A dispute between two groups of young Persian men, one Jewish, one Muslim, erupted in a shooting at Cheviot Hills Park the night of June 3.
Approximately 40 young men gathered in a back parking lot at the park, reportedly to resolve an ongoing dispute. Witnesses interviewed by police say the two groups had agreed before meeting not to bring any weapons. But a verbal argument quickly escalated into a brawl, and at around 10:30 p.m., shots were fired.
The shooting is reportedly the result of an ongoing dispute between two small Persian groups in Westwood -- one Jewish, the other Muslim. Witnesses interviewed by police described arguments and a fistfight over the past few weeks and an alleged incident in which the group of Muslim men spit on a rabbi in Westwood.
The victim's brother, Aaron Sinai, says he and the victim first met the suspected shooter about two months ago, during a weekend basketball game at Emerson Middle School's courts, where an argument broke out over who would play next. The animosity between the Muslim and Jewish groups reportedly escalated over the following weeks, culminating in the spitting on the rabbi and finally the shooting.
The park's field supervisor, Sean Caster, was at the park removing bases from the baseball fields when he noticed the fight and went to call 911. While waiting to be connected, Caster reported hearing at least three gunshots. Caster, a former lance corporal in the Marine Corps, identified the first two shots as "small arms," most likely a .25-caliber handgun, and the third "sounded like a shotgun." Caster rushed to clear other patrons out of the park, and, seeing a group carrying the wounded man, drove the victim in a golf cart to the front parking lot, where he was taken by ambulance to UCLA Medical Center.
Suspected shooter Jansha Cohen, 25, arrested by police at the park and positively identified by numerous witnesses, has been charged with attempted murder. He is being held on $2 million bail and is scheduled to appear at a preliminary hearing on Jan. 19.
Victim Farzad Sinai, 19, who is Jewish, is in stable condition, after suffering two bullet wounds in the chest, one of which punctured his stomach and liver.
LAPD Detective Jim Willis says the accused shooter has official identification with the name of Cohen. However, Aaron Sinai told The Journal that he does not believe the suspect's name is really Cohen. Police and Sinai agree that shooting suspect has multiple tattoos on his arms and chest. Sinai claims that at least one of the tattoos features Arabic writing. Attempts to confirm this at press time were not successful.
Willis recovered a handgun at the park, which is being tested to determine if it is the weapon used in the shooting. Willis believes that the incident in the park is an isolated one. "We've tried to connect it to a lot of other things going on, but this is not related to any other incident." The detective also said that the shooting was not being investigated as a hate crime, and that neither the Jewish nor Muslim groups of young men were "recognized criminal street gangs."
City Councilman Jack Weiss, whose 5th District includes parts of Westwood and Cheviot Hills, though it curves around the park, is concerned that the incident may signal a developing problem. "This is a Westside story straight out of 'West Side Story' -- that's really bizarre. Tensions may be high in other areas, other parts of the world, but I don't believe this is representative of the level of tension in Los Angeles," Weiss said. He added that his office would continue to monitor the investigation to determine whether the violence was part of a larger conflict.