The Salt Lake City Public Library has mounted an investigation after an apparent violent confrontation Wednesday night between a patron and security personnel at its downtown location.
In a video shared to Facebook, library personnel can be seen standing over an unidentified man lying on the ground near the main library’s front entrance. When they back away, the man gets up and gathers his belongings. Following some shouting, the man heads to the front entrance, accompanied by security personnel. A few thrown items land near the man, and he yells, “That’s assault.” Security staff then follows him outside. Viewers can hear gasps from people filming from the second floor.
“Just watched a security guard at the downtown library beat the crap out of someone for … trying to steal a book?” Madalena McNeil, who shared the video, posted to Twitter. “@SLCPL I’m going to email you videos of this, it was completely uncalled for, there’s blood all over the ground outside.”
In a later tweet, McNeil says, “You can see him hit the guy with his baton. He told bystanders that he ‘didn’t hit him,’ but he ‘could have if he wanted to.’”
In the video, it's unclear what occurred outside the glass doors. A clip later shared to Twitter shows a trail of blood on a brick walkway.
In a statement provided to City Weekly, library personnel said it was conducting an investigation and that the “safety officer involved has been placed on leave.”
“Wednesday night, a patron who was interfering with other patrons' use of the library and had committed multiple violations of our code of conduct was asked to leave the building,” the statement said. “From there, the situation unfortunately escalated.
“The safety of our patrons is our No. 1 priority. We have taken pride in our staff and safety officers’ abilities to regularly deescalate unhealthy, uncomfortable, and at times, dangerous situations. This incident is incredibly disheartening and upsetting, especially when we know the commitment that our safety officers make day in and out to foster a safe environment for all of our patrons.”
The statement continued: “This job is much more involved and emotionally tolling than most security roles are. Our team is not sitting behind closed walls watching security tapes. They are working side-by-side with some of our most vulnerable populations. People who have been let down by the system, may need additional support, and may need full-time care.
“That being said, this incident has revealed the need to provide further training and support for our safety officers, in addition to the de-escalation training already in place. We are conducting a reassessment of all of our security measures. Upon learning of this incident, we immediately opened an investigation and we will take appropriate actions.”
When contacted by City Weekly, McNeil said she was with about eight high school students who witnessed and filmed the incident. McNeil is one of their advisors.
“I go to the library relatively often and I’ve never seen something like that before, especially the way it seemed like the security guard was the one escalating the situation,” McNeil told City Weekly via Twitter direct message. “I’ve seen altercations where a patron is clearly the one escalating, but that’s not what happened.”
McNeil said they were on the second floor and heard something happening below them shortly after 7 p.m.
“It was really troubling to watch someone be treated that way,” McNeil said “It was a dangerous situation and that employee should absolutely not be working with the public … I know I wouldn’t feel comfortable if I see them again at the library.”
On Thursday, Salt Lake City Police detective Greg Wilking said he didn't have any information on the specific incident or whether the department was involved. Police, he said, don't have significant presence inside the library and no officer was involved in Wednesday's confrontation. “[Library] security is more responsible for the interior of those buildings,” Wilking said. “Of course, if called, we respond. It’s not like we don’t have that responsibility.”
The library, however, responded to McNeil on Twitter, saying it was taking the situation “very seriously” and would address it immediately.
“I love the library and I think they genuinely care about creating a space for everyone,” McNeil said. “I hope this is just an isolated incident with one aggressive employee.”