Not Guilty - Library’s Programming Director Cleared of Charges Related to 2016 Event

Fri, 09/08/2017
Courtney Lewis
Not Guilty - Library’s Programming Director Cleared of Charges Related to 2016 Event
(Kansas City, Missouri) – A municipal court judge has cleared a Kansas City Public Library official arrested more than a year ago in a case drawing national attention because of its free-speech implications.

Steven Woolfolk, the Library’s director of programming and marketing, was found not guilty Friday on all three charges stemming from a Library event in May 2016. He had attempted to intervene in an incident in which a patron – a local activist – was confronted by outside security personnel during a question-and-answer session.

Woolfolk initially was charged with interfering with the arrest of the activist. Counts of resisting arrest and assault were added later.

Library director Crosby Kemper III, who bitterly contested the charges, applauded Friday’s verdict from Kansas City Municipal Court Judge Joseph Locascio.

“Justice was done,” Kemper said. “The Library, like the judge, has consistently expressed surprise that this ever went to trial, that a public event at a public library should result in the indictment of a librarian.”

Locascio said as much in rendering his decision.

“I don’t understand how this kind of thing could happen at a public event,” he said from the bench. “You’re going to have people say ridiculous things at a public event. … You scratch your head and move on.”

The case dates to a May 9, 2016, event at the Library’s Plaza Branch that featured longtime Middle East envoy Dennis Ross. Activist Jeremy Rothe-Kushel was first to the microphone when the presentation turned to Q&A, and his question implied that the U.S. and Israel have engaged in state-sponsored terrorism. After Ross responded, Rothe-Kushel attempted to follow up and was grabbed by one of the private security guards and then by others in the security detail, which included off-duty police.

Woolfolk tried to intercede, noting that public discourse is accepted and encouraged at a public event held in a public library. Rothe-Kushel was arrested for trespassing and resisting arrest – charges that eventually were dropped.

The small security squad was arranged by the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Kansas City, one of the Library’s partners in the event, to supplement to standard Library security.

Kemper termed its response “an egregious violation of First Amendment rights.”

Woolfolk, who oversees the Library’s expansive public programming, has been lauded for his actions by organizations including the American Library Association, Urban Libraries Council, and Missouri Library Association. He was awarded the 2017 Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity, established by the best-selling author and the ALA to recognize individuals who have “faced adversity with integrity and dignity intact.”

The Library received the American Library Association’s 2017 Paul Howard Award for Courage, given biannually for “unusual courage for the benefit of library programs or services.”