Tag: Beverly Roberts

Alabama Cat Ladies Raise $85k For Legal Appeal, Plan To File Civil Suit

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.

bravecop
A Wetumpka police officer wags a finger at Roberts, who was 84 years old at the time, before handcuffing her hands behind her back and rifling through her personal possessions.

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.”

Alabama Women Who Fed And Trapped Cats Found Guilty Despite National Outcry Over Their Arrest

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.

Wetumpka cat arrests
A police officer pulls Alston from her car on June 25 before arresting her for trespassing.

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.