Library Worker’s Firing Sparks Firestorm

Library Worker’s Firing Sparks Firestorm

The firing of a worker at the Tulare County (Calif.) Library two days after she defied a supervisor by alerting police to a patron viewing what she believed to be child pornography has sparked controversy and the threat of a lawsuit.

When Brenda Biesterfeld saw a man viewing pictures of naked boys on a public access computer at the library’s Lindsay branch February 28, she called her supervisor, Library Services Specialist Judi Hill, at the main library, Biesterfeld said in the March 14 Visalia Times-Delta. She said Hill told her to give the man, who was deaf, a note telling him to stop immediately, but when Biesterfeld suggested calling the police, Hill told her not to.

Biesterfeld said she obeyed the request, but after going home and talking to her family, she decided to tell the police, who asked her to contact them when the patron returned. She did so on March 4, and police arrested the man, whom they identified as Donny Lynn Chrisler, 39. After investigators seized the computer, Biesterfeld says she told Hill about her involvement. “She kind of threatened me,” Biesterfeld told the newspaper. “She said I worked for the county, and when the county tells you to do something, you do what the county tells you. She said I had no loyalty to the county.”

Shortly thereafter, Biesterfeld received a letter from Tulare County Librarian Brian Lewis dismissing her for unsatisfactory performance. Lewis fired her about a week before her six-month probationary period was to end.

As the controversy over the firing escalated, the county board of supervisors released a statement March 18 saying officials had “legitimate business reasons” to dismiss Biesterfeld that had nothing to do with her calling police, the Times-Delta reported that day. “The fact that these two events occurred within a short time does not mean they were connected,” the statement said. The supervisors added that they were legally prohibited from disclosing the “business reasons.”

County lawyers sent a letter March 25 to Biesterfeld’s attorney, Stephen Crampton, offering to have the matter mediated by a retired judge. Crampton, who is general counsel for the socially conservative legal group Liberty Counsel, had written the supervisors demanding that Biesterfeld be reinstated and compensated for lost wages and damages, according to the March 26 Times-Delta. Crampton said in the March 26 Fresno Bee that while “our intent from the get-go was to file suit in federal court, because we believe Brenda’s federal civil rights were violated,” he was open to the possibility of mediation.

At a March 19 preliminary hearing, Chrisler’s attorney said that his client, who has been deaf and mute since birth, had a deep history of developmental disabilities and could not understand the charges against him. The Times-Delta said March 20 that the judge ordered an April 21 hearing to determine Chrisler’s competency to stand trial. He is being held on $100,000 bond.

At a March 25 meeting the Lindsay city council presented Biesterfeld with an award from the national organization Family Friendly Libraries, CBS-TV affiliate KGPE reported March 26. Councilwoman Suzi Picaso praised Biesterfeld, saying, “There is no firewall that could have protected this situation like we did with having her looking over [Chrisler’s] shoulder. She was the firewall. She did the right thing even though it was against the policy.”

Posted on March 28, 2008. Discuss.