HALLOWELL — An Augusta man has been charged with stealing Pride flags that support the LGBTQ community and then fleeing police when caught in the act, according to officials.

Police found these stickers with a Polish phrase loosely translates to “LGBT-free zone” in the car of an Augusta man who was charged with stealing three Pride flags in Hallowell. The slogan is associated with regions of Poland that have declared their opposition to LGBTQ+ people and movements. Courtesy of Hallowell Police Department

Caleb Braginton-Hoyt, 28, was arrested Sunday night after a resident saw him take a flag from her Second Street home and called the police.

Braginton-Hoyt fled in his car when a Hallowell officer turned on his cruiser’s emergency lights, hitting a few road signs before eventually pulling over.

Chief Scott MacMaster of the Hallowell Police Department said Braginton-Hoyt caused between $1,000 and $1,500 in damages to the signs.

The alleged thefts and chase raised alarms about acts of hate toward the LGBTQ community at a tense moment in state and national politics, as local school boards consider banning books with LGBTQ themes and U.S. lawmakers resume conversations on whether to federally protect same-sex marriage.

Braginton-Hoyt, who was arrested on charges of eluding an officer, driving to endanger and three counts of theft by unauthorized taking or transfer, told officers he disagreed with the message behind Pride flags.


“He had a disgust towards them,” MacMaster said, “and (said) they ‘just weren’t right.'”

The flags Braginton-Hoyt allegedly stole came from two residences and, police found later this week, the National Alliance on Mental Illness Maine building on Water Street.

During the stop Sunday, police found stickers in Braginton-Hoyt’s car featuring the rainbow stripes of the Pride flag crossed out with a bold, black “X” and the phrase “Strefa Wolna Od LGBT.” The Polish phrase loosely translates to “LGBT-free zone” and is associated with regions of Poland that have declared opposition to LGBTQ+ people and movements.

Gia Drew, program director of Maine’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, said she was familiar with issue in Poland, but this is the first time she has heard of a sticker with the slogan being tied to an incident in Maine or elsewhere in the United States.

“I’ve never seen it,” said Drew of EqualityMaine. “It’s very unique to me. A couple years ago, there were some (Ku Klux Klan) stickers that showed up that were pretty ominous about attacking transgender people in the Midcoast area. So this is really strange to see something from a different country in a different language.”

Police asked people over social media to report sightings of the sticker on public property. As of Wednesday afternoon, MacMaster said the agency had not received word of such stickers anywhere in the city.


Hallowell officials initially referred the case to the Office of the Maine Attorney General, which handles civil rights violations and prosecutes hate crimes. A spokesperson said Wednesday the office is not pursuing an investigation into the matter and the case will be investigated at the local level. The spokesperson declined to specify a reason, saying the investigation is ongoing.

Hallowell Mayor George Lapointe said many in the city are concerned and disappointed by the incident, even if such incidents are not uncommon in parts of Maine and the nation.

“Because of this incident and because of the concern about what happens in the world, generally, it just shows the need for us all to engage in public discussions, be vigilant, and talk about what we think is right,” Lapointe said. “It’s just a reminder that we shouldn’t get complacent about democracy and what happens in our democracy, and in our town.”

Overall, Lapointe said he was glad the individual allegedly responsible for three of the thefts had been caught.

“It’s a reminder to me that we have to be on our toes and pay attention to democratic, social and community issues all the time,” he said.

Hallowell police said they were still searching Wednesday for the person responsible for the recent theft of a fourth Pride flag from the Harlow Gallery. MacMaster said it was unlikely Braginton-Hoyt took the flag because the timing did not match with the previous incidents.


MacMaster said there was no damage to indicate the fourth flag had been been pulled down from the pole.

Drew said incidents of theft, vandalism and attacks on LGBTQ+ people have been on the increase over the past few years.

“There’s definitely a more visceral, vocal group of people who are against LGBTQ people and ideas,” she said, “and that’s across the nation and we’ve seen that from state to state and here in Maine unfortunately, despite really measured, strong progress in our state for inclusion and acceptance.”

She said she thinks most Mainers want to support their neighbors and friends, and that they do not want LGBT people to feel alone. She cited an incident last year when a Pride flag in front of a Skowhegan business was vandalized, and it sparked an outpouring of community support for the business in response, with other business owners flying flags outside their shops in solidarity.

“I’m hoping that people will rally and say that we need to do a better job of showing our support to the LGBTQ community,” Drew said.

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