Two women who managed a cat colony in their Alabama hometown — and were rewarded with an infamously tone-deaf arrest and criminal conviction for their efforts — have raised $85,000 for their appeal.
This time, their fate won’t be decided by a small-time judge appointed by the same mayor who ordered police to arrest the women in the first place.
Mary Alston and Beverly Roberts of Wetumpka, Ala., were arrested on June 25 after three police cars pulled up and four officers surrounded them on public land, demanding they stop their efforts to trap feral cats and leave the area immediately.
Alston and Roberts, who were in disbelief that four officers had been dispatched and were treating them like hardened criminals, didn’t move fast enough for the cops, who berated them and placed them both in handcuffs before charging them with a pair of misdemeanors each.
Their attorneys fought for months to obtain a copy of the police body camera videos of the arrest, and when they finally obtained that copy, it became apparent why the Wetumpka Police Department fought to keep it out of their hands.
The footage shows officers warning the women the confrontation was “going to get ugly,” insulting them and joking that they were “a bunch of cops beatin’ up on some old ladies.” It showed the police escalated the situation and had little regard for two women who were doing their hometown a service by managing a stray cat colony and conducting TNR — trap, neuter, return — to prevent the cats from breeding and multiplying.
They were convicted in a December trial that was followed by local and national media.
Now Roberts, 85, and Alston, 61, have raised $85,195 for their appeal via GoFundMe, with more than 3,000 donors across the US contributing to the fund.
After filing an appeal on Dec. 19, the women have been notified that their first hearing is set for Feb. 23 in front of 19th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Amanda Baxley, said Mary King, Roberts’ daughter. Baxley was sworn in earlier this month and begins her tenure on Jan. 17 after she was elected to the post in November.
In a December trial, attorneys for Alston and Roberts revealed it was Wetumpka Mayor Jerry Willis who personally dispatched the officers by calling the assistant chief after spotting Alston’s car parked near a wooded area owned by the county. The lawyers also questioned Willis on his history of feuding with the pair on animal-related issues.
Although Willis testified that he did not tell police to arrest the women, Officer Jason Crumpton testified that he was indeed instructed to make the arrests before he arrived and determined what the women were doing.
Despite the fact that Wetumpka does not have laws against feeding or trapping cats, municipal Judge Jeff Courtney, who is directly employed by the town instead of being answerable to voters, found Alston and Roberts guilty of two misdemeanors each, sparking an outcry in local and national media. Courtney found Roberts guilty of trespassing and disorderly conduct, while he found Alston guilty of trespassing and interfering with governmental operations, an analogue for resisting arrest.
“I thought that they surely had more pressing issues to attend to,” Roberts told PITB in December. “I really thought the judge would dismiss it and tell the city to work it out.”
The arrest and conviction were widely panned by observers, including Alabama Political Reporter’s Josh Moon, who called the drama an “utterly absurd” spectacle that “reeks of small town politics.”
Roberts and Alston hope Baxley will give them a fair trial, which they believe they did not receive under Courtney in Wetumpka.
In the meantime, the colony cats in Wetumpka remain on their own. Willis, who has not responded to requests for comment by PITB, allegedly rejected offers by animal welfare groups in neighboring towns to care for the cats.
“We are very worried about them,” Roberts told PITB last month. “A few animal lovers have said they would help, but we are not sure this will happen. I’m not sure there is enough food available to hunt. The weather is getting colder, and they need protein.”