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Trinity Closes Bathrooms at St. Paul's Chapel to Prevent OWS 'Vandalism'

LOWER MANHATTAN — St. Paul's Chapel has closed its bathrooms to the public to prevent members of the Occupy Wall Street encampment outside nearby Trinity Church from damaging the facilities there, church officials said.

The chapel on Broadway between Vesey and Fulton Streets, which is operated by Trinity, shut down the restrooms Friday as a precautionary measure against vandalism after claiming that members of the camp damaged bathrooms at Trinity Church, said spokeswoman Linda Hanick.

"Due to the encampment outside Trinity, we've closed the bathrooms to the public," she said. "The individuals who were doing the vandalism in Trinity were also observed using the bathrooms in St. Paul's, so we decided close the bathrooms."

Hanick said she witnessed members of the OWS-affiliated encampment outside Trinity, on Broadway and Wall Street, traveling to St. Paul's, about six blocks to the north, to use the restrooms there due to a lack of public bathrooms in lower Manhattan.

Linnea Paton, a spokesperson for Occupy Wall Street, said the group is unaware of the matter and did not have any comment. 

The closure comes after the church canceled its annual Halloween Parade earlier this month, which Trinity's Rector Rev. Dr. James H. Cooper also attributed to "the sidewalk camp" in a statement on the church's website

"This decision was made out of an abundance of caution as we continue to face safety issues arising from the sidewalk camp in front of Trinity Church," he said.

Cooper noted in his statement that there have been nine arrests related to the encampment since its arrival, which occurred soon after protesters were ousted from Zuccotti Park.  

In one instance on Oct. 11, a longtime maintenance superintendent was assaulted while he was attempting to clean part of the sidewalk where the Occupiers camp out. Police saw that incident unfold and made an arrest, Hanick said.

On Oct. 12, a 23-year-old man described as an Occupy Wall Street protester was charged with criminal possession of a weapon and criminal mischief for destroying a church sign, an NYPD spokeswoman said.

Another incident, which did not result in an arrest, occurred on Sunday, Oct. 14, when a man also described as an Occupy Wall Street protester interrupted a church service and annoyed parishioners, the NYPD spokesperson said. 

Hanick said that the bathrooms in Trinity, which are currently closed to the public, were vandalized by members of the encampment, including graffiti-covered walls, broken paper-towel holders and a sink that was ripped off the wall.

"We've been filing reports with the police every time there is an incident," she said. 

Jenn Maskell, 49, of Rego Park, Queens, a member of the Occupy Wall Street movement who has camped outside Trinity for several months, said that the group's relationship with the church has declined since Occupiers were booted out of their original encampment in Zuccotti Park last year.

“There was a good relationship with the church in the beginning; we used to have spokes councils in their facility,” she said.

“Now the relationship has fallen apart. The eviction [from Zuccotti Park] was the beginning of the end. They want us gone so they really make life has miserable as possible.” 

Several Occupiers also said that those who camp out in front of Trinity rarely use the bathrooms at St. Paul's, if at all.

“They said they canceled the Halloween parade because of us, and now they're saying they closing the public bathrooms because of us," said Ben Swenson, 26, of Bushwick, Brooklyn, noting that he has used the restrooms in St. Paul’s five times in the last two months.

"All the church is doing is trying to get people mad at us."

Hanick said Trinity has installed 11 security cameras on the scaffolding outside of the church to monitor the situation.

"When there is something illegal going on, we submit the footage to the police," she said, noting that it resulted in the October 12 arrest.

It is not clear when the restrooms in St. Paul's will reopen.