Portsmouth teen charged with hateful graffiti targeting Temple, businesses

PORTSMOUTH — A teenage boy accused of spray painting hateful imagery and messages on downtown businesses, homes and houses of worship has been charged with 22 counts of violating the New Hampshire Civil Rights Act, according to New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella. 

The teenager, a Portsmouth resident and former Portsmouth High School student, allegedly damaged property on Feb. 21, prompting a strong rebuke of the actions by leaders and business owners across the city. Investigators found hateful images, which included swastikas, crosses and the Star of David, among other symbols, were spray painted at 18 locations. 

The attorney general named the suspect in a press release. Because he is under age 18, Seacoast Media Group is not including his name in this story.

Portsmouth police’s criminal investigation into the property damage and criminal mischief is ongoing, according to Detective Sgt. Kevin McCarthy.

The civil complaint, which was filed in Rockingham County Superior Court Thursday, alleges the suspect’s actions were motivated by race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and national origin.

Grim North Tattoo and Piercing of High Street  in Portsmouth provided this surveillance video of a suspect spray painting.

Each violation of the Civil Rights Act allows for a maximum civil penalty of $5,000. Violations of the Civil Rights Act also empower the court to restrain the defendant from committing future violations of the Civil Rights Act and other hate-motivated conduct for three years, according to the attorney general, adding the Civil Rights Unit has asked the court to implement a preliminary restraining order to protect the victims and the public.

“Hateful acts that are motivated by intolerance for our fellow citizens have no place in New Hampshire and will not be tolerated,” Formella said in a prepared statement. “The Department of Justice will continue to use every tool at our disposal, including robust enforcement of the state’s Civil Rights Act, to combat hate and ensure that New Hampshire remains a place where people of all backgrounds feel welcome and have the opportunity to live their lives free from discrimination, fear, and intimidation.”

Teen also suspect in 2022 incidents

The complaint also alleges that between April 20 and April 21, 2022, the same teenager damaged property at four additional locations. He is accused of stealing or attempting to steal LGBTQ+ Pride flags located at a residence and a house of worship in Portsmouth, including one displayed by the North Church near Market Square. 

In that period, Formella alleged, the suspect allegedly vandalized the St. John’s Monastic Lodge with antisemitic and homophobic graffiti. He is also accused of taking a video of himself burning a stolen Ukrainian flag, while denouncing Ukraine, the Ukrainian people, the LGBTQ+ community. The suspect then allegedly sent the video to the entire sophomore class at Portsmouth High School.

The Ukrainian flag was allegedly stolen from St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, the complaint states.

February 2023 incident occurred in overnight hours

The Portsmouth Police Department previously reported the Feb. 21, 2023 incident occurred between 1:30 and 3:30 a.m.

Temple Israel was targeted, as were downtown staples Cup of Joe Cafe & Bar, which is owned by the Portsmouth Assistant Mayor Joanna Kelley, in addition to Macro Polo, Deadwicks, 3 Bridges Yoga, Cotillion Bureau and Grim North Tattoo & Piercing, among others. St. John’s Episcopal Church was struck with two instances of graffiti, according to McCarthy. 

Surveillance cameras set up by Grim North Tattoo & Piercing on High Street initially captured footage of a person in a hooded red sweatshirt, khaki pants, white shoes and orange-rimmed glasses defacing the business with spray paint on Feb. 21. 

The business provided images after the incident showing two red swastikas, one on the door and another on a window, and a red “X” sprayed over a sign hanging in the window reading, “You Are Loved.”

Ten days following the graffiti incidents, city police opened a new hateful imagery probe after receiving word of racist, anti-Semitic graffiti on a Market Street pedestrian bridge. On the bridge, positioned near the Alumni-Wentworth Field, the Star of David was spray painted in red, followed by a derogatory term for Jewish people and an “X” next to it followed by the phrase “White Lives Matter.” 

This story will be updated.

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