaded shotgun and an airsoft pistol next to a broken window, and some sort of knife on the suspect’s person.
Godakanda, who also faces weapons allegations stemming from the gun and knife, was arrested after police obtained “probable cause” to take him into custody.
Godakanda has no documented felony convictions in Riverside County. He is scheduled to make his initial court appearance Thursday at the Larson Justice Center in Indio.
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