Maine Man Thought He'd Face Lesser Charge for Rolling Pig's Head Into Mosque

A Lewiston man accused of rolling a pig's head into a mosque talked to a police officer beforehand and believed he'd be guilty only of littering or improperly disposing of animal parts, according to court documents.

Brent Matthews said he ran into a longtime friend who's a police officer at the Lewiston Mall a week before the July 3 incident and asked about the ramifications of leaving a pig's head in a doorway, the documents said.

The Lewiston police officer, Eric Syphers, pulled out a copy of the Maine Criminal Statute and told Matthews that possible offenses included "littering or illegally disposing of animal body parts," according to the documents.

Lewiston police have a different version of the events.

A police spokesman said Syphers warned Matthews that using a pig's head as a prank could be considered a hate crime. That suggests Matthews mentioned targeting Somalis.

Syphers was the same officer who arrested Matthews. "As soon as it happened, he knew who to get in touch with," said Lewiston Police Lt. Michael McGonagle.

Matthews, 33, was arrested on a charge of desecrating a house of worship.

The state attorney general also filed a complaint charging Matthews with civil rights violations. The court documents citing Matthews' version of events were filed in response to the state civil lawsuit.

Matthews' attorney, James Howaniec, sought to show that his client did not know that the victims were Muslims.

The mosque was located in a storefront that had no markings indicating that it's used as a place of worship; furthermore, Matthews did not know pork products are offensive to Muslims, the lawyer said.

"It was an act of stupidity. Not every stupid act constitutes a crime," he said.

In court documents, Matthews said law enforcement authorities did not treat the incident seriously. The investigating officers, the officer who drove Matthews to the jail and jail intake officials laughed about the incident, Matthews said in court documents. Matthews claimed that one of the officers said, "I wish I had thought of that."

Matthews faces up to a year in jail if found guilty of the criminal charge and up to $5,000 in fines if he is convicted in the state's civil lawsuit.

Assistant Attorney General Thomas Harnett said the way in which others react to a civil rights violation has no bearing on whether the law was broken.