INDIO (CNS) – A judge is expected to decide Tuesday 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, along with an electric car charging station. Repair costs totaled $4,176, according to court papers.
The defendant 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 Riverside County District Attorney’s Office has agreed not to contest the defendant’s request 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 in lieu of criminal proceedings.
After successfully completing the program, charges would be dismissed and records related to the arrest sealed.
Greenberg, who declined to comment on the nature of his client’s mental health issues, estimated the treatment could span about a year. 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 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, and observed black spray paint on the defendant’s hands, according to the detective.
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.