The Washington Post
Mayor out and facing charges
Police collect evidence at Wojahn’s home
College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn, a long-serving public official and advocate for environmental and social justice issues in the Maryland city, was arrested Thursday morning and has been charged with 56 counts of possession and distribution of child pornography.
Wojahn, 47, had been mayor of College Park, home to the University of Maryland campus, for seven years and served on the City Council for eight years before that. He resigned Wednesday night ahead of the arrest, the city said in a statement.
Authorities have accused Wojahn of uploading and sharing dozens of videos to the social media app Kik in early January that depicted explicit sexual acts involving prepubescent boys and adult men. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children flagged the suspicious Kik account to the Prince George’s County police on Feb. 17, authorities said, and investigators obtained a warrant to search Wojahn’s College Park home on Tuesday. During that search, police said in court documents, Wojahn waived his Miranda
rights and told investigators that the Kik account was his. Police also said that Wojahn “advised that he has viewed and possessed files depicting child pornography,” according to court papers.
“I have cooperated fully, and will continue to cooperate, with law enforcement,” Wojahn wrote in his resignation letter, which the city shared publicly. “While this investigation does not involve any official city business of any kind, it is in the best interests of our community that I step aside and not serve as a distraction.”
The news of Wojahn’s arrest shocked College Park residents and local lawmakers who have served alongside him for years. During his time in office, Wojahn advanced liberal policies and integrated young voices from the community and university into the city’s urban planning efforts. He advocated for development that would attract businesses and residents, delivering on many campaign promises about building up the city. He helped bring Maryland’s first Wework to College Park, as well as a new hotel and the now-closed Milkboy ArtHouse.
Wojahn was described by colleagues and residents as a present, reassuring leader during the height of the coronavirus pandemic and an advocate for equity. He often used his public Facebook page to communicate directly with his constituents on issues affecting the city.
But on Thursday, as news of Wojahn’s arrest spread, the page filled with harsh comments and other elected officials in Prince George’s weighed in on the allegations. County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) said that “the most profound obligation of any community is to take care of our kids.” Tom Dernoga, president of the Prince George’s County Council, and council member Eric C. Olson (District 3) said in a joint statement that Wojahn had committed a “reprehensible” act that was a “violation of public trust.”
Former College Park mayor Andy Fellows, who served before Wojahn, said he was in shock. “I don’t really know what to make of it,” Fellows said.
Wojahn is being held at the county jail, police said. It was not immediately clear whether he had obtained an attorney, and calls to his home and cellphone were not answered.
In his resignation letter, Wojahn said that it had been his “profound honor and privilege” to serve the city since 2007, when he first became a council member. He said he was “stepping away to deal with my own mental health.”
In a statement from the city, officials announced Wojahn’s resignation and said Mayor Pro Tem Denise Mitchell will serve as presiding officer until a special election can be held. Wojahn also worked full time as the director of government relations for the nonprofit Rails-to-trails Conservancy. He was placed on leave after his arrest, the organization said.
At a news conference Thursday, Prince George’s Police Chief Malik Aziz said the investigation is “active and open” and authorities anticipate filing additional charges. When asked what those charges might be, both Aziz and
Lt. Michael Snyder, the commander of the department’s unit handling child abuse and internet crimes, declined to elaborate.
Aziz and Snyder said the department is working with the state’s attorney’s office, the Maryland State Police and federal authorities. Aziz said there is no indication at this time that Wojahn was involved in the production of child pornography. Authorities said they are working to identify the people in the videos.
“Anything involving a child, it not only disturbs me,” the chief said, “but it disturbs the men and women behind me.”
When the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children first contacted state and county officials in February, investigators flagged 15 explicit videos and one image that had been uploaded to the social media site in January by the account “skippy_md.”
County police linked the account to Wojahn, authorities said, and searched his home. Prince George’s police collected several cellphones, a storage device, a tablet and a computer, authorities said. Investigators also obtained a warrant for Kik, ordering the social media platform to turn over content related to Wojahn’s account. Authorities found two dozen videos and images depicting sex acts with boys, police said in court papers.
Wojahn has been charged with 40 misdemeanor counts of possession of child exploitative material and 16 felony counts of distribution of child exploitative material.
“When you’re entrusted with such high office, elected by the people, it is disturbing,” Aziz said.
Fellows, who has known Wojahn for at least 16 years, said he is struggling to reconcile all the good that he thinks the mayor did with the unsettling allegations made public Thursday.
“In every person, there are things going on that we don’t know about,” Fellows said. “I don’t know if we’ll ever know the full story.”
During his time in office, Wojahn pushed for clean energy initiatives and fought for other social justice issues. As a council member, he sought changes to the city charter to declare that officials would not discriminate based on religion, gender or sexual orientation, and as mayor he acknowledged the city’s poor treatment of the historically Black community of Lakeland and served on a commission to address some of those wrongs.
In the mid-2000s, he and his husband were plaintiffs in a lawsuit to make marriage a legal right in Maryland, which became law in 2013 ahead of the federal Supreme Court decision two years later.
Wojahn told U-MD. students in 2016 that he learned how to run campaigns and connect with people as a campus organizer in the late 1990s. In College Park, he built relationships with university students and established an e-newsletter for all residents.
City Council member Fazlul Kabir (District 1) said Thursday that he’s confident College Park will be able to handle the resignation.
“We have very engaged residents, we have trusted City Council members,” he said. “As a community, we can deal with this.”