UPDATE: Library officials dismayed after sex offender accused of filming patrons
COLUMBIA - Prosecutors charged a man with sexual misconduct on Sunday after patrons at the Columbia Public Library said he was acting suspiciously.
The executive director of the library, Margaret Conroy, said a patron approached library staff and said his wife noticed a man, now identified as James Tharp, appeared to be filming people in the children's area.
Conroy said the staffer told the security guard and the guard identified Tharp.
The officer asked for and got permission to look at Tharp's phone. On it, he saw a video in which a woman at her desk and Tharp's genitals were both in frame. Tharp then reportedly told the officer he was videotaping girls.
Conroy said she is dismayed this happened at the library, but she can't totally control what happens in the library.
“We always try to have a good eye out, we can’t prevent things like this from happening entirely," Conroy said.
She said the security staff is experienced.
“We use off-duty cops for our security, we have guards on duty the entire time the library is open,” she said.
Conroy said her staff have all been trained to spot someone with suspicious behavior.
One concerned mother said she wishes libraries could ban sex offenders.
“As a mother, I would yes, I would like that, but I know it’s not possible to make that happen every place where there are kids,” Rachel Cassel said.
Cassel said she's never felt unsafe at the library, but now she'll be keeping even closer watch on her kids.
“You hear these stories and it does make you want pay a little bit more attention," she said.
Despite the incident, Cassel doesn't think this is the library's fault.
"I don't think it reflects badly on the library, the fact that we have an off duty cop is a good thing," she said.
Tharp is a registered sex offender. In July 2017, he pleaded guilty to exposing himself at the St. Louis Zoo, and in June 2018 he pleaded guilty in Morgan County to failing to register as a sex offender.
Tharp is also on probation for domestic violence and arson. In 2013, he was arrested after he set fire to a home while two people were inside.