Stabbing at quiet Heights library raises issues

May 16, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle

A stabbing incident in the Brooklyn Heights branch of the Brooklyn Public Library on Tuesday night focused new attention on the ongoing issues of homeless people using the city’s libraries and people watching porn on library terminals.

According to the police department, around 7:22 p.m., police received a 911 call from the branch, at 280 Cadman Plaza West near Clinton Street, and found a 52-year-old man who had been stabbed in the torso.

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According to the Daily News, a fight erupted when Ralph Neptune, 46, described as being homeless, accused the victim of watching porn on his computer terminal. Neptune was reportedly there with his wife.

After being stabbed, police told the Eagle, the victim was taken to Bellevue Hospital, where he reported to be in stable condition. Although his name had not yet been made public at press time, Leslie Lewis, criminal justice liaison for the Borough President’s Office, added that “he [the victim] was from Brooklyn, but not from the Downtown area.”

Neptune was charged with assault, criminal possession of a weapon, menacing and criminal possession of marijuana, police told the Eagle.

Asked whether the branch, in the middle of a quiet, low-crime area, had a history of low-level criminal incidents, Judy Stanton, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association, said, “certainly not.” Similarly, Lewis didn’t recall many such incidents in the borough’s libraries as a whole, although he added that such incidents “could happen in any place that is open to the public.”

Jason Carey, spokesperson for the Brooklyn Public Library system, said that because a criminal investigation is under way, he could not comment on this particular case. On the issue of homeless people using library branches, however, he said, “It’s not illegal to enter the library, and it’s not illegal to be homeless in this city.”

On the issue of people viewing porn, Carey added that if someone logs into a desktop user terminal with an adult library card, “They have a choice of whether they want to use filtered content or unfiltered content.” This, however, wouldn’t apply to people who bring their own laptops to the borough’s libraries.

Asked about security in the library branches, Carey said, “We have a full security detail” in the branches, who are charged with handling minor problems such as disputes between patrons. If an incident erupts into violence, they then can call the local police precincts.

This isn’t the first time someone has protested porn on library computer terminals. On April 25, 2011, the New York Post reported that a Brooklyn Central Library patron complained about sitting next to an elderly porn viewer. In the same article, Brooklyn Public Library spokeswoman Malika Granville was quoted as saying, "Customers can watch whatever they want on the computer."

Yesterday, an Eagle reporter visited the Brooklyn Heights Branch and saw no evidence of either homeless people or people watching porn. Although library staffers refused to answer questions about the stabbing incident, referring them to Carey, two uniformed library public safety officers – one of them a sergeant – were posted conspicuously near the front desk.

As for Neptune, a spokesman for the Kings County District Attorney’s Office told the Eagle he was still awaiting arraignment. At that time, he will likely be assigned or hire a lawyer.

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