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WARMINGTON: Video of Peterborough robbery should exonerate store clerk

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PETERBOROUGH — Only in Canada can a robber who hit a store clerk with a baseball bat get 14 months in provincial jail, after four months of pre-sentence custody, while the guy he repeatedly struck remains before the courts facing up to 14 years in a federal prison.

But after pleading guilty to robbery in Peterborough court on Thursday, homeless fentanyl addict Jonathan Handel, 37, could see freedom before the Circle K clerk he robbed and attacked goes to trial.

When Tejeshwar Kalia struck a robber with the same baseball bat he was hit with, the 22-year-old international student from India did what anybody in a life and death situation would do.

“I saw it as me defending myself,” Kalia told the Toronto Sun on Thursday. “I was afraid for my life.”

He didn’t think he would end up charged along with the original attacker who had hit him with a baseball bat in a robbery attempt.

Circle K clerk Tejeshwar Kalia, 22, and an unidentified customer are seen in security video wrestling a baseball bat away from Jonathan Handel after the 37-year-old attampted a violent robbery of the store in Peterborough on Jan. 5, 2024. Photo by Supplied /screengrab from security video)

Now, Security video obtained by the Sun offers the first glimpse into exactly what happened at the Circle K store in downtown Peterborough on Jan. 5.

The footage will open up a whole new debate on whether this was self defence, as the clerk sees it, or vigilante justice, as the Peterborough Police see it.

In a social media post in January, Chief of Police Stuart Betts encouraged people to “stop and think about things before determining what you think has happened, or that an injustice has taken place, because I’m quite confident that not one person who has made a comment about this case has seen the video or has access to the actual facts.”

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Now the video is out and it offers context. In just under one minute, it shows an interaction between a homeless man with severe drug issues and a young man who is in Canada attending Sir Sanford Fleming College.

The video shows the 2:30 a.m. incident began with the bandit – wearing a black balaclava, sunglasses and gloves – entering the store with a baseball bat concealed in a blue bag. Once at the counter, video shows him taking the bat out of the bag and using it to repeatedly strike Kalia in the back of his head.

From there a struggle over control of this bat ensues. Kalia, another unknown customer in the store and Handel appear all tangled up in a physical scrum before ending up outside.

Jonathan Handel, 37, steps out of an OPP offender transport van in handcuffs at the courthouse in Peterborough, Ont., on Thursday April 4, 2024.
Jonathan Handel, 37, steps out of an OPP offender transport van in handcuffs at the courthouse in Peterborough, Ont., on Thursday April 4, 2024. Photo by Ernest Doroszuk /Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network

At one point Kalia is seen gaining control of the bat and as Handel starts to run, the clerk takes five fast steps toward the robber and strikes him in the back of the head. Kalia then takes a second swing after Handel hit the ground.

Kalia’s first move after that is to take out his phone to call 911 as he knelt down and held Handel’s  head nursing his wounds.

The video version differs slightly from how it was described in a Jan. 9 press release from Peterborough Police who wrote a “man came into the store demanding money and brandishing a baseball bat. A struggle ensued and the clerk was struck with the bat before grabbing the bat away from from the suspect. The suspect then fled the store. The clerk followed the suspect out of the store and struck him several times with the baseball bat on the sidewalk.”

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The video shows Handel actually did not freely flee the store but was in fact still carrying the bat while embroiled in a wrestling match with Kalia and the unidentified customer that spilled out on to the street. Kalia did not follow Handel out of the store but was involved in a struggle with him trying to gain control of the bat that he had been hit with three times.

The video shows Kalia didn’t retrieve the bat until they were outside and once gaining control, in less than two seconds moved about five steps before lunging toward Handel, who was reaching for his pocket – seconds after Kalia claims, “He said he would stab me.”

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Circle K convenience store in Peterborough, Ont., on Thursday April 4, 2024.
Circle K convenience store in Peterborough, Ont., on Thursday April 4, 2024. Photo by Ernest Doroszuk /Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network

Sources say Handel was found with a knife on his person but Crown attorney Amanda Kok would not confirm or deny if a knife was recovered.

The Sun reached out to Peterborough Police regarding the video on Thursday, but they would not comment now that the case is before the courts.

In a victim impact statement read into the court Thursday by a friend, Kalia said the baseball bat shots put him in panic mode in the moment and has since left him “grappling with physical and emotional stress.”

“I fell victim to a brutal robbery (in which) the assailant, wielding a baseball bat, viciously struck me three times: twice on the back of my head and once on my spine,” Kalia said.

He was treated in hospital but has since undergone two surgeries.

Meanwhile, Handel was flown to hospital in Toronto where he was induced into a coma as part of his recovery, which has resulted in losing his sense of taste and smell and left him with scars to the back of his head – something he showed Justice Jennifer Broderick from the prisoner’s box.

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Jeffrey Ayotte, defence lawyer for Tejeshwar Kalia, at his Peterborough office on Thursday April 4, 2024.
Jeffrey Ayotte, defence lawyer for Tejeshwar Kalia, at his Peterborough office on Thursday April 4, 2024. Photo by Ernest Doroszuk /Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network

Kalia, as a person of Hindu faith who is “religious,” said “I do not feel good” about Handel getting jail time and “I have been praying for him” since this happened. He said he was only reacting to the position he was put in.

His lawyer Jeffrey Ayotte said: “For whatever reason, the video has been misdescribed by the Peterborough Police … but I am confident at the preliminary hearing, when the video will be shown publicly and at jury trial, 12 people are going to see this video and they are going to see what the police are telling them did not happen.”

“We are fairly confident that a jury is going to find after seeing the video, and after hearing what Tej has to say, that he acted in self defence,” Ayotte added.

There’s got to be some understanding from the system for that.

It seems only fitting, since such a minor punishment was meted out to the person who caused this whole thing, that the province withdraw the charges against Kalia and let him get on with his life.

jwarmington@postmedia.com

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