The trouble started at some rowdy youth parties last year in the wealthy neighborhoods north of Glendale. According to sheriff's deputies, alcohol was plentiful, adult supervision was minimal and two young men mixed it up violently, igniting an ugly feud.
Then the trouble followed one of the young men home and ensnared his family. Vandals broke windows and dented cars in front of the family's spacious La Canada Flintridge house. The parents blamed their son's youthful foe and set out to catch him.
The trouble was reported to deputies, who were unable to crack the case or defuse the situation over a three-month period.
The trouble finally found its way to the county courthouse in Glendale. A prosecutor tried to end the increasingly dangerous feud without taking it before a judge. When that failed, he filed criminal charges.
On Wednesday, a jury is scheduled to begin sorting through the trouble during a Glendale Municipal Court trial demanded by one of the men involved in the feud.
Patrick Glen Johnston, 22, a former La Crescenta resident now living in Newport Beach, has admitted only that he threw rocks at the house on one occasion. He pleaded no contest last month to a reduced charge of disturbing the peace.
But the owner of the house, Ara Aprahamian, has refused to accept a similar plea agreement. He was charged with using a pool cue to smash the front windshield of Johnston's 1990 Saab after it was demolished in a collision with a light pole.
Before Johnston's arrest, Aprahamian had stood watch for countless nights, hoping to catch the vandal who had caused what he estimated was $10,000 in damage to his house and cars. He believes he was justified in committing that brief emotional act on a car that was already destroyed. He has demanded a chance to make his case before a jury.
"It's not fair," said Sophia Aprahamian, the defendant's wife. "My husband has no criminal record, and he's not going to get one for this. They're prosecuting my husband on the same level as Patrick Johnston. Sure, what he did wasn't right, but look at the circumstances."
Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Pargament said last week that he suspects people on both sides have committed serious offenses, but said he lacked the witnesses and evidence needed to file charges in most of the incidents.
It was Pargament who finally decided to charge both Johnston and Ara Aprahamian with a single count of vandalism each.
"How could I forget that monstrosity?" he said of the case. "It was a nightmare."
He added: "Both the Sheriff's Department and I tried our hand at peaceful negotiations. It was more than a minor failure."
By early March, he was already concerned about the hazardous rock-throwing incidents and a high-speed car chase through a residential neighborhood. He also considered a report by deputies alleging that Sophia Aprahamian, through a third party, had threatened to have someone severely injure Johnston.
Pargament said he had urged the Aprahamians and Johnston to get restraining orders that would force them to stay apart. But after Johnston failed to pick up such an order, someone "served" it by attaching it to a rock and hurling it at a house that Johnston often visits, the prosecutor said.
"At that point, I said enough is enough," Pargament said. "The peace was not restored. A non-criminal solution was not working. . . . I wanted to put a stop to this nonsense for the safety of the community."
Deputies and the prosecutor believe that Ara Aprahamian was present during the last rock-throwing incident. But there was insufficient evidence to charge him, they said.
So Pargament charged Johnston with throwing a rock at the Aprahamian house and charged Aprahamian with smashing Johnston's windshield.
He said the windshield had salvage value although the car was destroyed. "I took what I could prove and filed equal charges against both," the prosecutor said.
He believes that his strategy was correct. "Since I filed that case, we haven't had one more incident of disruption involving these people," he said.
But Ara Aprahamian, a real estate broker who is facing steep legal bills, doesn't think much of Pargament's plan. "That stupid idea of his has already cost me $3,000," he said.
He denies using a rock to deliver the restraining order, saying a business acquaintance simply left it on the doorstep. "Only a moron would throw a rock with his name on it," Aprahamian said.
One of the few things that the Aprahamians and investigators agree on is the origin of the feud. They say Johnston and the Aprahamians' son, Greg, 18, were involved in heated confrontations at several parties last year in La Canada Flintridge and La Crescenta.
Deputies say both men were often accompanied by sidekicks recruited from Altadena.