INDIO (CNS) – A judge is expected to decide at a Dec. 29 hearing whether a man who allegedly spray-painted racist and anti-LGBTQ graffiti and caused other property damage to a community center in Palm Springs will avoid jail time and instead undergo mental health treatment.
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.
He remains out of custody on $10,000 bail after pleading not guilty to one count each of grand theft and carrying a concealed dirk or dagger, both felonies, and two misdemeanor vandalism counts.
According to defense attorney David Greenberg, the Dec. 29 hearing will center around the defendant’s request to enter into a mental health diversion program. State legislation signed into law in 2018 allows defendants with diagnosed mental health disorders to undergo treatment and other supervision instead of criminal proceedings.
After successfully completing the program, charges would be dismissed, and records related to the arrest sealed.
A request for comment from the city attorney was not immediately returned.
Greenberg declined to comment on the nature of his client’s mental health issues.
“That’s between him and his doctor,” he said.
Greenberg said Godakanda previously paid the city of Palm Springs an unspecified sum to fix the damage. Court papers indicate the damaged exceeded $4,000.
A declaration in support of arrest warrant prepared by Palm Springs Police Department Detective Francisco Salgado said officers were sent to 480 Tramview Road about 5 a.m. on 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, andiobserved black spray paint on the defendant’s hands, according to Salgado.
Center staff told police that signs and an electric car charging station were also damaged, and the repair costs totaled $4,176, the declaration states.
The investigation tied back 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 at that point 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 in Riverside County.