Tag: police

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.

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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.”

Who Freed Dallas Zoo’s Clouded Leopard? Cops Say Cat’s Enclosure Was Intentionally Breached

A clouded leopard who went missing from her enclosure was intentionally let loose according to police, who have opened a criminal investigation.

The medium-size wildcat, whose species is native to the foothills of the Himalayas, escaped from her enclosure some time between late Thursday night and Friday morning, prompting a zoo-wide shutdown and a massive coordinated search. During that time, zoo staff emphasized to local press — and in social media posts — that clouded leopards are not aggressive toward people and the escaped cat wasn’t a threat.

She was eventually found safe and unharmed on zoo grounds, hiding in a tree not far from her enclosure, at about 4:40 p.m. on Friday. She was secured within 35 minutes, zoo officials told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

But that’s not the end of the saga. Zoo staff say the leopard, a three-year-old named Nova, didn’t escape on her own — a person or persons breached the two-story exhibit by cutting through the mesh fence. Nova’s sister, Luna, lives in the same enclosure and did not leave the area.

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A clouded leopard. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Now investigators are trying to determine if the people responsible for breaching the enclosure were committing an act of vandalism or intended to take the 25-pound wildcat.

“We found a suspicious opening in the habitat wall in front of the exhibit,” a Dallas Zoo official told reporters on Friday afternoon. “It was clear that this opening was not exhibit failure and it wasn’t keeper error.”

Police are reviewing surveillance footage and looking for clues in the 106-acre zoological park, which is located about three miles south of downtown Dallas and is home to more than 2,000 animals.

“It is their (Dallas Zoo officials’) belief and it is our belief that this was an intentional act, so we have started a criminal investigation,” Sgt. Warren Mitchell of the Dallas Police Department said.

Harrison Edell, vice president of animal care and conservation at the Dallas Zoo, warned against anyone attempting to steal zoo animals.

“This is a cat of conservation concern,” Edell said. “This is not a pet — she’s a critically important member of our family at Dallas Zoo.”

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Clouded leopards diverged from a common ancestor shared with big cats, but typically don’t grow to more than 30 or 40 pounds. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
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There are fewer than 10,000 clouded leopards left in the wild. In captivity, the wildcats live for 11 years on average. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Sunday Cats: RIP P-22, Beloved Cali Puma, Plus: Cat Lady Hot Takes

When the puma known as P-22 made headlines a month ago for snatching a pet Chihuahua off his leash on a post-sundown walk, a lot of people were concerned the mountain lion would be put down or hunted in retaliation.

The dog’s owner admitted he was distraught, but also pleaded with the public not to harm the puma, who after all was just being a cat. P-22 didn’t know pet dogs are off-limits, and he showed no aggression toward the other dog or the man walking the pooches. He was hunting after dark, like pumas do.

Sadly, P-22 is now dead, although there does not appear to be a connection to the Chihuahua incident.

Late on Monday morning, Sarah Picchi of Los Feliz opened her door to find fish and wildlife officers on her property. She knew why they were there, as she’d spotted the cougar in her backyard.

“Of course, I knew it was P-22 because I’ve been following the story,” she told the Associated Press.

P-22, who was described by the National Park Service as “a remarkably old cat in the wild” at 12 years old, was showing signs of distress. Veterinarians who have been tracking and protecting California cougars for 20 years tranquilized P-22 and gave him a veterinary examination after receiving reports that he may have been hit by a car on Sunday night.

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P-22 when he was healthy, right, and just a few days ago when he was suffering from infections and a fractured skull, left.

Unfortunately it looks like he was indeed hit. The beloved mountain lion, who had famously crossed his state’s busiest highways in his younger days to find a range of his own, suffered a skull fracture, an unnamed skin condition and signs of kidney and liver disease.

Veterinarians said the only option, at his advanced age and in his condition, was to place him in a sanctuary where he could be constantly monitored and cared for, but that’s a dicey proposition for a proud animal who spent his entire life fending for himself, hunting and going where he pleased. P-22 would not have recovered, they said, and would have had poor quality of life even if he lived out his remaining days in captivity.

