NORTH HOLLYWOOD – A 33-year-old man was facing possible hate crime charges Friday following his arrest for allegedly committing attacks on Orthodox Jewish women in the North Hollywood-Valley Glen area.
Steven Szwet was arrested by detectives about 9 p.m. Thursday on suspicion of three counts of battery, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. Investigators had released images of him earlier in the day in the hope that someone would identify him.
The first attack occurred in the afternoon hours of Sept. 19, during the Yom Kippur observance, in the area of Bellaire Avenue and Chandler Boulevard, according to the LAPD. An 80-year-old woman walking south on Bellaire from Burbank Boulevard noticed she was being followed by a 25- to 30- year-old white man, police said.
“When she reached Chandler Boulevard, the suspect approached her, grabbed the wig off her head, smiled and handed it back to her,” according to a police statement. “The suspect never said anything and then calmly walked away.”
Later the same day, the same suspect approached a 36-year-old woman from behind as she walked on Chandler Boulevard at Bellaire Avenue and tried to pull the wig off her head, police said.
The most recent battery occurred on Tuesday afternoon in the area of Laurel Canyon and Burbank boulevards.
In that case, a 58-year-old woman was loading music equipment into her vehicle when the same man from the prior two incidents approached her and pulled the wig off her head.
“He then stated to the victim, `Oh, I’m sorry,’ in a sarcastic manner and threw the wig on the ground,” police said.
The suspect then walked away.
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“All three female victims are part of the Orthodox Jewish community residing in the area where the crimes occurred,” according to the LAPD. “The suspect appears to have battered the women and targeted their wigs because of their religious beliefs. Orthodox Jewish women often wear wigs, scarfs, or hats to cover their hair as a symbol of modesty.”
Szwet’s bail was set at $20,000 and he was released from custody later Thursday night, according to sheriff’s inmate records.
“The case is under review by the City Attorney’s office for a possible hate crime enhancement,” according to an LAPD statement.
Anyone with information about the case was urged to contact LAPD North Hollywood Division Crimes Against Persons Detective Dan Fournier at (818) 754-8451.