Library fines land Portales man in jail

Josh Chavez may not remember the titles of the library books he lost, but he won’t forget being arrested for not paying the fines.

Chavez, 29, was arrested in Portales on Sept. 21, by Roosevelt County Sheriff’s deputies on a contempt warrant for not fulfilling an arrangement he made with Portales Municipal Court to pay library fines on two lost books.

“I think it’s a little far-fetched,” Chavez said Tuesday. “I was going to make the payment and I never thought going to jail was going to be the outcome.”

Chavez said the week before Labor Day, he went to court and made an arrangement to pay $124.24 in overdue fees and replacement costs for two books he checked out from the Portales Library.

But he said with extra shifts at work and the holiday, he didn’t make it back to court to settle up.

Two weeks later a deputy knocked on his door and placed him in handcuffs.

“It can’t be over a library fine, it can’t be over a library fine,” Chavez said he recalls the deputy saying as he loaded him in a patrol unit and drove him to the jail.

The contempt of court warrant, signed by Judge Frederick Arnold, identified, “Failure to pay library fines” as the charge and set Chavez’ bond amount at $624.24.

Roosevelt County Sheriff Darren Hooker said he was not aware Chavez was arrested for library fines, but said the reason for a warrant is not law enforcement’s concern.

“We are tasked by the courts… It’s not ‘You may arrest,’ or, ‘You can if you want to.’ It’s, ‘You will bring this person forward to (the issuing judge),’” According to state statute, Hooker said, they follow the warrant or face dereliction of duty or contempt charges themselves.

Chavez said he was only in jail a couple of hours before his family helped him post bond.

When he went to see Arnold in court the next day, he said he was given a choice to either direct his bond to his fines — $500 to the contempt of court penalty and $124.24 to pay his library fines — or stay in jail.

Arnold was not available for comment Tuesday, according to a municipal court employee.

Portales Library Director Denise Burnett said she did not know Chavez was arrested and his is the first arrest she is aware of.

But she said he had plenty of chances to return the books or pay his fines.

“The books should have been returned. At any point along this process, if those books would have been returned, nothing would have happened,” she said.

When books are not returned, Burnett said the library sends a total of four reminder letters over a four-month period.

Chavez said he doesn’t remember what the books were that he failed to return and he can’t find them.

Court records show he checked out “Knife of Dreams” by Robert Jordon, valued just under $30, and “Straken” by Terry Brooks, valued around $26.