March 11, 2010— -- 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.
Arresting negligent patrons is "not something we're setting out to do," USS Liberty Memorial Public Library Director John Hanson said.
Grafton Village Administrator Darrell Hofland similarly defended the village's ordinance, which calls for citations first before it progresses to the legal system.
"Similar to what many communities across the country are facing are dwindling resources resulting in reduced funds to successfully maintain our inventory of books by residents not respecting one of the library's most valuable assets," he said. "In essence by not returning a book it's a theft of public property."
Former Grafton resident Heidi Dalibor still has the two library books that landed her in jail. She was cuffed by police in front of her mother's home in August 2008 for failing to return "White Oleander" and "Angels and Demons."
Unlike Henson, Dalibor said she got all the notices sent first by the library and then by the town but "kind of blew it off."
"I didn't mean to on purpose," the 21-year-old server and bartender said. "It was just kind of out of sight, out of mind."
But she certainly didn't expect the two uniformed officers who showed up, one in the front of the house, one in the back.
"I didn't know they were arresting me at first," she said. "I just thought they were taking me to pay the fine."
Instead, she was booked and had her mugshot taken. She bonded out in less than an hour and $180 in fines and court costs were paid that same day.
The case made headlines, and "Angels and Demons" author Dan Brown even caught wind of it, sending Hanson an autographed copy to replace Dalibor's.
"He said, 'Rumor said you could use another copy of this,'" Hanson said, referring to Brown's note.
Blase Attitude Toward Library Books Costs Thousands Each Year
Grafton Police Chief Charles Wenton said Dalibor was arrested on a contempt of court charge for ignoring the court date in her citation for failure to return library materials.
"It's a service we provide," Wenton said. "An individual is retaining possession of a property that does not lawfully belong to them."
The blase attitude some have toward returning library books in a timely fashion -- or at all -- can cost libraries thousands of dollars a year in lost inventory.
Unique Management Services doesn't issue arrest warrants, but the Jefferson, Ind., company contracts with about 1,500 libraries across the country to go after patrons who ignore the library's pleas to return materials.
Its end-game is reporting the debt to the patron's credit bureau, which could negatively affect their credit score.
"What we encounter is that people do think that it's just a book. What's the big deal? I'll take it back," said Kenes Bowling, manager of customer development.
But the losses can be huge, even if the percentage of customers who never return their materials is very small compared with the number of total library customers who obey policies.
"[We] try to remind people that it's not a small issue to the library," he said. "It's really important."
After his arrest, Henson said he rooted through all of his moving boxes and finally found the library's DVD of "Flying Daggers" tucked in with some of his old baby stuff. He promptly returned it to the Littleton library.
Asked by the judge whether the movie was any good, or at least good enough to warrant all this trouble, Henson said he couldn't honestly remember.