Police: Vandal targets Md. Chick-fil-A, synagogue due to views on homosexuality, Palestine

Eric Sponaugle (Montgomery County Police)

A lone vandal left disparaging messages at a Chick-fil-A and Jewish synagogue, mocking the popular chain restaurant and religious institution for their perceived views on homosexuality and Palestine, Montgomery County Police allege.

Around 6 a.m. on September 7, Chick-fil-A employees arrived to work discovering someone had used a black permanent marker to deface the Olney restaurant's drive-thru menu, glass windows and brick facade. The messages stated:

"Can't pray the gay away."

Homophobia Kills!!"

Homophobic scum."

"Blood is on Your Hands."

This company hates gays! Conversion therapy is torture for LGBT youth. Chick-fil-A's profits go towards torturing children."

Surveillance cameras captured the vandal — a white male in his 20s with brown hair and a beard — canvassing the area the before writing his controversial messages and bending the license plate of a Chick-fil-A catering vehicle. The on-duty manager noticed the suspect looked similar to a man who'd recently rearranged lettering on the restaurant's exterior sign to read: "We hate gays!"

Also on September 7, the B'nai Shalom synagogue — located .6 miles from the Chick-fil-A along Georgia Avenue in Olney — reported vandalism to a banner hanging outside the house of worship. Someone had used a black permanent marker on the banner, writing:

"Justice for Palestinian people NOW!! Israel is a fascist apartheid state! ... What will your legacy be? ... Genocide?"

Montgomery County Police distributed digital images of the wanted vandal on an internal department server. Five days later, a patrol officer spotted a man at an Olney bus stop who looked like the suspect. A search of that man's backpack uncovered plastic lettering used on signboards.

Officers arrested the man, identified as Eric Sponaugle, 30, of the 18500 block of Queen Elizabeth Drive in Olney. Police note that home address is within a three block radius of the B'nai Shalom synagogue.

Reached by telephone last week, Sponaugle told ABC7 he could not directly comment on the allegations against him, but made clear he did not disagree with the message left behind, at least at the Chick-fil-A.

"Chick-fil-A's well-documented history of using its profits to the detriment of LGBTQ youth is unconscionable and should not be ignored. And while I would applaud the quote-unquote vandal for attempting to bring attention to these horrific abuses, I believe that this is a rather facile form of protest and that their energy would be better spent on more concrete activism," Sponaugle wrote in a text message.

In court documents, police note that Chick-fil-A's business model is founded on traditional Christian values, and thus, all locations are closed on Sundays. Police also note that B'nai Shalom is "conservative" in its interpretation of scripture.

Sponaugle is unemployed and lives with his parents. However, he reported to have been periodically homeless. He presented officers with an Oregon ID card.

Chick-fil-A did not return a phone call and email seeking comment. A voicemail left with the executive director of the B'nai Shalom synagogue also went unreturned.

Sponaugle faces up to six years in prison and $11,000 in fines on four charges of defacing religious property and malicious destruction of property. His next court appearance is scheduled for November 9, at the Montgomery County District Courthouse in Silver Spring.

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