Return Library Books or Else: Borrowers Arrested for Failing to Return Overdue Books, DVDs

Aaron Henson and Heidi Dalibor were arrested for not returning library materials.

Handcuffed and in the back of a police cruiser, Aaron Henson wracked his brain trying to figure out how a simple speeding violation had led to his arrest.

The answer from the Colorado State Patrol stunned him. Henson never returned the DVD he'd checked out of the Littleton library, and there was a warrant out for his arrest.

"I was just shocked," he said. "I was like 'What? I've got a what now?'"

After spending eight hours in a county jail, during which time he was fingerprinted, photographed and booked, Henson's father bailed him out. He had tried calling his mother for help, but she didn't seem to believe him, telling Henson there was no "book police."

But indeed there is. Towns across the county, frustrated with trying to replace wayward materials on a shoestring budget, have turned to issuing citations, court appearances, even reporting the offending library patron to their credit bureaus.

City spokeswoman Kelli Narde said Littleton lost $7,800 in lost library materials in 2009, including Henson's DVD. They issued 81 summonses for failure to return library materials, she said. "And 80 of them were resolved without a problem."

The warrant Henson was brought in on in January was actually for failure to appear. The town claimed it sent numerous bills, notices, a summons and a notice of a court date, but they apparently were all sent to a previous address and Henson saw none of them.

"I understand the city was following its procedure ... but when somebody's not informed of a court date and then they're getting arrested on the side of the road, getting embarrassed, having fear and all that, it just doesn't sit well with me," Henson said.

Narde said they don't buy that Henson never knew they were looking for the DVD, noting that they left two cell phone messages and that their notices didn't get returned by the postal service meaning someone had to have picked them up at his old address.

The offending DVD? "House of the Flying Daggers," a 2004 Chinese film valued at around $31.45 by the Littleton-Bemis Public Library -- just a little higher than the city's $30 threshold for getting the legal system involved. Henson checked it out in 2004, left it with a friend to watch and forgot about it.

It never entered his mind again until he was pulled over on Interstate 70 during a snowstorm. After the state troopers drove him away, Henson's car was towed and impounded, a note left on it to indicate the driver had been arrested.

"I made the comment, 'This has got to be one of the stupidest arrests you've ever made,'" Henson said.

Narde said the city council met Tuesday and agreed to research a possible revision to the policy on issuing arrest warrants in similar cases.

"In the meantime the court and the police department have been directed not to issue any summons for failure to return library materials," she said.

The city has also refunded the $460 the arrest cost the Hensons and promised to wipe the incident off Henson's record, according to ABC's Denver affiliate KMGH.

Overdue Library Books -- Forgetfulness or Stealing?

Littleton is not the only city that resorts to handcuffs to get its overdue library materials back. Similar arrests and warrants have been reported in Washington state, Iowa and Texas.

The library director in Grafton, Wis., credits his village's willingness to get law enforcement involved with keeping their losses to a minimum.

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