LOS ANGELES – Two Los Angeles County men today were sentenced to federal prison on conspiracy and hate crime charges for attacking five victims inside a family-owned Turkish restaurant in 2020 while shouting ethnic slurs, hurling chairs at the victims, and threatening to kill them.
William Stepanyan, 23, of Glendale was sentenced to five years in federal prison, and Harutyun Harry Chalikyan, 24, of Tujunga was sentenced to 15 months in prison. Both defendants pleaded guilty in October 2021 to one count of conspiracy and one count of committing a hate crime.
In September 2020, long-simmering tensions in Turkish and Armenian communities escalated worldwide – including in the United States – in response to a war breaking out between Armenia and its Turkish-backed neighboring country, Azerbaijan.
According to court documents, the defendants, who identify as members of the Armenian American community, attacked the victims inside the restaurant on November 4, 2020, because of their anger about Turkey’s support of Azerbaijan in its conflict with Armenia. Earlier that day, Stepanyan sent a text message saying that he planned to go “hunting for [T]urks.”
That evening, the defendants drove to the restaurant with a group of approximately nine individuals who planned to demonstrate outside the establishment because they considered it symbolic of Turkey. Upon arriving at the restaurant, Stepanyan and Chalikyan stormed inside, threw hard wooden chairs at the victims, smashed glassware, destroyed a plexiglass barrier, and overturned tables. One of the defendants asked the victims, “Are you Turkish?” and shouted, “We came to kill you! We will kill you!”
During the attack, three 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 attack caused at least $20,000 of damage to the restaurant and physically injured multiple victims.
“These defendants were driven by hate, and their actions were deplorable,” said United States Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison. “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.”
“The defendants violently attacked people inside a family-owned restaurant because of their perceived nationality,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Such violence based on national origin has no place in our society. The Justice Department will continue to vigorously prosecute bias-motivated crimes in an effort to secure justice for the victims and the communities they are meant to target and intimidate.”
“The victims in this case were brutally attacked by the defendants who trampled their civil rights and likely caused lasting psychological pain for nothing more than the perception of where they were born,” said Kristi Johnson, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “The FBI is committed to investigating civil rights violations and holding accountable individuals who commit violent acts motivated by hate.”
The defendants were ordered to pay $21,200 in restitution.
The FBI conducted the investigation in this matter and received substantial assistance from the Beverly Hills Police Department.
Assistant United States 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 prosecuted this case.