Criminal proceedings were suspended Tuesday against a man accused of spray-painting racist and anti-LGBTQ graffiti and causing other damage at a Palm Springs community center, with a judge allowing the defendant to undergo mental health treatment in lieu of trial.
Charinda Godakanda, 46, of Palm Springs, is accused of vandalizing the James O. Jessie Desert Highland Unity Center at Desert Highland Park in early July, along with an electric car charging station. Repair costs totaled $4,176, according to court papers.
He was charged with one count each of grand theft and carrying a concealed dirk or dagger, both felonies, and two misdemeanor vandalism counts.
On Tuesday, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Dean Benjamini granted a defense request for Godakanda to enter a mental health diversion program in lieu of facing trial and risking the possibility of jail time. The judge said the defendant was “in the throes of a mental health breakdown” at the time of the alleged crimes.
“The whole point is to divert you out of the criminal justice system. Once you are in the criminal justice system, it is unfortunately like a scarlet letter on your forehead, and it’s almost impossible to shake no matter where you go in life,” Benjamini said. “This is the beginning of the program. You have not reached the end point.”
A 2018 state law allows defendants with diagnosed mental health disorders to undergo treatment and other supervision in lieu of criminal proceedings.
If he successfully completes the program, Godakanda’s charges will be dismissed and records related to the arrest will be sealed.
David Greenberg, Godakanda’s attorney, estimated the treatment could span about a year. He declined to comment on the nature of his client’s mental health issues.
“That’s between him and his doctor,” he said previously.
Greenberg also said his client paid to fix the damage.
Palm Springs city spokeswoman Amy Blaisdell confirmed that the city received a check from Godakanda for $4,176.93 in early September.
“The graffiti has been removed and the EV charging station repaired,” she said. “As far as we know, there has been no apology.”
A declaration in support of an arrest warrant prepared by Palm Springs police Detective Francisco Salgado said officers were sent to 480 Tramview Road at about 5 a.m. July 7 following a reported fire in the area.
Arriving officers did not locate a fire, but instead found Godakanda, who uttered “spontaneous statements stating he had smashed the window and had written his wife’s name on the building,” the declaration states. He also told officers that a nearby shotgun, which was later determined to have been stolen, belonged to him, according to the declaration.
Officers then discovered words written with black spray paint on the exterior of the community center, including “#alllifemattersfoools,” ”# Not just black white or yellow or pink u idiots” and “I am anti Igbtq uryza ask Melissa delho,” the declaration says.
Officers also found a broken glass door, a shotgun and airsoft gun nearby, and observed black spray paint on the defendant’s hands, according to the detective.
The investigation tied the crime to another vandalism reported at a business at 1800 Via Negocio, where about $350 in damage was done, according to authorities.
Community center manager Jarvis Crawford said tires and rocks were thrown at the facility, which had been closed for several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Multiple windows were also broken, he said at the time.
Godakanda emailed local media outlets a statement following his arrest in which he apologized for the vandalism, citing his ongoing mental health struggles.
“My defacing the center as I did is incomprehensible to me and indefensible,” he wrote. “I am so deeply embarrassed by and so terribly sorry for my actions.”
Godakanda has no documented felony convictions, according to prosecutors.
The defendant is scheduled to return to the Larson Justice Center in Indio on Feb. 8 to update the court on the status of his treatment.