In the early morning hours on Oct. 28, the Little Free Library at the corner of St. Anne’s Road and Sunningdale Road in Falcon sustained damage from two unknown adolescents who were caught on security video throwing rocks at the structure.
The Little Free Library program allows people to construct a “little library,” register it and then stock it with books that anyone can use. The public can take books to keep, borrow or donate them for use by others.
Falcon resident Jenni Helland is responsible for maintaining the Little Free Library that was vandalized. She reviewed footage of the incident from her home security system.
“There were two teenage boys throwing rocks at the Little Library,” she said. “They pulled up in a dark SUV at 3:30 in the morning. One got out of the back of the car and one got out of the passenger side, so there was one still inside driving.”
Helland said she filed a police report and provided the video from the security camera. The community rallied and had the door repaired within a few hours, she said.
The damage, while frustrating, was not Helland’s main concern, she said. The bigger concern is whether the kids will be held accountable for their actions, she said.
“I am an attorney and used to be a high school behavior specialist,” she said. “Kids are going to be kids and they are going to do stupid stuff; they are going to make bad decisions. But they also need to accept responsibility when they have done something wrong.”
Natalie Sosa, public information officer with the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, said incidents like this have been occurring at a steady rate in the area for a couple years. While parents may be tempted to shrug off this type of behavior as “kids just being kids,” there are consequences that can be levied against children as young as 10 years old, she said.
Juveniles 10 years and older can be charged with criminal tampering or criminal mischief, depending on the offense, Sosa said.
According to Colorado Revised Statute, criminal tampering means interfering with someone else’s property “with the intent to cause injury, inconvenience, annoyance or impairment of services.”
“Even though it is something you may consider a prank, like egging someone’s house or putting toilet paper over someone’s house, you can be charged with criminal tampering,” Sosa said. Criminal tampering results in an automatic court summons and, as a Class 2 misdemeanor, could result in three to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000, she said.
Colorado Revised Statute states that criminal mischief occurs when someone knowingly damages someone else’s real or personal property. This type of activity is considered vandalism and can be either a felony or misdemeanor, depending on the extent of the damages.
“Examples of criminal mischief include destroying a mailbox with a baseball bat, intentionally throwing a rock at a car and breaking the window,” Sosa said. “Even though a kid thinks it is a prank or joke, it needs to be taken seriously because if someone wants to press charges, they can.”
State statute sets penalties for criminal mischief based on the total value of the property damaged, but also mandates an automatic court summons. The possible penalties for the lowest class of misdemeanor –- Class 3 misdemeanors –- are up to six months in jail and/or a fine of $50 to $750. A Class 3 misdemeanor could be levied against someone who damages property with a total value of less than $300. The potential jail time and fines increase as the cost of the damaged item increases.
The penalty for a Class 6 felony –- the lowest class of felonies -– could be 12 to 18 months in prison and/or a fine of $1,000 to $100,000, according to the statute. A Class 6 felony could be levied against someone who damages property with a total value of $1,000 or more, but less than $5,000. As with misdemeanors, the potential prison time and fines increase as the cost of the damaged item increases.
“Parents need to make sure they let their children know that these are some of the consequences,” Sosa said.
Helland said she is not looking for financial compensation or for the kids who damaged the Little Library to face jail time; she said she wants them to write a public apology and have to perform community service in the Woodmen Hills/Meridian Ranch area.
“If you want to be a stinker in our community, then you can give back to our community,” she said.
As a major influence in her children’s lives, Helland said she plans to take action against the offenders because, if she does not, she feels she is sending the message to her kids that they do not have to be accountable.
The security video Helland submitted is hard evidence of the offenders’ actions. The EPCSO now has a Community Video Partnership program, launched in November 2017, that compiles submitted surveillance videos of crimes into a database of offenders caught on camera, she said.
“If people have cameras, they can register them with us and let us know they have cameras so that if something happens in their neighborhood, we have a database to find the incident on camera,” Sosa said.
Helland said she hopes parents use this as an opportunity to teach their kids responsibility and accountability. “Kids will be kids but that does not make them any less accountable,” she said. “It is small potatoes now, but it could be big potatoes later.”