This post was updated at 6:13 p.m. Jan. 30 to include additional information from charging documents and statements from the Office of Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, the State’s Attorney’s Office and the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.
An assailant used antisemitic language during a robbery and attack that left the victim unconscious Wednesday at a Giant grocery store in Gaithersburg, Montgomery County Police said in a news release.
The incident comes amid a wave of antisemitic activity in Montgomery County, including four incidents of graffiti over the past two weeks at Montgomery County Public Schools, the deposit of antisemitic flyers at homes Saturday night in Kensington, harassing emails sent in December to Walt Whitman High School staff, defacement of the Whitman sign on the eve of Hanukkah, and a number of other episodes last fall.
Eugene Thompson, 19, also known as Michael Stewart, of Washington, D.C., was arrested and charged with assault and robbery in the incident Wednesday afternoon on Flower Hill Way, police said. Police and the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office say they are exploring possible hate crime charges.
According to charging documents, a man was shopping when he saw Thompson and a group of other men inside the store throwing fruit and other grocery items at customers in the store, as well as stealing donuts from the display case.
When the man asked them to stop, the group surrounded him and an argument ensued, according to charging documents. At some point, the victim unzipped his sweatshirt to reveal a Star of David necklace and pulled out a pen to prevent the men from assaulting him, according to charging documents.
The documents allege Thompson noticed the necklace and put his hands up in a fighting stance. Thompson used antisemitic language against the victim and physically assaulted him, police stated.
According to charging documents, the victim stated that when he was being beaten up, he heard members of the group yell “Yeah, do it for Kanye!,” although he wasn’t sure if Thompson also said those comments. The man believed the group’s statements were referring to celebrity rapper Ye (formerly Kanye West), who has made antisemitic remarks in recent months and been hosted by former President Donald Trump.
The victim lost consciousness, and the group left the store, according to the release. The victim’s keys were also taken after the assault.
Officers from the 6th District and Montgomery County Fire Rescue Services treated the victim on the scene. He was taken to a hospital with serious but non-life-threatening injuries.
Police found Thompson in the 18200 block of Flower Hill Way and arrested him, according to the release. A search led police to find the victim’s keys on Thompson, according to the release.
Thompson was charged with first-degree assault and strong-arm robbery-related charges. He is being held without bond.
Police said the investigation is ongoing and that detectives will work with the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office regarding additional hate crime charges.
According to Lauren DeMarco, director of public affairs at the State’s Attorney’s Office, the case is currently pending trial and is under review.
“We take hate crimes very seriously and hate has no place in Montgomery County. If there is evidence that a hate crime occurred, we will prosecute it as such,” DeMarco stated in an email to Bethesda Beat.
Scott Peterson, manager of media relations and strategic partnerships for Montgomery County Executive and Government, stated, “The County Executive is very concerned by this confrontation and allegations of another hate crime in the County. Violent attacks are always inexcusable, and hate based attacks are always unacceptable.”
In an statement emailed to Bethesda Beat, Peterson said County Executive Marc Elrich appreciated the fast response of the police department and had faith that the police’s investigation would lead to an accurate prosecution.
“The County’s thoughts are with the victim of this attack, and we hope he makes a full recovery,” the statement from the County Executive’s Office read.
Court records did not list attorney information for Thompson.
“This incident is yet another example of overt antisemitism and hatred being spread in our region. We’ve seen an alarming number of cases of antisemitic incidents in our region over the past year, from swastikas drawn on school desks to antisemitic flyers at bus stops and walking paths, but this escalation of violence is particularly alarming,” said Gil Preuss, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington in a statement to Bethesda Beat. “We have to come together as a community to combat antisemitism and to make it clear that any form of hate has no place here.”
A $5,000 reward is being offered by the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Washington for information leading to the arrest and indictment of the parties responsible for the antisemitic graffiti found at Whitman, as well as the graffiti found earlier in 2022 along the Bethesda Trolley Trail.
The county executive, County Council and Montgomery County Public Schools last weekend each released statements expressing concern about the influx of hate.
In November, the County Council unanimously passed a resolution to address and combat antisemitism. It affirmed the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism.