BETHESDA — A 60-year-old Maryland man was arrested on three counts of misdemeanor assault Friday night amid allegations he attacked three people who were trying to post anti-police brutality fliers along a bicycle trail in Bethesda.
Anthony B. Brennan, of Kensington, came across the trio — ages 18, 19 and 19 — while riding his bike Monday along the Capital Crescent Trail just before 1 p.m., authorities said.
One of the three recorded part of the ensuing encounter, which exploded across the Internet on Thursday as social media users spent two days trying to learn the man’s identity. Two men, including a retired police officer, were publicly named by Twitter users as the assailant — even though authorities would later say they had nothing to do with the incident.
It was not until after 9 p.m. Friday that police announced the arrest of Brennan, shortly after he turned himself in at the Montgomery County Detention Center in Rockville. Based on the nature of the charges, he was expected to be released from custody on little or no bond.
The three victims, police said, were walking along the trail near the Dalecarlia Tunnel, just beyond the Washington, D.C., border.
“A man was lynched by the police. What are you going to do about it?” the fliers said, according to Maryland-National Capital Park Police.
The cyclist, Park Police said in a statement, “began to argue about the [fliers] and forcibly grabbed the [fliers] from one of the victims. Before leaving the scene, the suspect pushed his bicycle towards the male victim and caused him to fall to the ground.”
On Tuesday, police released photos of the cyclist. One of the victims also released video he took. Together, the images prompted citizens to send in hundreds of tips.
Brennan allowed investigators to search his home on Friday where they found clothing “consistent with what was worn” when he was video-recorded on the trail, said Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy. Brennan also led investigators to a bicycle, similar to that shown on the video, at a different location, McCarthy said.
“We have the bike. We have the clothes,” McCarthy said.
Brennan’s attorneys Andrew Jezic and David Moyse said their client “recognizes that his outrageous behavior toward the young adult victims on the Crescent Trail was unacceptable and wrong” and the “outrage felt in our community and across our country is completely justified.”
“I am sick with remorse for the pain and fear I caused the victims on the trail, and online,” Brennan said in a statement through his lawyers. “I am cooperating fully with authorities. I am committed to making amends by addressing, through counseling, the underlying issues that led to my abhorrent behavior.”
Darryl McSwain, chief of the Montgomery County division of the Park Police, said he was “grateful for the support of the community in this unfortunate incident.”
“I applaud the victims for their courage and civic engagement during a time in which it’s important for the community to come together,” McSwain said.
The incident comes as mass demonstrations have filled the streets of American cities in an outcry over the death of George Floyd, the 46-year-old black man who died in the custody of Minneapolis police.
The 18-year-old who recorded the video provided a copy to The Washington Post. He discussed what happened on the condition of anonymity because of fears for his safety.
The teenager said that in the last few weeks, he has worked with the #signofjustice project on Instagram and distributed about 500 fliers in his neighborhood and upper Northwest Washington around Friendship Heights, Tenleytown and Spring Valley.
“I wanted to inspire people to take action and show them what they can do,” the teen said.
He said he and his friends were headed toward Georgetown when the cyclist, also headed in that direction, passed them while holding his cellphone.
“That’s them there,” the man said, according to the 18-year-old. The teen said the man appeared to be recording them.
At the time, the teen said, he and his friends were putting one of their fliers on a telephone pole about eight feet from the path. The cyclist asked the teen if he could see the posters.
“I thought he was intrigued, and I was ready to have a conversation with him of what he could do to help,” the young man said. “As soon as I put out my hand to show him the poster, he aggressively ripped it out of my hand.”
The man then approached the two women.
That’s when the 18-year-old took out his phone, he said, and started recording. The cyclist got “in the face” of one of the women before he approached the other and “rips tape out of her hands.”
He said the tape was being used to hang the fliers.
The cyclist then grabbed his bike, ran it toward the teen and “tried to pin me into the ground with his bike,” the young man said. He said he fell to the ground and stopped recording.
According to the 18-year-old, the cyclist got back on his bike, circled around the three and started yelling profanities.
“You guys are awful,” he allegedly yelled. “You’ll never amount to anything.”
He also said, according to the teen, that “we’re inciting riots.” The teen said his leg was cut by the bike and that the man pushed him over and “held his bike to me.”
The teen said he didn’t know the man. “We weren’t in his way whatsoever,” he said.
The teen posted a clip of the altercation on Monday, the day of the incident. Three days later, he uploaded the full video, which then went viral on Reddit and bled into public outrage on Twitter, after it showed the man apparently grabbing one of the women to take the tape.
Brennan’s lawyers acknowledged that “several innocent people were also victimized by having been erroneously identified online, and their reputations were tarnished.” Brennan is the father of three and co-owns a business that distributes logos for promotional products like clothing and coffee mugs, Jezic said.
“Mr. Brennan understands that his apology will not be enough to right his wrongs,” his lawyers said.
Teddy Amenabar and Alice Crites contributed to this report.