Political News

Librarian who tried to stop patron's arrest acquitted

Posted September 9

— A Kansas City librarian who was arrested while trying to stop the arrest of a library patron during a public forum has been acquitted on all charges.

Steve Woolfolk, the Kansas City Library's director of programming and marketing, was arrested in May 2016 as private security guards and off-duty police officers arrested Jeremy Rothe-Kushel, a library patron from Lawrence. The incident occurred during the question-and-answer segment of a talk by Middle East expert and diplomat Dennis Ross.

Rothe-Kushel was asking Ross several challenging questions when he was arrested, The Kansas City Star reported . A video of the event shows Rothe-Kushel asking: "When are we going to stand up and be ethical Jews and Americans?" He was standing at the microphone and speaking quietly when a guard grabbed him and he shouted, "Get your hands off of me right now!"

When Woolfolk tried to intervene, both he and Rothe-Kushel were arrested. City prosecutors later dropped charges of trespassing and resisting arrest against Rothe-Kushel.

Kansas City Municipal Judge Joseph H. Locascio acquitted Woolfolk on Friday on all three counts he faced, remarking: "It was a public event."

R. Crosby Kemper III, executive director of the library, publicly protested the arrests, saying they violated free speech rights and amounted to prosecutorial misconduct.

"I'm elated. I could not be happier," Woolfolk said afterward. "Free speech is a fundamental tenet of the library system."

Since the arrests, the American Library Association has given the Kansas City library the Paul Howard Award for Courage and Woolfolk received the Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity.

The arrests occurred as Ross spoke at the inaugural Truman and Israel Lecture, established by the Truman Library Institute and the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Kansas City.

Security isn't usually hired at such events, but the Jewish Community Foundation asked to hire private and off-duty police security for Ross. Library officials agreed on the condition that no one be removed from the audience without the library's permission.

"The good news is, justice was done," Kemper said after the trial. "It was always ridiculous."

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