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Swastikas in Port Washington youth club probed as hate crime, police chief says

The Port Washington Police Athletic League building Thursday.

The Port Washington Police Athletic League building Thursday. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Port Washington Police Chief Robert Del Muro reversed course Thursday and said swastikas spray-painted inside the hamlet’s athletic league clubhouse were being investigated as a hate crime.

In a statement released Thursday afternoon, Del Muro expressed regret after Wednesday describing the vandalism as a crime of opportunity.

"I apologize that my position regarding the egregious hate crime perpetrated at the Port Washington Athletic League building was not stated more clearly," the chief said. "Unquestionably, a swastika is a deplorable symbol of hate. I attempted to explain that this hate crime differs from many others in that the symbols were placed in the interior of the building, rather than on the exterior, and were painted using materials that were already in the building and were accessed after the building was burglarized. Of course, that does not diminish the severity of the crime. It is a hate crime and is being investigated as such. Please be assured that this hate crime is being actively and thoroughly investigated by our agency and we will tirelessly pursue the perpetrator[s]."

Del Muro also said Wednesday that because the red swastikas were painted inside the building, passersby couldn’t see them.

He added that the paint was also sprayed on softballs and part of a baseball pitching machine.

The department’s initial response angered and disappointed Rob Elkins, the executive director of the Port Washington Police Athletic League, who Wednesday called it "totally unacceptable."

On Thursday, Elkins, who is Jewish, said he was glad Del Muro had "seen the light."

"Whether it’s inside or outside, a religious institution or not, it is clearly a hate crime," Elkins said. "There is no other meaning to the swastika. … It’s purely a symbol of hate."

A spokesman for State Sen. Anna M. Kaplan, (D-North Hempstead), said her office began receiving phone calls and emails from several constituents Wednesday night about the police chief's initial statements.

In a statement, Kaplan said: "The anti-Semitic hate crime that took place in Port Washington this weekend, where several enormous swastikas were spray-painted throughout a youth athletic facility, is unequivocally an anti-Semitic hate crime, and I’m relieved that Chief Delmuro agrees, and has clarified his statement so that the community can have faith that this horrendous act will be thoroughly and properly investigated as a hate crime."

Elkins saw the vandalism for the first time inside the clubhouse late Monday night, after a board member called him about it earlier that evening, he said.

Elkins, 56, who has lived in Port Washington for more than two decades, estimated the cost of the damage was $50,000.

He suspects the vandalism was committed between Sunday night, after a board member left the clubhouse, and early Monday evening before another board member saw the swastika on the door and alerted Elkins.

The vandalized clubhouse also drew reaction from North Hempstead officials Thursday.

"The Town emphatically condemns these horrific acts. Threatening a group of people based on their religion, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation will not be tolerated," said Judi Bosworth, North Hempstead Town supervisor. "Such actions are not only immoral, but they are criminal as well."

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