A law protecting library records' confidentiality has hamstrung officials pursuing a man who reportedly masturbated among the books at the Neenah Public Library earlier this month. City Attorney James Godlewski said the library can't turn a surveillance video of the man over to police without a court order.
"That is state law," Godlewski said Monday. "The library is merely following what state law says."
The Wisconsin attorney general's office said in a Nov. 27 opinion that library surveillance videos fall under the state's public library records confidentiality law. The law prevents libraries from releasing records that indicate a library user's identity unless someone's life or safety is at risk.
A library patron saw the April 2 incident and reported it to a reference librarian, who called police. But the suspect left before he was identified. He was described as 25 to 30 years old, 5 feet, 10 inches tall and about 200 pounds with short blond or brown hair.
Library Director Stephen Proces said he wants the suspect caught. He has shown the surveillance video to library employees and directed them to call police if they see the man enter the library again.
"We think that this guy has been here before doing something similar but not as graphic," Proces said. "This may be someone who is going from library to library doing this."
Police Chief Ray Appel said investigators would seek a court order to view the surveillance tapes.
But he also said the offense might amount to an ordinance violation, not a criminal charge handled by the district attorney's office and heard by a circuit court judge. If that's the case, it's not clear whether a municipal court judge would have the authority to order the video released, Appel said.
"This is the first time we have ever run across this," the chief said.
Alan Lee, the assistant attorney general who wrote the Nov. 27 opinion, said he would recommend the confidentiality law be amended to allow library staff to provide surveillance tapes to police when criminal activity is suspected or witnessed.
Information from: The Post-Crescent, http://www.postcrescent.com