Ultimately they made the difficult decision to euthanize him this week.

Again, there’s no indication any of the misfortune to befall P-22 had anything to do with the Chihuahua incident, although the driver who hit him without reporting the injury made a selfish choice. It’s not clear if earlier treatment could have saved P-22, but it may have saved him significant suffering.

The famous cat, who called some of Los Angeles’ most well-known neighborhoods home, leaves behind a legacy that includes books and documentaries on his incredible life and journey from southern California to his eventual home in LA. Rest in peace, big guy.

Scroll down to the bottom of this post for more photos and a link to the National Park Service’s tribute to P-22.

Wetumpka will pay the price for petty politics

Reader Leah of Catwoods fame brought our attention to this excellent analysis of the situation in Wetumpka, a town in her home state of Alabama that is now best known for extremely aggressive police officers arresting two women for the “crime” of managing a cat colony.

The women, Beverly Roberts and Mary Alston, were found guilty of two misdemeanors each earlier this week in Wetumpka municipal court. (They also spoke to PITB on Friday, discussing their plans to appeal and their worries about the health and safety of the colony cats.)

The column, by Alabama Political Reporter’s Josh Moon, echoes our own thoughts on the scandal, pointing out the petty nature of the arrests and prosecution:

It’s so utterly absurd. And to be quite honest, it reeks of small town politics. It smells suspiciously like some thin-skinned city official got peeved because some ladies had the gall to question him, and he decided to flex a little muscle, show those little gals where the power lies. 

And, lo and behold, in court on Tuesday, one major line of questioning revolved around whether Mayor Jerry Willis had told Wetumpka PD to arrest one of the cat ladies, because she had been continuously critical of the city’s animal control policies and practices. Willis, under oath, denied ordering her arrest. Testimony from a lieutenant from Wetumpka PD sure seemed to indicate that some sort of directive had come from the mayor’s office. 

Regardless, bodycam footage of the cops’ interactions with Roberts and Alston show an impressive response – three cop cars and four officers – to a call about a lady possibly feeding cats. On a roadside. With no businesses nearby. Near a wooded area. With plenty of space off to the side so traffic wasn’t impeded. On public property. 

As we did, Moon noted Alston and Roberts weren’t breaking any laws by being on public property, and there are no laws in Wetumpka prohibiting feeding stray cats.

And it’s not about feeding stray cats, as Willis claimed in his court testimony. Alston and Roberts were providing a service to Wetumpka, at their own expense, because they love animals. Trap, neuter, return is a proven process that limits and ultimately reduces stray cat populations, and does so in a humane way. Prohibiting the women from managing the cat colony will only make the problem worse as the felines mate and stray further afield looking for food, a fact that Willis and town officials don’t seem to appreciate.

Moon wrote:

A city with a decent government would have worked with Alston and Roberts. It would have given them awards for spending their days performing this public service for free. It would have explored ways to expand the very good thing they were doing. 

He quoted attorney Terry Luck, who represented the women, saying “Wetumpka is a laughingstock” for arresting Alston and Roberts, blatantly lying about the reasons and the sequence of events leading up to the arrests, and doubling down on prosecuting them even as the story spread nationally and people understandably shook their heads in disbelief at the insanity of it all.

The small-town trial, Moon noted, was covered by reporters from across the state and from national media outlets. Body camera footage of the arrests fueled public outrage, as officers treated Alston and Roberts like hardened criminals and even laughed at the idea that they were “a bunch of cops beatin’ up on some old ladies.” That’s not what you want your town to be known for.

“The city will pay a hefty price for the bad PR,” Moon wrote. “And the whole time, doing the right thing was free.”

Tribute to P-22

We leave you now with some photos and images that can only hint at how much P-22, the lion of Hollywood, was beloved by the people of LA. He was the subject of at least four books, two documentary movies, various festivals and fundraisers for protecting his kind, and his face graces innumerable posters, t-shirts and pins. Here’s how the National Park Service described the big guy:

Likely born in the Santa Monica Mountains as the son of adult male P-1, he somehow found his way to his tiny, nine-square-mile home in Griffith Park, separated from the Santa Monicas by the 101 and 405, two of the busiest freeways in the world. Defying expectations, he persisted for more than 10 years in the smallest home range that has ever been recorded for an adult male mountain lion.

