Famed novelist Sidney Sheldon was a fervent supporter of the Palm Springs Library. Sheldon and his wife, Alexandra, even donated a bighorn statue to the library, which is on display by the entrance to the building on Sunrise Way.
I once interviewed Sheldon, who died in 2007, at the library, and he passionately talked about the importance of reading: “The kids of today must read books, because some of them will be politicians of tomorrow, and they will be making decisions that influence all of us!”
Sheldon is gone now, but his books are still there on the shelves. The library reportedly has 172,000 volumes, and is the leading library in the valley by its numbers. However, in recent months, a series of incidents at the library, at Sunrise and Baristo Road, has been troubling.
On Aug. 7, according to Palm Springs Police records, Garrett Kevin Jennings, 54, allegedly stole a bike from the rack at the library entrance—in broad daylight! The library was still open, with patrons passing by, as he cut the lock off with a bolt-cutter and rode away on the stolen bike.
“I saw him as he threw the lock and removed the bike from the rack,” said Esteban Gallegos, a library security guard. “I took a picture of the suspect while he was pedaling from the library entrance through the parking lot.”
Gallegos reported the crime to the police and submitted the suspect’s picture. A detective recognized the perpetrator: Jennings had a criminal history.
On Aug. 13, Jennings was arrested at noon on Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs. He was riding a different bike, but still had a bolt-cutter on him, according to police records. He was booked on suspicion of committing a theft, possession of burglary tools and violation of probation.
According to Gallegos, who’s been a guard at the Palm Springs Library since June 2006, the number of incidents at the library has skyrocketed in the past year.
“Yes, it’s a fact. I’ve been doing more reports than ever before, and I’ve got a big file to prove it,” he said.
His account is confirmed by Merrit Chassie, a 20-year veteran of the Palm Springs Police Department. “We’ve got a lot going on there at the library park, and we’re often called in, sometimes by Esteban,” Chassie said.
Another alarming library incident, this time involving Gallegos as a victim, happened on Aug. 19. Police Sgt. Harvey Reed said the suspect was 19-year-old Derrell Celestine of Palm Springs, who was later arrested for grand theft and violation of probation.
Gallegos described what took place.
“The suspect was permanently banned from the library for stealing DVDs. He was trespassing, so I took my phone to take a pic of him as proof to the police,” Gallegos said. “I was adjusting the camera when he ran fast toward me. He pushed me, poked me in my left eye and took my phone. For a moment, I couldn’t see, but I ran after him. He escaped with my phone.”
The stolen phone was never found. Gallegos said he’s glad his eye is OK now, and that Celestine was captured by the police.
Gallegos also mentioned finding small, empty bags at times on library shelves, and on one occasion, there was a fist fight at the library door.
Shortly after the bike and phone incidents, I personally witnessed a raucous scene at the library entrance: An elderly man was pushed to the ground by someone. Within minutes, two Palm Springs police cruisers with four deputies showed up. The deputies drove onto the park grass in a search for a possible suspect wearing a red shirt.
These days, an armed guard has occasionally been seen inside the library. I tried to talk to him. Once he learned I was a reporter, he declined to speak to me, saying that he could get fired if he did so.
I also sat down with Jeannie Kays, the library director. While she was happy to talk about more cheerful subjects, she declined to discuss the increase in problems at the library.
I wonder what Sidney Sheldon would say about that.