News

'It's not an epidemic': Library responds to video posted by Spokane mayoral candidate

SPOKANE, Wash. - Video of an altercation between a security guard and a homeless man at the downtown Spokane public library has garnered traction after being posted online by mayoral candidate Nadine Woodward. 

The video was captured on surveillance footage at the library on January 28, 2019. On Friday, Woodward posted the video to Twitter and Facebook with the following caption: 

“A security guard is taken down and injured while trying to escort a homeless man out of the downtown Spokane library for trespassing. His father shared this video with me. On a recent visit a librarian told me they tell parents to keep their young children close because it isn’t safe. Our beautiful library has turned into a transient center, and that’s NOT ok!”

On Tuesday, KXLY spoke to the security guard and library to learn more about the incident and Woodward’s assertion that this is proof the homeless population is making the public library unsafe. 

The guard, who asked to remain anonymous, said the clip on Woodward’s social media channels showed the end of a 25-minute interaction with the homeless man, who had been asked to leave after he threw a pair of headphones at the guard. The homeless man was arrested for assault a few days after the incident. 

The downtown library’s community engagement manager, Jason Johnson, said the clip shows only 90 seconds of thousands of hours of surveillance video. 

“We have 25,000 people a month that come into this building and this is one incident. This is the only incident that I’m aware of of this nature, so it’s not an epidemic by any means," Johnson said. "It's not a representation of what happens here on a regular basis."

Woodward’s campaign released the following statement about the video on Tuesday: 

A few weeks ago, concerned about reports of open drug use in the bathrooms, I visited the Downtown Library to hear directly from the visitors and staff. Talking with one of the librarians, I heard that they often warn families with young children to keep their kids near them due to safety concerns. As a parent and a Spokane resident, that troubled me. 

I posted the security video, not as a reflection of daily life at the library, but to show the burdens that a growing homeless population places on our city. As people with mental illness and addiction issues seek shelter in our library, it creates an environment where visitors and staff feel less safe. The Downtown Library is a beautiful place that hosts wonderful community events, but if families don’t feel safe to visit, who will utilize it? 

As Mayor, I would create a task force of community activists, law enforcement, business owners, and mental health and addiction experts to figure out how we better manage the challenge of homelessness. We can provide for those looking for a hand up, without overburdening our community and turning our public spaces into daytime shelters. I will be committed to finding a path forward that balances Spokane’s generosity and compassion with accountability. 

Woodward said she intended the video to "show the burdens that a growing homeless population places on our city;" however, Johnson said the library is not burdened by the homeless. Johnson said security has been present as long as the building has stood -- it has not been a response to the city's homeless population. 

"It doesn't matter where they come from in their life. There's people that -- everyone gets angry sometimes, so our guards are here to just kind of keep the peace in the way," Johnson said. 

Homeless or not, if you break the code of conduct, you will asked to leave, said Johnson. 

The security guard was terminated on Tuesday after the library received word of the video, which was given to Woodward by the guard’s father. However, the guard said it was not the content of the video that led him to lose his job. 

The guard said he originally downloaded the video to show to police and his doctor. The guard said he was ultimately fired because he did not go through the proper channels to get the video; he took it on his own instead of filing a public records request. Staff at the library said he could not be trusted to work there anymore. 


Catch up on the day's news and look ahead to tomorrow by signing up for the Daily Local email newsletter from KXLY4. Headlines, events, and staff picks every weeknight at 8 p.m. Sign up HERE to get your news on the D.L.


LOCAL AND REGIONAL NEWS

THIS WEEK'S CIRCULARS