Woman taken to jail after failing to pay tickets for overdue library items

A Northeast Wisconsin woman ended up being taken to jail after she failed to pay two tickets for overdue library items.

Tabitha Oost, 30, of Shawano won’t soon forget her recent visit to Green Bay. Last month, the married mother of two crashed her car on Mason St. and was rushed to the hospital.

“The air bags went off,” Oost said. “I ended up having damage to my scalp, my forehead and my left eye.”

While at the hospital, she saw a doctor and a Green Bay police officer.

“I was still on the stretcher when an officer came in to check if I was okay, how I was doing,” Oost said.

The doctor had good news: She would be released. The officer had some bad news.

“That’s when he told me that I had a warrant for my arrest for Shawano County due to overdue library books,” Oost said.

That’s right: Overdue library books. Here’s what happened. Back in 2011, Oost had checked out several items from the Shawano library. The problem? She never returned them. Oost says she lost the items and simply forgot about it. Officials in Shawano didn’t.

When Oost was picked up in Green Bay, there were two warrants for her arrest. As soon as Oost was released from the hospital, the officer took her to the Brown County jail.

“I thought he was joking, honestly, I couldn’t believe it,” Oost said. “I ended up laughing. The officer was laughing and then told me he was actually serious.”

Police in Shawano aren’t laughing.

“If you fail to return, you must be held accountable,” said Capt. Jeff Heffernon from the Shawano Police Department.

According to court records, in October 2011, Oost and her daughter checked out several children’s books including “Giant Octopus to the Rescue” and “Freddie and Flossie.” A few months later, Oost went back to the library and checked out more items, including some DVDs such as “Mary Poppins.”

POLICE REFERRAL SUMMARY
Source: Shawano City/County Library

2013 2012 2011
Accounts Sent 32 45 51
Items 137 172 72
Value of Items ($) 3,000 4,900 3,100
% of New Materials Budget 4 6 4
Accounts Resolved 14 26 39
Items Returned 46 63 57
Items Paid For 11 18 33
Amount Recovered ($) 1,035 1,750 1,744
% of New Materials Budget 3 4 2
NOTE: According to Shawano police, the library has referred 12 cases so far in 2014.

Total value of the 21 items checked out: $499. The items were never returned.

When asked if she has any idea what happened to the materials, Oost replied, “I have honestly no idea.”

Oost says she never received anything from the library about the overdue materials. But the library director says that’s not likely.

“I do hear that explanation at times. I think it’s a very minimal possibility,” said library director Kristie Hauer.

Hauer says the library contacts people with overdue items multiple times. Court records show in Oost’s case, the library sent her at least two emails and mailed her three separate letters before forwarding the case to Shawano police.

“We’re trying to work with people and it’s kind of a last resort,” Hauer said.

Hauer says if an item worth more than $25 is not returned and the person never responds to the library’s repeat letters, the matter is sent to the police. It happens more than you might think. Since 2011, the Shawano library has forwarded 140 cases to police. Hauer says many of those cases are for hundreds, even thousands of dollars.

FOX 11 Investigates asked Hauer why it’s a good idea for Shawano to aggressive about unreturned materials. Hauer responded, “I think for us it’s a way for us to be good holders of the taxpayer money that gets allocated to the library every year and to try to keep our collections in a good condition and in good shape for everyone to use.”

When asked if it could end up costing taxpayers more to involve law enforcement, Hauer replied, “That is a good question. Most of the time if we’re not able to have much feedback from a patron it takes one quick contact by the police department and a patron responds pretty quickly.”

But that’s not what happened in this case. Shawano police say in April of last year, an officer met with Oost to tell her that she had to return the items, pay for them or she’d get a ticket. A week later, when the items weren’t returned or paid for, police issued Oost two tickets for $177 each.

Those tickets came with a mandatory appearance in municipal court.

Oost says she didn’t know about the mandatory appearance. But court records show several notices were mailed to Oost’s apartment. She claims she never got them because she had moved. When Oost didn’t show up for two court hearings, the judge issued a warrant for her arrest. That’s how she ended up in jail.

FOX 11 Investigates asked Heffernon if it’s Oost’s own fault she was arrested. He replied, “In my opinion, absolutely.”

When asked if this is a good use of Shawano Police Department resources, Heffernon said, “I think so.”

“Many times people think of a children’s book failure to return maybe at a loss of a few dollars. In this particular case, it was well over $300 and in my book that’s a lot of money,” Heffernon said.

FOX 11 Investigates asked Oost if this is all her fault, she replied, “Yes. Absolutely.”

But Oost thinks she should not have been taken to jail over it.

Oost only ended up spending a few minutes at the jail. Her husband and friend came right away and paid the $354 to bail her out. But she’s not out of the woods yet. That money was only to pay for her two tickets. Oost still owes the library $499. That means after all that’s happened, the library still doesn’t have its materials back or the money to replace them.

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