Tuesday, July 08, 2014
Police are investigating an apparent act of vandalism at a religious summer camp leasing school property from the East Ramapo district.
A vinyl pool installed by Orthodox-Jewish Camp Shalom at the Chestnut Ridge Middle School was slashed in seven places over the weekend. It is one of four temporary pools planned by the camp, which is leasing the building and grounds for $125,000 this summer.
Ryan Karben, lawyer for the New Jersey-based camp, urged authorities to investigate the incident as a hate crime. He said the camp has been subjected to harassment, had its workers cursed at and had unwarranted complaints against it filed with police. He said the angry rhetoric has also been harsh on social media sites.
"Vandalism doesn't happen in a vacuum," Karben told reporters Monday afternoon. "There's been a huge amount of invective that's been hurled against the camp ... so clearly there's a climate in which it's reasonable to look at the camp as a target of anti-Orthodox bias, and I say that with great sadness, because most of these campers are from Bergen County, and Rockland County doesn't need to be a place that's known for divisiveness and hate, where you come from out of state to try to give your kid a great summer and they wind up being subjected to vandalism."
Ramapo police detectives have been interviewing neighbors and searching for security video that might show what happened, Detective Sgt. John Lynch said.
"This is criminal mischief," Lynch said. "As for the motivations, we won't know that until we get the person or persons in custody."
Karben said the camp was assessing whether it will press charges pending the police investigation. The camp has no security cameras but will look into bolstering security after the incident, he said.
The camp opened last week but no children were present when the pool was damaged, Karben said.
He said the slashed pool is unusable and the camp is waiting for a damage estimate. Repair or replacement could further delay the camp's efforts to meet Rockland County Health Department requirements for a pool permit, which it needs so hundreds of campers can swim.
The incident follows debate over the camp's use of district property amid longstanding tension between public school advocates and the Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish-dominated East Ramapo school board. Much of the controversy has focused on work done before permits were obtained and a dispute over whether local municipal permits were necessary for construction at the site.
The county Health Department said last week the camp could go ahead with pool construction. A formal permit to operate the pools will hinge on an inspection once they're up and running, said Catherine Quinn, associate public health engineer for the county.
She said county environmental health workers visited the middle school Monday after receiving two email complaints over the weekend. Complainants documented food scraps and garbage on the property and raised concerns about the pool's accessibility during non-camp hours, Quinn said.
No garbage was found, she said.
Karben addressed the permit controversy in light of the weekend incident.
"Whatever controversy there is over a camp needing a permit, it is not grounds for ... vandalism," he said. "The toxic politics of East Ramapo shouldn't be spoiling the summer of 700 children."
Anyone with information can call Ramapo police at 845-357-2400.
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