Police have arrested an Olney man in connection with vandalizing a nearby synagogue last month.
Thirty-year-old Eric Sponaugle was arrested Oct. 2 and charged with damage to property based on race or religion, two counts of malicious destruction of property and defacing religious property, according to Montgomery County Police. Sponaugle faces up to six years in prison.
Police say Sponaugle vandalized B’nai Shalom of Olney on Sept. 7, hanging a banner that read “Justice for Palestine people NOW!! Israel is a fascist apartheid state! … What will your legacy be? … Genocide?”
According to the Jewish News Syndicate, police disseminated digital images of Sponaugle taken from security cameras. Days later, a patrol officer spotted him, searched his bag and found sign board letters. According to police, his address is blocks from the Conservative synagogue.
Rabbi Dina Rosenberg said her congregation didn’t have much time to process the incident with Rosh Hashanah beginning two days later. But they did institute a new policy: for the first time, every attendee at High Holiday services had to show identification to enter.
“It was hectic, our focus was really on what we need to do to make sure our community feels safe as they walk through our doors on the holiest days of the year,” Rosenberg said.
Police say Sponaugle had also defaced a nearby Chick-fil-A restaurant the day before, targeting the company ownership’s conservative position on homosexuality. Police allege he wrote “Can’t pray away the gay” and similar messages on the restaurant.
Rosenberg said that police indicated Sponaugle may be suffering from a mental illness, adding that she was grateful for the response of the police in following up on the incident and identifying the
“I’m thankful that we have a community here that follows up on these things and made sure that both the person who did it is found and that, from what I understand, he has some psychological difficulties, and that we are, as a community, recognizing that,” Rosenberg said. “This isn’t about what he wrote but making sure he has help.”
According to WJLA-TV, Sponaugle did not directly comment on the allegations when reached, though he said he did not disagree with the message on written on the Chick-fil-A.
“It saddens me when people use rhetoric that’s focused on religion and hate in any capacity, and even more so at a synagogue,” Rosenberg said. “It’s an unfortunate place that we have to have extra security measures, but we do what we need to do.”
Sponaugle is scheduled to make his next court appearance Nov. 9.