There are at least two sides to many stories, and in the assault against Atul Lall, one comes from a bitter victim of violent crime, while the other emerges from a defensive police department.

According to Lall, police lend more credence to his assailants’ drunken recollections.

On Nov. 21, Lall was driving home from an East Side Lucky grocery store when he was pulled from his car and beaten until several teeth jangled in his mouth and his jaw was broken. He says his unprovoked attackers hit him with a tequila bottle and called him a terrorist, while punching and pouring liquor on him, which led police to classify the incident as a hate crime.

Last week, police announced the arrest of two suspects, based on an anonymous tip received Feb. 24. The District Attorney’s office charged one of the two suspects, Emilio Romayor, 21, with a felony count of assault with a deadly weapon, with enhancements for inflicting “great bodily injury” with a bottle of tequila. The other suspect, arrested and later released without charges, is Emilio’s older brother, Rogelio, 23.

The District Attorney’s office chose not to upgrade the charges to a hate crime, as silent and blurry video surveillance suggested that a parking-lot traffic dispute caused the incident. Both suspects contended that Lall came close to hitting Rogelio when backing out of a parking space and struck Emilio’s leg when fleeing the scene.

The Romayors also admitted in the investigative report that they were blacked-out drunk and don’t remember much of what happened before or after the incident.

Although media coverage has suggested closure with the apprehension of the confessed attackers, Lall feels nothing close to pleased.

He says he has been victimized yet again, claiming that the suspect charged—still in custody as of press time—only held his car door open as Romayor’s accomplices did the real damage.

“I don’t know why he has any credibility,” Lall says. “Police are covering up their tracks, because I might sue them for negligence.”

Lall continues to doubt police—he awaits findings from a complaint filed with the Independent Police Auditor’s office for what he saw as negligence by investigators—and he claims that Emilio Romayor’s confession as the lone attacker is being accepted at face value for the sake of expediency. Or, he suggests, the suspect could be trying to protect accomplices from punishment.

Meanwhile, police officers involved in the case find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to defend not only their procedures but also the arrest of someone who was clearly involved in the attack.

“Our victim has made it very clear he feels we didn’t respond to his case adequately,” says SJPD spokesman Sgt. Jason Dwyer. “Our response is we’ve done everything humanly possible—we held a press conference, the detective has been working this case nonstop.

“To have an admission and letter of apology, I think we’re doing OK. I firmly believe we’ve satisfied our responsibility of finding who assaulted him, and we’re still not finished.”

Police released a sketch of one of the suspects at a Feb. 6 press conference. Afterward, Lall held court with reporters about what he perceived as missteps in the investigation. Chief of Police Chris Moore defended his department’s work and said communication with the victim was the only error.


Only a week later, when talking to Metro, Lall said that the detective on his case, Michael Villanueva, and other members of SJPD told him to thank Mayor Chuck Reed for budget cuts that slowed law enforcement’s response time.

“I’ve been put through hell by the SJPD and literally had to put my life on hold for three months,” Lall says. “I’ve had terrible nightmares, paranoia in public places, tons of chest/stomach pain and breathing complications due to anxiety attacks. It’s pretty sad that most of the stress wasn’t just because of assault, but because of the way the SJPD handled my case. If there is in fact something funny going on at the SJPD, and if in fact there are incompetent cops on the force, then that’s a problem for our city, and I think the public should know about it.”

Prior Arrest

Three men were with Emilio Romayor the night he’s accused of attacking Lall. Half of the quartet—Emilio and Rogelio Romayor—were arrested three years ago and charged with kicking and slashing a man’s face after a dispute in Marin County.

According to the investigative report of Lall’s case, two of the four suspects include a man named Michael Manders, who hasn’t been charged, and another referred to only as Alexander. In the report, Det. Villanueva writes that Rogelio Romayor told him, “The only person that might have” called Lall a terrorist “was Alexander because he is a former Marine and did a tour of duty in Afghanistan.”

Both brothers said in the crime report that they thought Lall was of Asian descent, instead of Indian, and that Emilio Romayor was the only person to attack him. In the report, though, the only fingerprint police found on the tequila bottle—located in Lall’s car weeks after the incident—matched that of Rogelio Romayor.

At the end of February, fed up with no leads or suspects when calling police for updates, Lall and a friend canvassed the area near the attack and circulated flyers that featured the police sketch. On March 1, Lall says he and his friend received a tip—the name “Emilio”—from a man in exchange for a few cigarettes. The Romayor brothers were arrested the next day, but not based on Lall’s canvassing, according to police.

“I specifically asked [Capt. Jeff Marozick] about that lead, and that wasn’t what cracked the case,” says Sgt. Jason Dwyer. “The tip had nothing to do with Atul Lall.”

As much as Lall is unsure of the police, law enforcement officials have their own hesitations about his ability to recall some events that night, including how he fled the scene. The Romayors claim Lall intentionally struck Emilio Romayor with his car after making a U-turn to follow them toward the parking-lot exit. Lall says his only goal was to escape, and he doesn’t know if he hit him or not.

The controversy between Lall and SJPD is awkward on all levels, even for San Jose Councilmember Rose Herrera, who offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case.

“First of all, I want to say I’m glad there was an arrest. I credit the police department for that,” Herrera says. “I don’t know if we’ll ever know what exactly happened there, but apparently the [district] attorney felt there was enough evidence to feel comfortable to charge a crime. The bottom line is this: My residents are safer because this guy’s off the streets.”