LEWISTON — A local teen facing four felony arson charges admitted Monday to felony aggravated criminal mischief, bringing to a close the prosecution of two men and two boys charged in a series of three unrelated fires over a one-week span in 2013 that left many homeless and many more fearful.

The fires destroyed nine apartment buildings and displaced nearly 200 low-income tenants.

In an agreement with the Androscoggin County District Attorney’s Office, Abdi Ibrahim, 14, will be committed to Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland until his 17th birthday. He could be released earlier if he were to complete a commitment program before he turns 17.

All arson charges as well as other unrelated and less serious charges pending against Ibrahim will be dismissed, according to the terms of the plea deal.

Ibrahim stood in court and said: “I admit,” when asked for his plea on the charge of aggravated criminal mischief.

Ibrahim had been scheduled for a suppression hearing on Monday in 8th District Court on his motion to throw out his confession.


Assistant District Attorney Melanie Portas told the judge: “The state feels this is a fair compromise.”

She said prosecutors weren’t confident they would have prevailed at a hearing on Ibrahim’s motion to keep his statements to investigators from being used at trial due to language barriers with Ibrahim’s Somali family. Without the boy’s confession, not enough evidence remains for the state to believe it had the ability to prove the boy’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Portas said the plea arrangement also fulfills the state’s juvenile justice code, which is aimed at rehabilitation.

Ibrahim appeared in court in a white T-shirt and tan pants. He sat with his parents and an interpreter.

Had the hearing on Ibrahim’s motion to suppress been held, defense attorney

was expected to argue that statements his client made to investigators should be suppressed because an interpreter failed to translate his Miranda warning correctly.


Jeffrey Dolley

Jeffrey Dolley also had planned to argue that his client was never given the opportunity to properly waive his Miranda rights.

Charges against Ibrahim stem from fires that burned four apartment buildings and a garage on Bartlett and Pierce streets in Lewiston on May 3, 2013. According to a forensic psychology report, Ibrahim is considered a moderate arson risk to the community in the future. That same report concluded the teen presents a higher behavioral and social risk because of a history of poor social skills and chronic behavior problems in multiple settings, including assaulting others and running away, according to court records.

Dolley spoke for Ibrahim and his family in the courtroom, apologizing for the boy’s actions, saying “their heart goes out to the community.”

Portas had sought restitution totaling $58,000 on behalf of an insurance company. Dolley argued it was unrealistic that his client would be able to pay that amount given his age and term of incarceration.

Judge Rick Lawrence agreed that $58,000 was owed in restitution, but declined to impose a restitution obligation on Ibrahim, noting that neither he nor his family was likely to have the means to be able to pay back the insurance company.

Ibrahim was born in Africa and spent his early years living in a refugee center in Kenya before his family emigrated to the United States. They first settled in Baltimore, Md., moving to Lewiston when Ibrahim was 6 or 7 years old. He is a U.S. citizen.


State law requires a minor to have parental consent or have a parent present during a police interview. Ibrahim’s attorney, Dolley, had planned to argue that Ibrahim’s mother, Marian Ibrahim, who is Somali and not fluent in English, did not have an adequate understanding of the procedure for her son’s interrogation because the investigator’s Miranda warning to the boy wasn’t translated to her or her son correctly. As a result, her consent was never “given,” Dolley contended.

According to court records, Ibrahim was interviewed at the Lewiston Police Department, where he waived his Miranda rights, including his right to remain silent, while his mother was assisted by an interpreter over the phone.

Ibrahim, who is now 14 years old, was 12 at the time of his taped confession.

According to court records, Dolley learned the Miranda warning was incorrectly translated after he had a language expert listen to the audio recording of the police interview.

During that interview, after initially denying he was involved, Ibrahim confessed to setting a fire at the back of a three-bay garage behind an apartment building at 149 Bartlett St. by lighting a cigarette and paper with a lighter, using gasoline as an accelerant.

According to investigators, Ibrahim said two other juveniles were with him at the time, but he was the one who started the fire. He drew a diagram of the scene for them.


The other two boys were questioned later. They said they had gone to the garage with Ibrahim after school, but waited outside or just inside the door while Ibrahim went to the back of the garage.

One of the boys said he could see Ibrahim sitting at the far end, smoke coming from his mouth and hand. About half an hour later, the three boys left, one of the boys said.

Investigators used a dog trained to sniff out the scent of liquid accelerant. The dog detected accelerant on Ibrahim’s shoes, which were collected by police as evidence before his interview at the police station.

The teen was initially found not competent to stand trial and the case was suspended while he received emotional and behavioral counseling in residential care at Sweetser Children Services in Saco. In August, the court found him competent to stand trial, and he was transferred to Long Creek.

Another teen the same age as Ibrahim was charged with three counts of arson around the same time. A judge threw out incriminating statements made by that teen, Brody Covey of Lewiston, to police and his mother after a suppression hearing. The judge ruled that a Miranda warning was delivered by a detective too late in the interrogation. All related charges against him were dropped by the state.

In an unrelated fire, two adult men were charged with multiple counts of arson around the same time stemming from a fire that destroyed two apartment buildings and damaged a third. Charges against Bryan Wood were dropped after a judge determined he wasn’t competent to stand trial and was unlikely to attain a state of competency. The other man, Brian Morin, pleaded guilty to three counts of arson and was sentenced to 25 years in prison, with all but five years of that sentence suspended.


Comments are no longer available on this story

filed under: