A man accused of vandalizing a Beverly Hills synagogue earlier this month in a suspected hate crime pleaded not guilty to charges Monday, according to police.
Anton Nathaniel Redding, 24, was charged with breaking into Nessah Synagogue and ransacking the building, leaving furniture flipped over and damaging Jewish relics and holy books, according to police and prosecutors.
Redding, a resident of Millersville, Pennsylvania, pleaded not guilty to one felony count each of vandalism of religious property and second-degree burglary, in addition to a hate crime allegation, according to authorities. Officials with the Beverly Hills Police Department previously said there were “no marking or overt signs of anti-Semitism.”
Inside the synagogue located at 142 South Rexford Drive, officers found brochures and other items scattered throughout the synagogue after first arriving shortly after 7 a.m. on Dec. 14, authorities said. An employee had notified security when he found a door open and the building ransacked.
When police were still searching for the vandal later that day, a preliminary investigation found he had forced his way into the building following some other acts of vandalism in the surrounding area, officials said.
No one was inside the building when he entered, authorities said, and nothing was stolen.
Just hours after the break-in was discovered, police released surveillance video showing a man wearing a backpack as he walked into the synagogue carrying a rolling suitcase.
Within days, Redding flew out of Los Angeles International Airport to Hawaii, where L.A. detectives found him in Kona with the help of local authorities. Officials said forensic and video evidence led to him being identified as the suspect on Dec. 17.
His bail has been set at $250,000 as he remains in custody, police said. He could face up to six years in prison if convicted.
Nessah Synagogue has been described by its congregants as an especially revered place of worship for local Jewish Iranians, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“Our worst nightmare basically came to light,” one longtime congregant, Farzad Rabbany, told the Times. “This particular synagogue is very dear to the Jewish Iranians that fled the 1979 revolution in Iran, and this is what we call home.”
“It is the largest Persian synagogue in the United States, and perhaps the world,” Rabbany said.
Beverly Hills Mayor John Mirisch has denounced the crime as a “cowardly attack” on the West L.A. community.
“It is not just an attack on the Jewish Community of Beverly Hills; it’s an attack on all of us,” Mirisch wrote in a statement. “The entire City stands in solidarity behind Nessah, its members and congregants.”
“We are committed to catching the criminal who desecrated a holy place on Shabbat of all days and bringing him to justice,” the mayor wrote.
Despite the damage left, police said the synagogue’s main scrolls survived unscathed.
Last week, another man was arrested on suspicion of defacing a number of Jewish schools in the Bel-Air area. Police have said they were investigating those incidents as hate crimes.
In 2018, the Jewish community continued to be the most targeted religious group in Los Angeles County, according to hate crime statistics released by public officials. Eighty-three percent of all such crimes on the basis of religion were committed against Jews. The majority of these crimes — 61% — were acts of vandalism.