Two California Men Sentenced for Conspiracy and Hate Crime Convictions

LegalImage by Mike Braun

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Two California men were sentenced this week on conspiracy and hate crime charges for attacking five victims inside a restaurant 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 prison and Harutyun Harry Chalikyan, 24, of Tujung, was sentenced to 15 months in prison. Each defendant was also sentenced to three years of supervised release. The court also ordered the defendants to jointly pay $21,200 in restitution for damage to the Turkish restaurant. Each defendant previously pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of committing a hate crime.

According to the facts admitted in the plea agreements, the defendants, who identify as members of the Armenian-American community, attacked five victims inside a family-owned Turkish restaurant on Nov. 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!” The attack caused at least $20,000 of damage to the restaurant and physically injured multiple victims.

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“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.”

“These defendants were driven by hate, and their actions were deplorable,” said U.S. Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison for the Central District of California. “The physical injuries and emotional trauma to the victims cannot be understated. We hope that the sentences handed down… will help vindicate those harms.”

“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 Assistant Director in Charge Kristi Johnson of the FBI Los Angeles Field Office. “The FBI is committed to investigating civil rights violations and holding accountable individuals who commit violent acts motivated by hate.”

Trial Attorney Michael J. Songer of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Lindsey Greer Dotson of the Central District of California prosecuted the case on behalf of the government. The FBI conducted the investigation with the assistance of the Beverly Hills Police Department.

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