A teenager in Littleton, Colorado, was arrested and spent eight hours in jail for failing to return an overdue DVD to a local library.
Nineteen-year-old Aaron Henson was pulled over for speeding on Interstate 70 last month, and found himself in prison after police found a failure-to-appear warrant out for his arrest.
Henson hadn’t returned House of the Flying Daggers, a Chinese DVD valued at just over $30 that he had borrowed from the library.
“I was just shocked,” Henson told ABC News. “I was like ‘What? I’ve got a what now?'”
Henson says when he called his parents from jail, he had a hard time convincing his mother he was telling the truth. She told him there is no such thing as “book police.”
Though the charge against Hanson was dropped and the city now says it won’t have people arrested over $30 DVDs, the incident showcases the extreme lengths some municipalities — faced with declining revenues — are going to in order to plug budget holes. The city of Littleton says it lost $7,800 last year in library materials that weren’t returned.
National Public Radio notes that cities are coming up with “novel ways” to raise revenues, including “new charges for responding to 911 calls to taxes and fees on sodas, bottled water, groceries and grocery bags.”
ABC News reports that Littleton is by no means the only city that has taken to issuing summonses for missing library materials. “Similar arrests and warrants have been reported in Washington state, Iowa and Texas,” it states.
In Hanson’s case, the arrest was for failure to appear, not for theft. The city of Littleton says it sent Hanson repeated notices in the mail and left phone messages for him, requesting that he return the DVD. Hanson says he failed to return it because he accidentally packed it while moving last fall. The move, he says, is why he didn’t receive the library’s messages.
Because he never received notice of the summons, the arrest was “a clear violation of his right to due process,” Hanson’s father, Allen Hanson, said.
KMGH in Denver reports that the arrest cost Hanson’s family $460 in all — $200 for bail, $200 to get his car out of the impound lot, and $60 for court costs. The city says it will reimburse the Hansons, and Littleton Mayor Doug Clark has announced a change in the city’s policy, saying that “we’re not going to arrest people who don’t return $30 DVDs.”
“Cities and states are going mostly after these kinds of sin taxes,” Justin H. Higginbottom, an analyst with conservative research group Tax Foundation, told NPR. “They’ll target a politically unpopular industry and go after them to raise revenue. It’s much easier to do that than to raise rates on sales taxes.”
NPR’s Alan Greenblatt reports that “one reason sin taxes are easier to sell is that they aren’t presented purely as ways to raise money. Mayors like to stress the idea that they’re helping to curb bad behaviors.”