A San Francisco Bay Area attorney launched a petition April 19 on change.org, aiming to overturn what he says is a lenient plea deal meted out to an Indian American CEO who was accused of physically abusing his wife for 10 years, but received only 30 days in jail.
“I was very upset by the plea deal. I felt I had to do something about it,” Ahluwalia told India-West. Five hours after he launched the petition, Ahluwalia had already amassed 500 signatures from people similarly upset by the plea deal.
Abhishek Gattani, the Indian American CEO of Cuberon, had initially been charged with felony assault for battering his wife, Neha Rastogi, a former Apple engineer. But the 38-year-old executive cut a deal with the Santa Clara County Prosecutor’s Office, which reduced the charges against him to misdemeanor “offensive touching,” and felony “accessory after the fact.”
The reduced charges mean that Gattani will serve no prison time. According to the plea agreement, Gattani was sentenced to six months in jail, but he will only remain incarcerated for 30 days. The balance of his sentence will be served in a weekend-work program, doing manual labor for eight-hour shifts.
Santa Clara County Assistant District Attorney Steve Fein told The Daily Beast that District Attorney Jeff Rosen sought an agreement that would not place Gattani at risk for deportation back to India. A violent felony is a deportable offense, he said, noting that Rosen generally seeks to avoid such deportations.
Fein said that Rastogi was aware of the plea agreement. But in a lengthy court statement that she was allowed to present only after the plea deal was struck, Rastogi said she was unaware of the arrangement and would not have agreed to it.
In her court statement, Rastogi said Gattani had subjected her to years of abuse, punching her in her belly, slapping her while she was nursing their six-day old baby. In a video recorded by Rastogi in 2016, Gattani can be heard repeatedly slapping his wife while she repeatedly pleaded: “Abhishek, please don’t do this.”
Gattani was arrested in 2013, when a postal worker called 911 to report that a woman was being physically assaulted in the street outside the couple’s home in Sunnyvale, Calif. A police officer recorded the statements of several witnesses who said Gattani was “pushing and pulling (Rastogi) along the sidewalk while punching her with a closed fist in the side and back multiple times.”
Gattani denied abusing his wife, in interviews with police. He said he had been holding Rastogi’s hand as they walked down the street. He was charged with felony assault, which was later reduced to a misdemeanor – at Rastogi’s urging – at a time when she still hoped to keep her family whole, reported The Daily Beast.
Ahluwalia told India-West the sentence for Gattani should have been much higher, given his previous conviction. Gattani was still on probation when he assaulted Rastogi again in July 2016.
“Sentencing is based on a criminal profile,” explained Ahluwalia, adding: “In this case, they have reduced the criminal charges to something that doesn’t make sense,” he stated.
“What constitutes ‘offensive touching?’” the Indian American attorney queried, adding it was an inappropriate charge for a domestic abuse case.
The attorney said he sees incidents of domestic violence quite frequently in his practice, especially in the Indian American community. “There is very deep cultural programming in which one spouse controls the relationship, controlling the bank account, determining how often his partner can see her family. All of this has a very damaging effect on the relationship.”
Equally predominant in both men and women is verbal abuse: mocking or disparaging one’s partner publicly or privately, he said. H-4 visa holders are at a greater disadvantage because their spouse controls their ability to remain in the country, added Ahluwalia.