California Man Agrees to Plead Guilty in Federal Hate Crime Case for Attacking Family-Owned Restaurant and Making Death Threats
A California man has agreed to plead guilty today to federal criminal charges for attacking five victims at a family-owned Turkish restaurant last year while shouting anti-Turkish slurs, hurling chairs at the victims and threatening to kill them, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and Acting U.S. Attorney Tracy Wilkison of the Central District of California announced.
William Stepanyan, 23, of Glendale, has agreed to plead to one count of conspiracy and one hate crime charge, according to a plea agreement filed Monday in U.S. District Court. He is expected to enter a guilty plea to the felony charges in the coming weeks.
Turkey and Armenia are two neighboring countries in the Caucasus region of Asia that have historically experienced significant 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.
According to his plea agreement, on Nov. 4, 2020, Stepanyan, who is Armenian-American, sent a text message saying that he planned to go “hunting for [T]urks.” Later that day, Stepanyan met with his co-defendant Harutyun Harry Chalikyan, 24, 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 other Armenian-Americans then drove to the family-owned restaurant, where Stepanyan and Chalikyan stormed into the restaurant and attacked the victims 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!”
During the attack, multiple victims were injured, including one individual who lost feeling in their 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 suffered at least $20,000 in damage and had to close temporarily, resulting in thousands of dollars in lost revenue.
After he enters the guilty pleas to the two felony offenses, Stepanyan will face a statutory maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison.
Chalikyan is scheduled to go on trial in this matter on Oct. 26. He has pleaded not guilty to one count of conspiracy and five hate crime charges.
The FBI conducted the investigation in this matter and received substantial assistance from the Beverly Hills Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Lindsey Greer Dotson of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section, and Trial Attorney Michael J. Songer of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division are prosecuting the case.