Judge reverses position, keeps South Portland teen accused of planning attack in custody

Dec. 8—The South Portland teenager accused of scheming to attack his high school will remain in custody after policed shared new information that convinced a judge to reverse his decision to release the teen.

Cumberland County Judge Peter Darvin had ordered Tristan Hamilton, 17, to be released from Long Creek Youth Development Center at 3 p.m. Friday, according to an email the Cumberland County District Attorney's Office sent to the South Portland High School community that morning. Hamilton would have been under house arrest and other release conditions, including that he report to his juvenile corrections officer daily, the email said.

But shortly after 3 p.m., the district attorney's office sent another update to the community saying that the situation had changed.

Prosecutors pushed Darvin to reconsider because of new information from South Portland police. The judge again heard arguments from both sides before ordering Hamilton to remain at Long Creek pending further review next week. Hamilton's third detention hearing will be open to the public Thursday, a spokesperson for the district attorney's office said.

South Portland police did not respond Friday to requests for more information about what prompted Darvin's reversal, and a spokesperson for the district attorney's office declined to comment. Both of the district attorney office's messages to the community on Friday included instructions not to share the information.

The teenager is facing charges for criminal solicitation for murder, arson and terrorizing. He has pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors have repeatedly pushed for Hamilton's detention at Long Creek following his arrest in April, but the teenager has spent most of the past seven months at home. He was taken into custody Dec. 1 after police said they found evidence that he had violated his release conditions by posting messages demonstrating "hate of certain races, classes and beliefs" and a predilection for "extreme violence" in hateful group chats and social media groups, Assistant District Attorney Abigail Couture said at a hearing last week.

Then on Wednesday evening, hours before a second detention hearing on Thursday, Hamilton allegedly made additional statements to corrections officers at Long Creek that prosecutors and Darvin agreed were concerning, though the judge barred attorneys from discussing the specific contents of those statements.

The judge appeared unsatisfied with the defense team's promises that Hamilton was sorry for his actions and would not violate his release conditions again if allowed to return home. But he also acknowledged that detaining the teenager could further isolate him from a community that already has largely ostracized him.

Strict laws governing juvenile criminal case proceedings and orders from Darvin have prevented the public from learning many details about the case, including the specifics of his alleged plan and the content of the recent statements that led to his detention.

People around the high school have said that uncertainty has fostered an atmosphere of anxiety and fear. The flow of rumors around the case has at times frustrated prosecutors and Hamilton's lawyers, who remain adamant their client is not a threat to the community.

Before Darvin reversed his decision Friday afternoon and ordered the teenager to remain in custody, one South Portland parent said she was concerned that Hamilton would be allowed to return home to the supervision of his father, Adam Hamilton.

The father also was arrested in April and accused of trying to stop police from arresting his son. She cited Adam Hamilton's own history of internet hate — he made several Islamaphobic and transphobic Facebook posts in 2019 that resurfaced during a failed school board run in 2021. Hamilton later disavowed the posts.

"My strongest concern here is that Judge Darvin is really out of touch with how the community has been affected by the level of fear that parents and children are experiencing because Tristan is allowed to be living in the community," said the parent, who asked not to be named out of concerns for her family's safety.

At a September hearing, prosecutors submitted to Darvin several letters from South Portland high school students, parents and staff that they said described widespread fear throughout the community. The judge barred prosecutors from sharing the contents of those letters publicly.

"I understand the desire to protect juveniles. I understand that Long Creek should be a last resort, but clearly deterrence is not working there," the parent said.

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 give the public an opportunity to learn previously sealed details about the allegations against Hamilton.