A Michigan mom of five may face up to 93 days in jail over library books returned to the Charlotte Community Library after their due date.
Melinda Sanders Jones says she visited her public library a few months ago to use one of their printers, but was denied use of the devices by an employee because she had two overdue library books. After calling her then fiancé, Matt, Sanders Jones learned she still had copies of "Where the Sidewalk Ends" by Shel Silverstein and the holocaust novel "Night" by Elie Wiesel on her bookshelves at home.
Sanders Jones returned to her house, grabbed the books and took them back to the library the same day. The Charlotte, Michigan, mom expected to receive an email or letter about her late fees, but when nothing came, she forgot about the incident.
"A week ago my boss called me because I had applied for a new position at work. I knew they were going to be doing a background check — the interview and everything went great and I was super pumped about it," Sanders Jones, who works as a security guard, told TODAY Parents. "I told them I was super confident in my background check because I've never even had a parking ticket... then I get a call from my boss to inform me that I actually have a warrant out for my arrest and it's for failure to return rental property less than $200."
"I've been good my entire adult life," said Sanders Jones. "I've been a good person. I was completely floored. I just kind of sat there in awe."
Because of the criminal charges filed against her, Sanders Jones was denied her promotion and put on suspension pending a resolution to her case.
Court documents provided to TODAY.com by the Eaton County Prosecuting Attorney's Office call for Sanders Jones' arrest, citing "books had been delivered on a rental or lease basis under a written agreement" in 2017, and that Sanders Jones "willfully neglected to return the property."
In the week since learning of the charges, Sanders Jones has appeared before the magistrate at her local courthouse and attended a hearing where she was released on a personal recognizance bond — a release from jail without being required to post bail, with a promise to remain in the state and appear for her next court date.
"I also tried to go pay the library, but they wouldn't take my money and explained I had to go to an economic crime unit — a 20-minute drive away from me," said Sanders Jones, adding that her total fine was $72.30. "I go there, but they tell me they don't take cash so I leave and get a money order. I come back, only for them to tell me I also owe them $215 for a diversion fee."
Sanders Jones says the employee then insisted it would be unethical for them to take her payment without her attorney present and suggested she wait until her court hearing to make a payment.
"I was like, 'Are you kidding me right now?'" said Sanders Jones, who then called attorneys in her area until she found one who agreed to take her case pro bono.
"My attorney called me yesterday to ask me what it is that I want out of this, and I said, 'Mainly I just want to get my job back. I just want to go back to work. I have five kids and I am the head of my household and I'm the only one that works," said Sanders Jones." I want the charges dismissed, because the only way I'm going to get my job back is if I get my name cleared. This can't be on my record."
In an official statement posted on Facebook, the Charlotte Community Library apologized for "any negative consquences that may have resulted recently due to our overdue book policy and collection actions." In the statement, they add, "Our library board will review all our policies in the near future, and we will help anyone who may have been affected."
Sanders Jones says she's willing to pay all fines owed to the library and the economic crime unit. The 27 year old, who just got married on October 19, says she has a court hearing on November 7 where the outcome of her ordeal will hopefully be decided and she will know whether or not she'll be required to serve a jail sentence.
"The first thing the magistrate said to me when he read me my charges was what my punishment could be," said Sanders Jones. "It could be 93 days in jail or a $500 fine."
"It's so overwhelming to think that I drive my kids to and from school every day, and I could have gotten pulled over and arrested in front of my kids," Sanders Jones continued. "This is not OK. There's got to be more that you can do with resources like this than arrest people for library books."