Claremont Planned Parenthood Seeks Restitution After Vandalism

Friday, November 06, 2015
Claremont — Officials at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England say its Claremont branch will be closed for three more weeks while contractors work to remedy extensive damage allegedly caused by a male juvenile in October.

Jennifer Frizzell, the vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said the vandal caused “tens of thousands of dollars” in damage to the interior of the Pleasant Street office when he broke in and used a hatchet to destroy walls and equipment. He also severed water and sewer lines, which caused flooding to not only the health center but also a neighboring business.

“It’s unclear whether it will exceed six figures,” Frizzell said of the 

Police in the early morning hours of Oct. 21 took an unidentified juvenile into custody after a routine building check found an intruder inside Planned Parenthood, according to a news release issued after the incident.

The juvenile allegedly destroyed computers, furniture, plumbing fixtures, office and medical equipment, phone lines, windows and walls, the release said. The individual also allegedly used spray paint to ruin an interior wall.

That incident marked the second time in two weeks the Claremont Planned Parenthood office was vandalized. On Oct. 6, an individual spray-painted the word “murderer” on the front window of the center, according to the release. After the first act, Claremont police increased their patrols in the area. Police found the juvenile on Oct. 21 doing damage inside the nonprofit during one of their patrols, Claremont police Chief Alex Scott said Thursday.

It is unknown whether both acts of vandalism were carried out by the same person, Scott said. That information remains under investigation.

The center has remained closed since the Oct. 21 incident, and won’t reopen until Nov. 30, Frizzell said.

The roughly 1,000 patients who use Claremont’s Planned Parenthood office for health care services such as family planning, contraception and sexually transmitted infection testing have been forced to seek care elsewhere in the interim. Planned Parenthood has been accommodating Claremont patients at its other facilities the best it can, Frizzell said, but losing the central location in Claremont has been a problem.

“The extreme nature of this incident and the broad scope of damage has impacted the ability of hundreds of patients in the area to get the health care services they would rely on us for,” Frizzell said. “Our most pressing concern is getting back access to health care.”

Contractors are only in the beginning stages of making repairs, which at this point include restoring the floors and walls. Once the bones of the space are repaired, officials will replace the damaged items.

Planned Parenthood officials are still figuring out who will foot the bill for the majority of the repairs. The agency is in talks with its insurance company, and is holding out hope that restitution will be available.

“We will continue to work with the justice system in hopes there may well be some (restitution),” Frizzell said. In the meantime, the organization has taken and will continue to take a “significant financial hit.”

Planned Parenthood, which provides reproductive health services, has been at the center of a national debate over videos that abortion opponents claim show the organization illegally selling tissue from aborted fetuses, something Planned Parenthood has denied.

The Claremont center doesn’t provide abortion services, though it does provide abortion referrals.

It is unknown whether the vandalism at the Claremont location was motivated by the national controversy, Frizzell said.

Regardless, she said, the agency is forced to look at the crime through the lens of the “bigger picture.”

“These types of criminal acts against reproductive health centers are an unfortunate national trend,” Frizzell said.

The Claremont location is the only New Hampshire Planned Parenthood office to experience recent attacks, Frizzell said. Planned Parenthood has four other New Hampshire centers — in Keene, Manchester, Derry and Exeter — as well as one in White River Junction.

The attacks on the city’s Planned Parenthood center followed costly vandalism at Claremont’s St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in August. Charlestown resident Zachary Underwood, 18, pleaded not guilty in September to causing nearly $50,000 in damage to the interior of the church; A juvenile also was taken into custody in connection with the incident.

Claremont Mayor James Nielsen, who lost a re-election bid to Charlene Lovett on Tuesday night, said he doesn’t feel three recent incidents of vandalism with minimal people involved constitutes a “big problem.”

He said the city has worked to make sure youth have activities to take part in, and the City Council has taken seriously what it could do to help avoid late-night crime. For example, he said, the council over the summer — prior to the Planned Parenthood and church vandalism — considered reinstituting a curfew. That failed, though, after leaders saw another New Hampshire town entangled in a legal battle over the same effort, he said.

Meanwhile, Scott, the police chief, said, the public will never know the path that the accused Planned Parenthood vandal’s case takes.

“Juvenile court records are confidential,” Scott said, declining to release any new details.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.