An 85-year-old woman in Wetumpka, Alabama, was arrested and sentenced after "illegally" feeding stray cats and attempting to have some neutered for their own health. Beverly Roberts has spent her entire life rescuing cats and trying to help strays, but now those efforts have got her in hot water with law enforcement.
"A warning, an arrest, and a conviction all because maybe we were about to feed stray cats and because we were solving a feral cat problem that the city couldn't solve," Roberts says. Here's why she and her friend got arrested and what her lawyer has to say.
Roberts had several battles with law enforcement about the stray cats for several months leading up to her arrest. Roberts and her friend Mary Alston, 61, would feed stray cats by the courthouse dumpster in downtown Wetumpka. County officials turned up at Roberts' house three months before she was arrested to tell her she was no longer allowed to feed the stray cats and that her neighbors had been complaining about her adding to the cat population.
Roberts was baffled about being called a nuisance, as she believed she was actually helping to curb the feral cat population. "That's the most shocked I've ever been in my life," she said. "The arrest and the conviction were shocking, but nothing affected me as much as county officials not understanding that I am helping them solve the very problem they are blaming me for."
In Trouble With the Law
Roberts and Alston were planning on how to feed and neuter some stray cats on the morning of their arrest. They met at a wooded area away from the courthouse, and Roberts found Alston there with three police cars. The police reportedly told Alson to stay away from the area. When she got out of her car to talk to Roberts about how to neuter some cats they were concerned about, the police cars rushed back.
Arrested For Trespass
Body-cam footage from the Wetumpka Police Department shows the woman being arrested on June 25 in the wooded area away from the courthouse. Roberts was arrested for trespassing and for disorderly conduct, and Alston was arrested right after. Both women were taken to Elmore County Jail, where they were locked up for four hours. "I realize the gravity of the situation, but also appreciate the absurdity of it all," Roberts told The Washington Post.
After a court trial in front of Wetumpka Municipal Judge Jeff Courtney, Roberts was found guilty of criminal trespassing and disorderly conduct. On top of that, Alston was found guilty of criminal trespassing and interfering with governmental operations. According to the Post, Both women were sentenced to two years of unsupervised probation, $100 in fines, court costs, and a 10-day jail sentence that was suspended.
An Absurd Case
Roberts and Alston's lawyers are furious about the charges and say they will appeal them. "I have never seen or heard of a case more absurd than this," says her attorney William Shashy, a retired judge. "I was a lawyer for 20 years and a judge for 21, and I'm completely disappointed and shocked at this judgment… It doesn't matter if there are enough funds. We will be filing the appeal in a day or two."
Animal Rights Activist
Roberts and her lawyer believe the authorities are punishing her for her animal rights activism in the town. Roberts helped pass a law preventing people from tying their dogs up outside without shelter and now feels she is being taught a lesson for ruffling feathers. "I think when I made ruckus about the dogs, those in charge of the city saw me as a troublemaker," she said.
She and her lawyer are worried about the court system but determined to fight. "I feel horrible and disappointed about my clients, you know," Shashy says. "But it also hurts me to think what people will think of the court system after this case."