Man spends 9 days in jail for library book


After seeing a recent FOX 11 Investigates report on a woman who was arrested for unreturned library items, an Oshkosh man shared his story

"Even though I'm sitting here laughing and joking about it I'm not kidding," said 31-year-old Theron Gohde. Before he served eight years in the U.S. Navy, he served nine days in the Green Lake County Jail.

"I joke with my family and my friends that I'm this hardened criminal," he told FOX 11 Investigates. "To me, it was the stupidest thing to ever be in jail for."

So what did Gohde do to end up in jail for nine days? It all stemmed from an item checked out from the Berlin Public Library.

In February of 2001, Gohde checked out one book from the "Left Behind" series. Gohde says he checked it out in Oshkosh, but it was actually borrowed from Berlin through the inter-library loan program. He insists he returned the book in Oshkosh, but it never made it back to Berlin.

A few months after he checked out the book, Gohde received a ticket in the mail from Green Lake County for Theft of Library Materials.

He says he called the court to protest the ticket and contacted the Oshkosh library since that's where he checked it out. But he says he never contacted the Berlin library and he never paid the ticket.

Fast forward to August of 2002, during a routine stop by Oshkosh police, Gohde was arrested on a warrant from Green Lake County.

When asked if he was cuffed and everything, he replied, "Cuffed me and everything, put me in the back of the cop car and took me to the Oshkosh Police Department downtown."

Gohde says he couldn't afford to pay the $220.51 ticket so he opted to serve the time in jail.

"So I sat there. Got three meals a day, read some books," Gohde said.

"I just think that his case is really unfortunate," said Christine Carroll, co-director of the Berlin Public Library. Carroll was not the director a decade ago. But she says in hindsight, Gohde should have contacted the Berlin library directly.

"He basically got into that position because he didn't bother to contact the library and make some other arrangement," Carroll said. "If he had called us and told us that this item was lost in transit, then we would have contacted 29 other libraries to look on their shelves as well."

Carroll says before a ticket would have been issued, the library would have mailed Gohde a minimum of four notices to return the book.

FOX 11 Investigates asked Gohde if he ever received the notices from Berlin. He responded, "I do not remember getting anything from Berlin."

This whole story happened more than a decade ago but if it happened today in Berlin, it would be much different. The library just changed its policy last month. So instead of issuing citations to people who don't return materials, now the library uses a collection agency.

When asked if there is anyway someone could to jail because of a library book in Berlin today, Carroll replied, "No. They might have trouble with their car loan."

Carroll says it took too much time and resources to have police issue people tickets for library items. Since the policy changed, the library has sent four accounts to collections. Three have already been settled. The collection agency charges a $10 fee which is added on to the cost of the missing items. So Gohde's $24 book would have only cost him $34, not nine days in jail.

"I think that's much more appropriate," Gohde said. "I almost have $34 in a change jar at my home and I could have paid that and then it wouldn't be on my record."

Gohde says this fall he will begin classes in hopes of becoming a police officer. He says he has been assured that his nine days in jail will not have an impact on his law enforcement career.