Vandalism forces Krishna community to rethink safety
Published: Monday, May 6, 2013 at 2:55 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 6, 2013 at 7:31 p.m.
Matthew Goldman was chanting in the Hare Krishna Temple in Alachua on Saturday morning when another Krishna devotee told him about a mess in the bathroom.
Someone had clogged the toilets, he said.
The damage extended far beyond that inconvenience. Someone had defecated on the bathroom floor, strewn bleach around the temple and into a fountain, broke furnishings and tossed books into the fountain.
There were only a few people at the temple because many other devotees planned to attend a festival in Clearwater later that day. Goldman said he had an idea who was responsible: Peter Bergman.
Bergman had been at the temple from time to time, including that morning. He had even stayed at the guest house.
He had struck other members as strange, but that raised no alarms. "He seemed a little odd, but we normally don't jump to conclusions about oddness," said Miriam Tassinare, president of the ISKCON of Alachua temple at 17306 NW 112th Blvd.
Sheriff's deputies came to the scene and arrested a man they say helped Bergman deface the facility, while later filing a sworn criminal complaint against Bergman.
For a community that strives for a peaceful existence — devotees generally don't kill other creatures, even mosquitos — the incident has been a wakeup call.
The Hare Krishna community in Alachua welcomes newcomers to visit the temple, Tassinare said, and that won't change.
"We're always open for people to come experience our meditation and the spiritual atmosphere here, but we'll probably look more now at having some security here," she said.
They lock their doors and have an alarm system that keeps the building secure at night, but she said they'll probably look at adding security during services and other times.
Tassinare said she also wants to talk to the Alachua County Sheriff's Office about the congregation's rights, such as whether they can physically restrain someone who vandalizes their property. She explained that devotees are allowed to restrain an aggressor without compromising their religious views or lifestyle.
This incident could have been much worse, she said. There wasn't a lot of damage, and no one was hurt.
Because he was a familiar face, Bergman's arrival around 7 a.m. Saturday didn't ring any alarm bells, she said. And devotees said they assumed the man with him, Melshizedek Reyes, was a friend of Bergman's.
"But I think very soon after he came, they began acting erratic," Tassinare said.
According to a sheriff's report, the men said the temple was unclean and threw bleach around the facility and poured bleach into a decorative fountain at the front of the temple.
They threw books into the fountain and broke vases, according to the report. A sacred plant was also broken, Goldman said, which is considered offensive to Krishna devotees.
He said Reyes seemed to be following Bergman's orders during the incident.
"Whatever that other guy (Bergman) told him, it seemed like he would do," he said.
Bergman, 54, had seemed a little strange to other members of the temple, Goldman said, but they didn't think he'd do anything like this.
"We didn't expect that, even though he was little weird," he said.
After discovering the damage, a staff member suggested that Goldman drive the men to their homes, but Goldman said no. He said they should call the Sheriff's Office and then went back outside to keep an eye on the men.
When a deputy arrived, he arrested Reyes, who refused to give him any identification and said he was not going to speak to the deputy. Each man was carrying a bag — a backpack and a grocery bag — and they refused to let the deputy see what was inside, according to the report.
Reyes tried to run away from the deputy and was shot with a Taser stun gun after turning and charging at the deputy, according to a report.
Reyes, 25, of Volusia County, was arrested on charges of damage to property/criminal mischief, resisting arrest and disturbing the peace at a religious facility.
Bergman, however, was taken to Shands at the University of Florida. He still had a bracelet from Shands, where he had recently been treated for bone cancer, said Sheriff's Office spokesman Art Forgey.
He said the deputy felt Bergman needed medical attention. Medical issues take precedent over arrests, he said.
Bergman later was charged via a sworn criminal complaint with damage to property/criminal mischief, resisting arrest and disturbing the peace at a religious facility.
Forgey said the State Attorney's Office could determine that Reyes and Bergman should receive hate crime charges, but that hasn't been done yet.
Despite the concerns this incident has raised, Tassinare said she doesn't consider this a hate crime.
"I think it was really the crime of crazy people," she said.
Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or firstname.lastname@example.org.