PHOENIX — The administration at Phoenix’s biggest and busiest library has ignored and minimized significant safety and security concerns and shamelessly spun the truth about a violent gun incident earlier this year, according to former and current employees.
ABC15 also learned that a duffle bag containing three loaded firearms was found in a bathroom at Burton Barr Central Library a few weeks ago.
“We have serious safety and security issues at Burton Barr,” said a source, whose identity ABC15 is protecting due to fear of retaliation. “Either it’s going to be a point of pride for the City of Phoenix or our largest homeless shelter.
“They are spending their time and effort trying to spin the story,” the source said.
In response to questions for this report, city lLibrarian Rita Hamilton said in a phone interview they will now staff a uniformed police officer at Burton Barr full time and are strongly considering the addition of metal detectors.
Hamilton added that safety and security of patrons and staff is their top priority.
Some would only agree to speak anonymously because they said library leadership has been working to discover if any employees have spoken to journalists.
ABC15’s investigation showed how there have been hundreds of crimes at the library in recent years, including an incident in January when a convicted felon and sex offender got into a fight with staff and pulled a gun on several employees.
A cell phone video caught a portion of the incident, with the footage capturing employees struggling with the suspect in a glass elevator on the fifth floor and then spilling out on a lower level.
“Someone very easily could have died that day,” said Sarah Kennard, who quit working at Burton Barr a couple months ago. “It’s pure luck no one got shot.”
Kennard was one of two people ABC15 interviewed who were directly involved in the January gun incident.
The other was David Luna, who tried to help security in the elevator.
“As I was entering (into the elevator), he happened to slip his hand underneath fast, reach down to his foot, pulled out a gun,” said Luna, who also left the library this year due to safety concerns. “I saw him cock (the gun) back. And as he cocked it back, he raised it about (shoulder high) and that’s when I jumped out of the elevator and yelled as loud as I could.”
In the cell phone video, you can hear Luna screaming that the man has a gun.
“When I yelled that out, that’s when security grabbed his wrist,” he said. “If security didn’t grab his wrist, I can assure you that I would have been shot dead on the spot.”
Once the fight spilled out of the elevator, a good Samaritan had to help security wrestle the gun out of the suspect’s hand, records show.
In response to ABC15’s report on the gun incident, a city spokesperson said the library’s security worked as designed that day.
“Let me be clear, we did stop that,” Lee Franklin said. “Our processes and practices and how we approached that, everything worked that day.”
Every employee, current and former, who ABC15 has interviewed said they found Franklin’s comments to be offensive and untruthful.
“It’s b******* is what it is,” a source said. “It’s posturing. And it’s absolutely pure luck no one got hurt.”
Luna and Kennard were appalled when they heard the statement, which is what prompted them to contact ABC15 and be interviewed.
“It was like a slap in the face,” Kennard said. “It’s hurtful. It’s really hurtful. We were the ones at risk that day.”
Luna added, “How could you say that everything worked, when you yourself were not there? … Nothing worked.”
Multiple sources told ABC15 only three security guards were on duty at the time of the incident. The norm is five.
Library officials have declined to outline how many security employees they have working and where because they claim it’s sensitive security information.
In a previous written response, a spokesperson said the library “utilizes a robust” alarm and security camera system with 16 total civilian security positions.
Almost all of those security guards are part-time, records show.
After the January gun incident, many sources said little to nothing changed in terms of safety except for added security on the third floor.
That’s the administration floor, which is now entirely locked down to the public.
“This summer they put in a new system so you could only get through with a badge,” Kennard said. “That was the one security measure they made after the gun incident.”
Luna added, “For themselves.”
In a written response about the third-floor security, a spokesperson said: "To be clear, updating the security access to the 3rd floor administration has been in the works since 2017 when the Library was remodeled and other security enhancements were implemented. The new badging access to the 3rd floor administrative offices was just recently completed this past summer. The project cost just under $14,000."
After the incident, Kennard, Luna, and other employees were offered crisis counseling. However, they later discovered they were not compensated for attending.
They said they were also scolded for talking about the gun incident at work.
“By the end of week, it became this, ‘We need you stop talking about it now,” Kennard said.
“You need to get over it basically,” Luna said they told him. “You’re gossiping now.”
In early September, Burton Barr was authorized to add a uniformed off-duty police officer for up to 40 hours a week.
Following ABC15’s reporting, the city now said it will up that total to all 64 hours the library is open.
But former and current employees believe curbing safety and security problem at the library will require more than one officer positioned at the library.
Some believe Burton Barr needs metal detectors. Adding to that belief was an incident on October 12, 2019.
A duffle bag with three loaded guns was found in a second floor bathroom of the library, records show.
“So, the fact that a loaded bag of guns made it to the second floor shows just how at risk patrons and staff are,” a source said. “They are completely at risk.”
According to employees and public records, many weapons have been brought into the library. Staff report seeing people attempt to bring knives, and even a machete into the building.
ABC15 interviewed a police sergeant who oversaw patrols in the area who said one of his most memorable calls at the library was a man who was stabbed in the chest inside the library.
Investigative reporter Dave Biscobing was also surrounded and confronted by a group of men outside the library while reporting.
One of the men had a large knife with a brass-knuckle grip in a holster displayed on his hip.
“There’s absolutely nothing in place,” said Kennard, when asked if there is anything in place to prevent another criminal from brining a weapon into the library undetected. “We asked why can’t we get metal detectors, and I was told, ‘Well where was the money going to come from? Should we start cutting positions.’”
Hamilton said that the library has considered adding metal detectors in the past. It had been considered a possible barrier to access.
However, the discussion will now be prioritized.
“It’s an important thing to look it,” she said. “We’ve been looking at it for some time. And now, we’re ready to move forward with a more serious discussion of how we implement them.”
Many of the sources and employees interviewed by ABC15 said it’s a change that should have happened long ago.
“Maybe (the gun) should have went off,” Luna said about the January incident. “Maybe he should have shot one of us. They would have been forced to do something.”
The ABC15 Investigators are continuing to investigate safety and security issues at Burton Barr. We are preparing additional reports with interviews from current and former employees, including more troubling personal accounts and concerns over inadequate punishments for visitors who violate library policy, assault staff, and commit crimes.
Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at Dave@ABC15.com.