GLENDALE — Los Angeles County prosecutors now consider vandalism to a stone monument at St. Mary's Armenian Apostolic Church to be a hate crime.
The vandalism charges filed against 23-year-old Glendale resident Victor Petrescu were amended Thursday to reflect the change roughly one week after he was arrested in front of the church. Witnesses said he used a sledgehammer to smash a stone monument.
After the Los Angeles County district attorney's office filed felony vandalism charges, Glendale Police Chief Ron De Pompa asked prosecutors to reconsider the evidence for the hate crime enhancement.
"It was simply based on additional analysis," district attorney spokeswoman Shiara Davila-Morales of the decision to amend the charge.
Petrescu, who police said is Christian and of Romanian descent, has also been charged with felony vandalism of religious property and a misdemeanor count of possessing tools with the intent to commit vandalism, according to a criminal complaint.
The move follows growing concern among the Armenian community and church leaders about the case.
That Petrescuallegedly purchased the sledgehammer before smashing the cross stone proved the incident was premeditated, making it grounds for a hate crime, De Pompa said.
"To me, that clearly indicates that it was a preplanned act, not just a spontaneous-type event that I think the [district attorney] really needed to reconsider," he said.
De Pompa stated publicly last week that if detectives uncovered any evidence proving it was a hate-motivated crime, he would request additional charges be filed against Petrescu.
Two Glendale police detectives spotted Petrescu on Aug. 11 hammering into the church's cross-stone on the 500 block of South Central Avenue and arrested him.
The monument, which was donated to the church in 2001, sustained an estimated $80,000 in damage to its carvings, although church officials have been trying to determine whether it can be repaired.
The stone was created from rare volcanic rock and shipped from Armenia to commemorate the day 1,700 years ago that Armenians adopted Christianity. It also serves as a memorial for those who died in the Armenian Genocide.
Since the vandalism incident occurred, De Pompa and other police officials have been meeting with church officials and community members.
"I think community members were more interested in trying to find out why someone would do this and wanted to make sure that those issues were looked at very closely," De Pompa said. "It prompted a very detailed investigation on our part and very careful reevaluation of the facts by the police department."
Mayor Ara Najarian said he also met with police to monitor the handling of the case and determine why prosecutors didn't initially file it as a hate crime.
"I couldn't believe it hadn't been filed as a hate crime," he said.