The South Portland teenager accused of plotting an attack on his high school was released on house arrest after a judge rejected prosecutors’ arguments that he poses a threat to others.

Tristan Hamilton, 17, was released from Long Creek Youth Development Center Thursday afternoon. The teenager, who is facing charges of criminal solicitation for murder, arson and terrorizing, had been detained since police said they discovered evidence that he violated the conditions of his release by participating in hateful online group chats two weeks ago.

Hamilton has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

“I feel compelled under the statute, given the information I’ve reviewed, to order Tristan released,” Cumberland County Judge Peter Darvin said, telling the teenager that he would be placed under “very restrictive conditions” at home. “You’re going to be spending a lot of time in your house. Hopefully, you find that preferable to sitting in Long Creek.”

Thursday’s decision is the second time in as many weeks that Darvin has said the teen could be released. He quickly reversed his previous attempt to put Hamilton on house arrest last week after South Portland police shared “new information” related to the case.

Darvin has appeared skeptical of the defense’s argument that Hamilton “doesn’t believe” the things he has posted, and participated in the groups only because he was lonely and knew he could find acceptance there. But even after prosecutors shared additional troubling statements they said Hamilton made to corrections officers at Long Creek on the eve of his second detention hearing last week, Darvin has been reluctant to keep him in custody indefinitely.


The specific content of the messages and statements, which have reignited the debate over Hamilton’s detention, remain unknown to the public. State laws seal almost all court documents in juvenile cases, and Darvin has so far barred attorneys from openly discussing the details of the allegations.

“We are happy that he is home with his family and are looking forward to continuing to move towards a resolution of his case,” his defense attorneys, Mark Peltier and Amber Miller, said in an email after the hearing.

South Portland Superintendent Tim Matheney declined to comment on the case Thursday. In a message to the school community, Principal Scott Tombleson said the high school may implement some “minor changes” to its safety and security practices.


Thursday’s hearing provided a few clues about why the judge reversed his initial ruling. Darvin said when he issued his decision last Thursday to release Hamilton the next day, he intentionally built in time to give local police, the Maine State Police computer crimes unit, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security an opportunity to search for further evidence that Hamilton had violated his release conditions.

When they did produce that evidence, Darvin agreed to delay the teenager’s release “out of an abundance of caution.”


Though the judge found Hamilton had violated his release conditions “on a persistent and intentional basis,” Darvin said the new information did not convince him that Hamilton was likely to pose a risk to the public, especially considering the teenager spent most of the past eight months since his arrest at home without much incident.

Assistant District Attorney Abby Couture on Thursday reiterated her office’s longstanding position that Hamilton should be detained. She cited another vague “incident” that allegedly occurred at Long Creek this week.

Hamilton’s release this week comes with several new conditions, including that he be under adult supervision at all times, have very limited access to the internet, will only be able to call a specific list of people for specific reasons, and will need to ask permission from his corrections officer to leave his home.

“You have only yourself to blame,” Darvin told the teen.

The judge also said the new evidence convinced him that he was right to limit public access to information in this case. He said many of the screenshots of messages he reviewed did not include clear dates, sources, or context, which could make it easy for the information they contain to be “distorted or misconstrued.”

As he has in past proceedings, he promised that the public would soon get an opportunity to learn more about the state’s specific allegations.

Prosecutors have indicated they will attempt to have the teenager’s case transferred to adult court. A hearing on that motion, which will likely take place in January, would allow the public to learn previously sealed details about the allegations.

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