An Indian American student who works at a gas station in Santa Cruz, Calif., claims he was wrongfully arrested by police late night Aug. 31 as he tried to defend himself and his business from a group of homeless people who refused to leave the property.
Nithin Kumar Racha is a 26-year-old native of Hyderabad who is studying to attain his master’s degree in information technology at Silicon Valley University. He was arrested at 2:20 a.m. Aug. 31 at the 76 gas station where he works the graveyard shift. After spending most of the day in jail, friends were able to bail him out at 10 p.m. that night on a bond of $25,000.
Racha was charged with one felony count of assault with a deadly weapon, which carries a maximum sentence of three years in state prison. Racha was also charged with one felony count of assault upon a person by any means of force likely to produced great bodily injury, which also carries a maximum three-year state prison sentence.
Racha told India-West that on the night he was arrested, a group of four transients were seen on the outside of the gas station – at 1506 Soquel in Santa Cruz – allegedly creating a nuisance. A customer came in and complained to Racha, who confronted the group and asked them to leave within five minutes.
One member of the group confronted him, according to Racha, who said he felt physically threatened. He went back inside to get a baseball bat. “I wanted to protect myself. I thought they had weapons,” he said.
Racha then went back out to the group of homeless people who had not yet left the property. But as he approached the group, “One of the men attacked me. He grabbed my bat and my cell phone as I tried to call the police,” said Racha emotionally. His mug shot displays scratches to his face and bruising.
Another customer, Eddy Escobar, saw what was happening, grabbed the bat and began hitting the ground with it, according to Racha. Another customer inside the store called 911.
When police arrived, however, they blamed Racha and Escobar for the altercation and took both into custody. “They said I was beating homeless people,” Racha told India-West, noting that police did not allow him to speak before taking him into custody. “I tried to explain,” he said, noting that police did not listen. “Why did they arrest me?” he queried plaintively.
Surveillance camera footage captured only the interior of the store and shows Racha taking up a bat.
The SVU student said he sees the group almost every evening, and has given them coffee on many occasions to stave off the cold weather. “I have been working at this store for one and a half years. I have very positive responses from customers. Nothing like this has ever happened before,” said Racha.
Racha made his first appearance in court Sept. 6. He had no attorney as of press time Sept. 5.
Joyce Blaschke, a spokeswoman for the Santa Cruz Police Department, told India-West: “After a lengthy investigation, we determined that Nithin Racha struck the men with a baseball bat after they refused to leave the property. Blaschke noted that Escobar faces similar charges. She declined to respond as to why the transients were not also arrested.
Racha has lived in the U.S. for three years. He studied at Campbellsville University in Kentucky before transferring to SVU.