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LAPD seeks suspect who vandalized Los Feliz Sikh temple, threatened witness

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Los Angeles police are searching for Artyom Manukyan, 27, who is accused of vandalizing the exterior of the Hollywood Sikh Temple with hateful messages and then threatening a man who captured the incident in a cellphone video.
(James Queally / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles police have identified a suspect who wrote a pair of hateful screeds on the outside of a Sikh temple in Los Feliz and threatened to slit the throat of a witness who caught the incident on video, investigators said Monday.

Artyom Manukyan, 27, is accused of using a black marker to write rambling messages on the walls of the Hollywood Sikh Temple on Vermont Avenue about 2 p.m. Aug. 31, said Capt. Robert Long of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Major Crimes Division.

The suspect was confronted by several people, including a man who filmed the incident and posted it on Facebook, Long said. The man followed Manukyan for several blocks before the suspect threatened him with a straight razor, police said.

In a portion of the video, a man police identified as Manukyan can be seen calmly walking away from the wall and ignoring someone who repeatedly shouts, “Why did you write on it?”

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Manukyan, who lives in the Glendale or Los Angeles area, has been arrested on suspicion of burglary, grand theft auto and making criminal threats in the past, Long said. At a news conference Monday, police asked for the public’s help in locating Manukyan after a weeks-long search failed to result in an arrest.

The messages, which are still visible on the Vermont Avenue side of the temple, make little sense. One reads, “Nuke death … Sikhs,” with a profanity in between, while the other refers to a group of Sikhs stabbing the author when he was a child.

Long said Manukyan’s family has been cooperative, but the suspect’s motives remain unclear. Manukyan was not known to the temple’s community, said Nirinjan Singh Khalsa, executive director of the California Sikh Council.

“I am fully confident he designed this as a threat to the Sikh community and we need to take him into custody to make sure that the community, not just the Sikh community, but the community as a whole, is safer,” Long said.

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If arrested, Manukyan could face vandalism charges with a hate crime enhancement, Long said. He would also face criminal threats charges for brandishing a blade at the man who filmed him, according to Long, who said the case has been presented to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

Long said the suspect may be mentally ill, but it is not clear if he has been formally diagnosed.

The incident comes after Los Angeles saw a slight jump in reported hate crimes in 2016, an increase driven by crimes committed against the LGBTQ community, according to an analysis released earlier this year by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino. The 230 incidents reported to the LAPD last year marked the highest number of hate crimes reported in the city since 2008, the analysis showed.

Khalsa said he believes that attacks on the Sikh community have increased recently as well. In the past, Sikhs have often been targeted for harassment by individuals who mistake them for Muslims.

“I can tell you on behalf of the Sikh community that these incidents are up, especially in the political climate we’re in now. In the past hate crimes against Sikhs were mistaken identity hate crimes,” he said. “Unfortunately, now what we’re seeing is Sikhs are part of the other group in the mind of some people that think hatred is patriotic.”

There was an 11.5% surge in hate crimes across California in 2016, according to the California Department of Justice.

Some civil liberties groups assert that anti-Muslim bigots and other racists have been emboldened by Presidents Trump’s blistering rhetoric about immigration and Islamic terrorism, contributing to a rise in hate crimes.

Last year, a number of faith centers in California received an ominous letter that referenced Trump while calling for genocide against Muslims.

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“Your day of reckoning has arrived,” the letter read, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Greater Los Angeles chapter. “There’s a new sheriff in town — President Donald Trump. He’s going to cleanse America and make it shine again. And, he’s going to start with you Muslims.”

james.queally@latimes.com

Follow @JamesQueallyLAT for crime and police news in California.


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