Men fondling themselves in public libraries get banned, nothing more

Police say if men stay clothed, they can't be charged with a sex crime

By Lynnsey Gardner - Investigative reporter, Steve Patrick - News4Jax digital managing editor

NEPTUNE BEACH, Fla. - A woman was outraged last week when she saw a man fondle himself in front of children at a public library, and the I-TEAM has found it's not the first such incident at a Jacksonville library.

Chelsea Donovan is still shaken about what she saw last Tuesday at the branch in Neptune Beach. She said a man was sitting in a chair with his hands under the table, but clearly fondling himself through his pants. 

"I was sitting in the teen section and reading a book and I looked up and saw a man (expletive) masturbating (expletive) and staring at me," Donovan said.

The I-TEAM found another instance of a man fondling himself reported at the main library downtown last year. In both cases, it was witnessed and reported, but that's not enough evidence to allow police to make an arrest.

Donovan was upset that the man was given trespassing warning and allowed to leave. She feels people with bad intentions may have found a way around the law.

"I feel like it's not right. I feel like it's purposefully reading the law in a way that's not protecting us," Donovan said.

"When you're a kid, you don't have the words to report that, so you keep it inside forever and kids don't deserve that," Donovan said. "That's why, as an adult, I felt that I need to advocate for these kids and do something to help them and I got no help."

According to the police report, the man in the Neptune Beach incident lives 30 miles away from the library. But records show he is not a sex offender and had not previously been a subject of a sex crimes investigation.

There is currently no video surveillance inside the Beaches Branch Library, so there was no visual evidence to back up Donovan's story. 

Neptune Beach police did not want to go on camera, but told News4Jax they consulted the State Attorney's Office about the case and both agencies determined there was no evidence a crime was committed.

Police also said the man cannot be charged with exposure of a sexual organ and or lewd and lascivious behavior because he kept his pants on and zipped up. But Neptune Beach police said they do regularly patrol inside the library, especially during the summer, making at least two patrol stops every day.

"He's just going to go to another library, another public park where kids are playing, and he knows the law enough to know he can do this and get away with it," Donovan said.

Donovan is also concerned because libraries don't check a person's ID when they enter, so she isn't sure how effective a trespass notice can be.

The incident at the Downtown library was very similar, where the man didn't expose his private parts, so he was just given a trespass warning.

The behavior is against the Jacksonville Public Library's code of conduct, but the only penalty is a ban from the library. Police said if you see this, call law enforcement immediately and do not approach the subject. Ultimately, it's up to police and the state attorney to pursue any charges.

Copyright 2019 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.