Commission upholds yearlong trespass after two incidents at Great Falls library

The staff of the Great Falls Public Library made a fairly rare request to trespass a patron from the library.

That request was made in December after several incidents at the library that involved the Great Falls Police Department being requested.

Deputy City Manager Chuck Anderson signed a letter trespassing Robert Stone from the library for a year and that letter was hand delivered by GFPD to Stone on Jan. 4

Stone requested, pursuant to the city charter, that the City Commission review the decision.

On Feb. 8, the commission held a special meeting to review the incidents leading up to the trespass and ultimately decided in a 5-0 vote to uphold the decision.

Stone has some medical and behavioral issues contributing to the situation and waived his right to privacy in the hearing and some of those issues were discussed.

The library is funded by the city and the county, but its operations are largely governed by the Library Board of Trustees. The board established patron behavior policies and gives staff the authority to ban people from the library for violations.

Typically, banning someone from the library is short-term and in Stone’s case there were two incidents in December 2018 that resulted in staff banning him for one week, then for another week.

Library staff had interactions with Stone last summer but the trespass was specifically related to the two December incidents. Staff discussed some of their attempts to accommodate Stone’s needs over the summer months during the hearing.

On Dec. 6, Stone attempted to bring his bicycle into the library, which isn’t allowed. He said he had a bike that was previously stolen from outside the library and so he wanted to bring it inside.

Library staff let him know the bike wasn’t allowed inside, but he brought it in anyway. A library staffer went to get Susie McIntyre, who is currently the acting director. McIntyre spoke to Stone at the front of the library who began yelling at her and said he didn’t care what staff said.

McIntyre told him that she would call the police and have him escorted from the library.

She called dispatch to request an office and Stone brought the bike inside and parked it against a front window and when upstairs.

McIntyre wrote in her incident report that she called upstairs to notify staff of the situation and not to engage with Stone about the bike.

Officers arrived and spoke with Stone, who yelled at the officers, according to McIntyre’s report. Stone left the library with his bike and officers continued speaking with him outside where he appeared to calm down, she wrote. At that point, McIntyre informed him that because of his behavior he was banned from the library for one week. In her report, she said he seemed to agree to that and then rode off to catch the bus.

Rae McFadden, the youth services librarian, told commissioners during the Feb. 8 meeting that the incident “was very frightening.”

Stone returned to the library on Dec. 12, during the period he was still banned due to the previous incident.

On Dec. 12, McIntyre went upstairs to work the reference desk and noticed that Stone was lying on the bench by the microfilm machines. She wrote in her incident report and told commissioners, that she went downstairs to check the date he was allowed back in after the previous incident.

She went back upstairs and told Stone he wasn’t allowed in the library until Dec. 14 and that he needed to leave immediately. McIntyre wrote that he tried to argue but she said he could leave then or she’d call the police again.

McIntyre wrote that he started yelling at her as she walked away. She called dispatch and headed downstairs to notify staff at the circulation desk of the situation. As she left the desk, Stone came down the stairs and was agitated, asking why she was picking on him. McIntyre said in her report and during the hearing that she was enforcing the rules.

Stone attempted to check out two books, but was not allowed by staff, and he became more agitated, picked up the books and started to leave the library. McIntyre followed him to the entryway and told him that is he took the books, it was theft and the police would take them back. Stone started yelling and swearing at McIntyre, according to her report and testimony and the testimony of other library staff.

As this was happening, a patron and child came into the library. McIntyre said she put herself between Stone and the patrons so they could get inside.

McFadden and another library staffer testified that they were scared for McIntyre’s safety during the incident and children in the Kids Place were frightened as were other patrons.

During the Dec. 12 incident, witnesses said Stone was swinging his walking cane above his head and that McIntyre could have been injured.

During the hearing, McIntyre said she felt he was threatening to hit her, but that she’s a third degree black belt so she wasn’t as concerned for her own safety as some other staff and patrons were concerned for her.

McIntyre said she encouraged Stone to go outside to continue the discussion and officers arrived to speak with him. At that time, McIntyre told Stone he was banned for another week. During the hearing she said she wanted that time to discuss with staff and city officials to determine the best course of action.

During that incident, McFadden said she went into a mode of trying to protect patrons in Kids Place and told commissioners that she wonders if the incident was the reasons she hasn’t seen some patrons in a while.

McIntyre said that when she got back into the library, she realized the impact the incident had on staff and patrons.

“They said they were terrified,” she said. “They were visibly shaken.”

GFPD officers asked if McIntyre wanted Stone arrested for disorderly conduct, but McIntyre told commissioners that she didn’t pursue that since she was aware of his mental health and medical issues and didn’t feel that was the best way to address the issue.

“I want him to enjoy the library, but his rights do not outweigh the rights of patrons to feel safe or my staff to feel safe,” McIntyre said.

She said the library staff deals with the vast majority of patron behavior issues internally and it’s rare for it to rise to the level of a trespass.

“I am asking the commission to protect my staff,” she said.

During the hearing, Stone said that he used to be physically violent, but therapy had helped him control that. But as far as his temper and raising his voice, “I don’t even know that I’m doing it,” he said.

Mayor Bob Kelly asked if he was surprised by the comments made by library staff and Stone said “I cam almost never remember what happens when I lose my temper.”

McIntyre said that while Stone is trespassed, his library card is still valid so he can access e-books or have someone check out materials on his behalf. David Buck, an advocate from the Center for Mental Health who attended the Feb. 8 hearing with Stone, said that another person who works with Stone could help him access the internet or check out books for him.

Stone does read a lot, “it is a big thing in his life,” Buck said.

Stone said he used to go to the library all the time, but the condition that causes dizziness has upended his life and for a time, he didn’t leave the house. He carries a yoga mat with him and lays down often and Stone said people often call the ambulance for him thinking something is wrong.

Commissioner Mary Moe said she came to the hearing thinking a year was too long, but after hearing the testimony said “it is reasonable.” She said she hopes it won’t be permanent.

Commissioner Bill Bronson said he couldn’t imagine anything more devastating that being denied access to a public library, but the safety of the staff is paramount.

“You can sense the fear,” Bronson said,” but also that they’re trying to do the right thing.”

After the hearing, McIntyre spoke with Stone and wrote down his library card number for him. She discussed with him and Buck options for getting books without Stone entering the library and offered to meet him somewhere else to deliver a new library card.