Although he made frequent appearances on the streets of the Hollywood Hills and even, more recently, of the Silver Lake neighborhood, he was also clearly a wild cat, doing so mostly late at night, and subsisting largely on natural prey such as deer and coyotes.

In the end, he found his way into many Angelenos’ hearts and home surveillance camera footage.

 

‘We Never Broke Any Laws’: In Disbelief Over Their Conviction, Alabama Cat Ladies Vow To Appeal

They’d been treated like hardened criminals and insulted by the same police officers who were supposed to protect them, but Beverly Roberts and Mary Alston didn’t think they’d be convicted.

Not for taking care of cats.

“I felt it was very unlikely that we would be found guilty,” Alston told PITB, “with all of the evidence that we had on our side with the body camera footage, and we never broke any laws.”

Roberts and Alston were arrested on June 25, when a trio of police cars pulled up and officers from the Wetumpka, Alabama, police department confronted them. Police body camera footage shows the women, who had been caring for a colony of stray cats, were surprised by the tone and impatience of the officers.

What they didn’t know was that Wetumpka Mayor Jerry Willis was the one who’d in effect dispatched the officers to the small wooded lot owned by Elmore County, grounds that are open to the public. They didn’t know that the officers — who warned the confrontation was “going to get ugly,” told the women they’re “too old to be acting this way” and later joked that they were “a bunch of cops beatin’ up on some old ladies” — were told by the assistant chief of police to arrest them after Willis spotted Alston’s parked car and called the assistant chief directly.

On Tuesday, despite the fact that Willis’ role was revealed during a trial, and despite the fact that Wetumpka has no laws against managing cat colonies or conducting “trap, neuter, return” activities, Alston and Roberts were convicted of a pair of misdemeanors each. Lacking laws to charge them directly, the authorities instead accused the women of trespassing on public land and being uncooperative with the officers.

“That’s what I kept going back to – that feeding and trapping cats is not illegal,” Roberts told PITB. “I was not in the location I was [accused of trespassing], and I was sitting in my car talking to my friend. I was not feeding cats.”

During the trial, Willis and the police argued that they’d already told Alston and Roberts to stop interacting with the cats, and said the pair chose to ignore earlier warnings to stay away from the stray colony. They reiterated their view that the colony is a nuisance.

Roberts said she’s had her disagreements with Willis in the past about the way the town handles animal-related issues, but says Wetumpka’s animal control officer gave her and Alston his blessing to manage the cat colony at their own expense. The animal control officer confirmed that during the Tuesday trial. Public-private partnerships to care for stray cats are common in towns and cities across the US, with many elected leaders welcoming the opportunity to work with local rescues and volunteers.

Roberts and Alston say they plan to appeal their conviction, hoping a county judge will see the charges as “politically motivated” accusations. They pointed out that Wetumpka municipal Judge Jeff Courtney is employed directly by the town, not elected to the post by voters, and they believe they’re more likely to get a fair shake when the people deciding their fate aren’t serving at the pleasure of the people making the accusations.

In the meantime, the cat colony remains in Wetumpka, and the cats haven’t been cared for since late June.

“We are very worried about them,” Roberts told PITB. “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.”

Since the terms of the sentencing include two years’ probation, Alston and Roberts are prohibited from caring for the strays. Alston noted the irony of local authorities claiming TNR was exacerbating a “nuisance” while, in the absence of care and neutering, the free felines “are left to go hungry and continue to multiply and branch out searching for food.”

Roberts says she still finds it hard to believe Wetumpka officials refused to compromise or find a way to establish cooperative care for a community problem.

“I thought that they surely had more pressing issues to attend to,” she said. “I really thought the judge would dismiss it and tell the city to work it out.”

Top image credit Wikimedia Commons

 

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.