85-year-old man convicted of disorderly conduct after feeding feral cats


Eighty-five-year-old Beverly Roberts felt nervous as she walked into court in Wetumpka, Alabama on Tuesday. But at the end of a 5.5-hour trial, when the judge found Roberts guilty of criminal trespassing and disorderly conduct, the elderly woman who had been arrested while sitting in her car was no longer nervous. She felt shock and disappointment.

Her friend Mary Alston, 61, had also been convicted of criminal trespassing and interfering with government operations by Wetumpka City Judge Jeff Courtney.

The women were sentenced to two years of unsupervised probation, a $100 fine plus court costs and 10 days in jail – the jail term was later suspended.

“I realize the seriousness of the situation, but I also appreciate the absurdity of it all,” Roberts told The Washington Post.

Roberts received a warning from county officials to stop feeding cats in downtown Wetumpka near the courthouse dumpster in March. Three months later, she and Alston were arrested in a wooded area away from the courthouse dumpster as they discussed how to feed, trap and neuter cats to control the city’s feral cat population. city.

“A warning, an arrest, and a conviction, all because we may have been about to feed stray cats and because we were solving a feral cat problem that the city couldn’t solve,” Roberts said.

Body camera footage from the Wetumpka Police Department, obtained by Al.com, shows three police cars and officers arresting the women.

“I have never seen or heard of a more absurd case than this,” William Shashy, Roberts’ attorney and retired judge, told The Post. “I was a lawyer for 20 years and a judge for 21 years, and I am completely disappointed and shocked by this judgment.”

Alston’s attorney, Terry Luck, described the verdict as “a complete overreach for the town of Wetumpka”. He told the Post that the city’s claim that the women were promoting the cat population is “ignorant” given that the women were doing the work the city hadn’t.

Both attorneys believe the arrest and sentencing were prompted in part because Roberts “created noise in the city for animal rights” and “ruffled many feathers over the years,” Shashy said, who came out of retirement to defend Roberts’ case.

A few years ago, Roberts helped pass an ordinance prohibiting citizens from chaining their dogs outside without shelter. “I think when I rowded about the dogs, city officials saw me as a troublemaker,” she said.

The two lawyers are determined to appeal the conviction. “It doesn’t matter if there are enough funds. We’ll file the appeal in a day or two,” Shashy said.

This wasn’t Roberts’ first encounter with authorities regarding stray felines. In March, about three months before her arrest, county officials showed up at Roberts’ home and told her that people had complained that she was feeding stray cats and that they were accusing her of being a nuisance and aggravate the problem of stray cats in the city. Roberts was no longer allowed to feed and trap cats near the downtown courthouse dumpsters.

“It’s the most shocked I’ve ever been in my life,” she said. “The arrest and conviction were shocking, but nothing affected me more than county officials not understanding that I was helping them solve the very problem they blamed me for.”

Both Roberts and Alston were arrested on June 25 in a steep, wooded area near downtown Wetumpka but far from the courthouse dumpsters.

On the morning of the arrest, there were two cats on Roberts’ mind. She knew she had to feed them and castrate them as soon as possible, she said.

As she was thinking about the cats, Alston phoned Roberts, who was already in the wooded area with cat food and traps. Then the cut line. Roberts became concerned and immediately drove to find Alston, she said.

When Roberts arrived, Alston told her that three police cars had stopped and told Alston that she should not return to that area.

While Roberts stayed in her car, Alston walked up to discuss how to feed the cats and trap the unneutered ones without Alston having to “go back to that area.” Then the three police cars rushed in with their headlights on, according to Roberts.

At the hearing last week, Roberts’ lawyer asked a police office on the stand how many cars were patrolling Wetumpka on a Saturday morning. “He said about three or four, which means they sent all their strength to take care of two elderly women,” Shashy said.

The police arrested Roberts first. They said county officials told her to stop feeding the cats near the courthouse dumpsters and she was a trespasser, Shashy said. However, the area where the two women were arrested is a street and a hill away from the original trespassing location.

The disorderly conduct charge came when Roberts became upset to learn she couldn’t give Alston her car keys. She slammed the keys into the officer’s hands and referred to him with an expletive, according to police body camera footage of the incident.

Alston was arrested moments later, and the two women were taken to the Elmore County Jail, where they remained for at least four hours, Roberts said.

Roberts grew up loving and nurturing cats. She remembers that every few months she would come home with a new stray cat and her mother would give up in frustration. “Please no more, my mother would say,” Roberts recalled.

Currently, Roberts has six cats in her home and a feral cat that she is trying to tame.

Roberts grew up in Montgomery, but later moved away. She has a master’s degree in criminal justice and has worked in the prison system for years. In the 1970s, Roberts was one of the first women to serve in the Alabama National Guard. In 2005, when Roberts moved to Wetumpka, she received the honor of retiring from the military as a sergeant major.

Once settled in Wetumpka, she noticed the hungry cats and started feeding them. She met Alston while helping with the ordinance against chaining dogs. “Mary taught me a lot about trapping and neutering cats, and we teamed up and started doing it together to help the city,” she said.

In the past year, Roberts said, she has trapped at least 23 cats and spent more than $1,000 of her personal finances to neuter them. Only two of the cats had to be released into the wooded area. The others were adopted, she said.

Roberts and his attorney said the experience left them worried about the justice system.

“I feel horrible and let down by my clients, you know,” Shashy said. “But it also pains me to think about what people will think of the justice system after this case.”