LA men sentenced to federal prison for hate crime at Turkish restaurant
Two Los Angeles men were sentenced to federal prison terms Monday for attacking diners at a family-owned Turkish restaurant while shouting anti-Turkish slurs, hurling chairs at the victims and threatening to kill them.
William Stepanyan was sentenced to five years behind bars, and Harutyun Chalikyan was handed a 15-month term of imprisonment. Both men were ordered to serve three years of supervised release following prison, and jointly pay restitution of $21,200, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“These defendants were driven by hate, and their actions were deplorable,” U.S. Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison said in a statement. “The physical injuries and emotional trauma to the victims cannot be understated. We hope that the sentences handed down today will help vindicate those harms.”
Turkey and Armenia have a long history of conflict, part of which has stemmed from Turkey’s support of Azerbaijan in its border conflict with Armenia. When a new war broke out between Armenian and Azeri military forces in September 2020, tensions in Turkish and Armenian communities escalated worldwide, including in the United States.
Numerous protests and counter protests, pitting individuals of Armenian and Turkish descent against one another, took place in Los Angeles County.
On Nov. 4, 2020, Stepanyan, 24, who is Armenian-American and lives in Glendale, sent a text message saying that he planned to go “hunting” for Turks. Later that day, Stepanyan met with Chalikyan, 25, of Tujunga, and other Armenian-Americans to protest what they considered to be Turkish aggression against Armenians, express their contempt for Turkey and show their support for Armenia.
Stepanyan, Chalikyan and various unindicted accomplices drove to the restaurant in Beverly Hills, where the defendants stormed inside. Stepanyan and Chalikyan, who were both wearing masks during the attack, flung chairs at the victims while shouting derogatory slurs about Turkish people.
Four of the five victims were of Turkish descent. At least one of the defendants threatened to kill the victims, shouting: “We came to kill you! We will kill you!” according to the DOJ.
During the attack, multiple victims were injured, including one individual who lost feeling in the legs and collapsed multiple times due to the injury. Also, during the attack, Stepanyan ripped out the restaurant’s computer terminals and stole a victim’s iPhone.
The restaurant reported more than $20,000 in damage and had to close temporarily.