A Glendale man has agreed to plead guilty to federal charges for attacking five victims at a family-owned Turkish restaurant while shouting anti-Turkish slurs, hurling chairs at the victims and threatening to kill them, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Wednesday.
William Stepanyan, 23, has agreed to plead to one count of conspiracy and one hate crime charge, according to a plea agreement filed Monday in Los Angeles. He is expected to enter a guilty plea to the felony charges in the coming weeks.
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.
According to his plea agreement, on Nov. 4 last year, Stepanyan, who is Armenian-American, sent a text message saying that he planned to go “hunting” for Turks. Later that day, Stepanyan met with 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 inside. Stepanyan and Chalikyan, who were both wearing masks during the attack, flung chairs at the victims while shouting derogatory slurs about Turkish people, prosecutors said.
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 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, according to the DOJ.
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 up to 15 years in federal prison, prosecutors said.
Chalikyan is scheduled to go on trial Oct. 26. He has pleaded not guilty to one count of conspiracy and five hate crime charges.