Despite widespread condemnation at the arrest and treatment of two Alabama women who were caring for a cat colony, a town judge found the women guilty after a trial Tuesday.
Beverly Roberts, 84, and Mary Alston, 60, were arrested on June 25 after a group of police officers pulled up to a park in three vehicles and ordered the women to leave.
Exasperated at the disproportionate police response — and the non-negotiable demand that they leave a public park during daylight hours — the women protested, and things grew heated when the police told them not to question their authority.
“I’m teetering on going to jail for feeding cats?” an incredulous Alston asked the officers in footage of the arrest, which was released by attorneys representing the women after they fought to obtain it from the Wetumpka Police Department.
Shortly afterward, one of the officers lost his patience when Alston said she needed to collect her traps before leaving.
“You aren’t doin’ it fast enough and now you’re going to jail!” he said, grabbing Alston by the wrists and yanking her out of her car.
The two women had tried explaining to the police that they were caring for a colony of stray cats and that they were using their own funds to conduct trap, neuter and return services, a common activity among cat lovers who care for strays and ferals in towns across the country. In most places, the authorities work with volunteers and local rescues, understanding that TNR programs help control cat populations.
Roberts wasn’t moving fast enough for the police either, and one officer jabbed a finger at her, raising his voice.
“It’s gonna get ugly if you don’t stop!” he said.
Despite complaints from across the country, widespread coverage in local media and national animal-related news sites, Wetumpka Police Chief Greg Benton doubled down on his officer’s response, insisting the cats are a “nuisance” and Roberts and Alston were making the situation worse by managing the colony.
During Tuesday’s municipal trial, it became clear why Wetumpka police had acted so aggressively: They were called by Wetumpka Mayor Jerry Willis, who saw Alston’s parked car near the park and directly phoned the assistant chief of police.
Despite that, and despite admitting he’d had arguments with the women in the past about managing the colony, Willis told Judge Jeff Courtney he didn’t tell the police to respond and didn’t order the arrests.
“They have a right to make those decisions,” Willis said. “I don’t make those decisions for them.”
When attorney Terry Luck directly asked Willis if he’d ordered the arrest or played any part in the trespass order, Willis simply said “I did not.”
However, Officer Jason Crumpton said under oath that the assistant chief told him and the other officers to arrest the women.
After Roberts said, per the Montgomery Advertiser, that she was “not the first person in Wetumpka to feed cats,” merely the first to get caught, Courtney said the women “weren’t convicted for feeding cats.”
“I know,” Roberts said, “because that’s not illegal!”
There are no laws against managing cat colonies or feeding cats in Wetumpka, so police charged Roberts with criminal trespassing and disorderly conduct, and Alston with criminal trespassing and interfering with governmental operations, a charge tantamount to resisting arrest in many states. The charges are misdemeanors. Courtney suspended the 10-day jail sentences that come with convictions at that level and sentenced Roberts and Alston to two years’ unsupervised probation, a $100 fine each and court costs.
Attorneys for Roberts and Alston say they plan to appeal.