Charges against South Portland teen in SWAT raid tied to stolen flag

Apr. 27—The charges filed against a South Portland teenager after a SWAT raid at his home are tied to a fire and a stolen flag and seem to be unrelated to threats he is accused of making.

Newly unsealed court documents reveal the 16-year-old South Portland High School student is facing a felony-level charge for arson, and other charges for criminal mischief and theft.

Prosecutors say the teenager stole and attempted to recklessly damage or destroy a flag or flagpole on April 2. Information on the type of flag was not disclosed and the name of its owner was redacted. He's also accused of damaging a storage container belonging to the city of South Portland.

The petition alleges the teenager "did start, cause or maintain a fire or explosion on the property of another ... with intent to damage or destroy property," but it does not say what the defendant allegedly burned.

A spokesperson for the Cumberland County District Attorney's office declined to answer questions about whether he's accused of burning the flag or some other piece of property.

When the teen was arrested on April 12, Police Chief Dan Ahern accused him of making several threats to "cause serious harm to individuals and groups using specific weapons." But the charges filed against him shed no light on that accusation and appear to be unrelated.

The 16-year-old is identified in the court documents. However, the Press Herald has not decided whether to name him because authorities have disclosed so little information about what led to charges.

In Maine, the public rarely has access to the criminal records of minors, except for those charged with the most serious crimes, including arson.

Available court documents do not provide any details about the April 12 raid on the teenager's home, which resulted in the arrests of the teen and his father as well as the seizure of a number of high-powered rifles. Nor did they describe the threats Ahern said prompted the raid.

A search warrant that could reveal what led investigators to raid the house remained under seal Thursday, a court clerk said.

Ahern told News Center Maine that his department learned about credible threats from a school resource officer two days before the raid. He said the arrest likely stopped a violent attack.

"We recovered a lot of evidence from his home that will stop any actions that he had planned," he said. "We want to ensure the public they are safe."

In an interview Wednesday night, District Attorney Jacqueline Sartoris sidestepped questions about the specifics of the case, including whether her office is considering additional charges, when the defendant is due in court and who is representing him.

Abbey StClair, the district attorney's spokesperson, declined again Thursday to elaborate on the charges and whether they are related to the threats police said prompted the raid.

She said she couldn't confirm whether prosecutors are bringing charges against the defendant's father.

The hazy circumstances surrounding the arrest and have prompted widespread "rumors and misinformation," Sartoris said in a statement Wednesday. Though she declined to provide specifics, she suggested community members' fears were disproportionate to the danger the teenager now posed.

She asked that parents think before circulating rumors that could "traumatize" their children.

"These kids have just come out of a bunch of years of pandemic," she told the Press Herald. "If we're going to make them concerned and worried about something, it has to be for a good reason."