Body cam of two cat ladies being arrested for trespassing were found guilty on all four charges
Two women charged with misdemeanors after tangling with Wetumpka police over the feeding of the city's stray cat population were found guilty on all four charges Tuesday.
City Judge Jeff Courtney sentenced Beverly Roberts, 85, and Mary Alston, 61, each to two years of unsupervised probation and 10 days in jail. The jail sentence was suspended. They were also ordered to each pay $100 in fines, plus court costs.
Roberts was found guilty of criminal trespassing and disorderly conduct. Alston was convicted of criminal trespassing and interfering with governmental operations.
The judge's decision came after a five-and-a-half hour trial Tuesday in Elmore County. Defense attorneys for the two women say they will appeal the verdict to circuit court and demand a jury trial. They have 14 days to do so.
Defense attorneys Terry Luck and William Shashy took a two-pronged defense, arguing the criminal trespass charges were invalid because feeding stray cats isn't against the law in Wetumpka. And since the original charge should be deemed invalid, the follow-up charges of disorderly conduct and obstructing governmental operations would be baseless. They also alleged that Wetumpka Mayor Jerry Willis ordered Roberts' arrest because she had a history of making complaints about animal welfare matters in the city.
Willis, called as a defense witness, denied involvement.
"Did you order the arrest of Beverly Roberts?" Luck asked Willis.
"No," the mayor said.
"Did you play any part in the trespass order for Mrs. Roberts?" Luck followed up.
"I did not," Willis answered.
The women were known to local officials for feeding and trapping stray cats in the city. The women paid to neuter the cats and then have them adopted or returned to the area where they were trapped. Their efforts were done to reduce the population of stray cats, defense attorneys argued.
The case has received national attention from animal rights groups that say the treatment of the women was unduly harsh given the circumstances.
On the morning of June 25, Alston was questioned by police while sitting in her car in a downtown vacant lot owned by Elmore County. Roberts arrived at the site later.
Police told Alston to leave the site, saying the city didn't want her feeding cats. Both women noted that feeding the cats on public property was not illegal, but their disagreement with police escalated. Both women were arrested on misdemeanor charges, handcuffed and taken to the Elmore County Jail.
Roberts, Alston and their attorneys have said the pair was targeted, harassed and roughed up by the responding officers. Police Chief Greg Benton previously told the Montgomery Advertiser that the arrests were by the book and that the women had been warned “repeatedly” to stop feeding stray cats.
Luck has said officers' “physical abuse” of Roberts and Alston never should have occurred. Both women complained about getting bruises on their arms and around their wrists during the arrests.
Testimony in the marathon hearing was often confusing. Roberts was trespassed in March from grounds of the Elmore County Courthouse downtown for attempting to feed cats and trap them.
Richie Beyer, chief operations officer for the county, testified that feeding the cats attracts more cats and other animals, including buzzards, that then damaged county and privately owned vehicles in the county-owned parking lot where the feeding and attempted trapping took place.
The defense argued that the area where the women were arrested in June was outside the area of the courthouse property proper. The wooded area, near the intersection of Hill and Ready streets, is about a block away from the courthouse, but the parcel is owned by the county.
Alston was trespassed from the lot early on June 25, Wetumpka police officers told her, because she was creating a nuisance by feeding and trapping the cats. Officers returned about a half-hour later to find Alston still at the lot retrieving a trap. By then, Roberts had joined her.
Body camera footage of the incident shows three Wetumpka Police Department marked patrol vehicles responding to the call.
Officer Jason Crumpton testified under examination by prosecutor Brad Ekdahl that he "had no intentions" of arresting the women when he returned to the area the second time. He said the women gave him no choice but to arrest them after they failed to follow directions to leave the area.
Crumpton said four units were on patrol that morning in Wetumpka.
On cross examination by Luck, Crumpton testified that the department's assistant chief called and told him to arrest Roberts for feeding cats. When Luck asked who gave the order to the assistant chief, Crumpton said, "By second-hand knowledge, the mayor called the assistant chief" before the assistant chief called officers to arrest Roberts.
Ekdahl then halted the officer's testimony, saying it was hearsay evidence and not admissible.
Terrance Sutton, animal control officer for Wetumpka, testified for the defense, saying he was present when Wetumpka Police Lt. Ella Roberts, no relation, informed Beverly Roberts at her home in March of her being trespassed from the courthouse property. Sutton said Beverly Roberts appeared to understand that she was not to return to the courthouse property.
Sutton said he told Beverly Roberts to go elsewhere to feed cats, and told Luck he didn't consider the lot on Hill and Ready streets as courthouse property.
William Shashy, a retired Montgomery County Circuit Judge with more than 20 years on the bench, gave a closing argument, calling the case politically motivated.
"There's a lot of politics swirling around here today," he told Courtney. "You're under a lot of pressure, I understand. I was under pressure, too, a lot of times. When I was circuit judge I always went back to the law, and upholding the law."
Shashy then appeared to question Courtney's courage for upholding the law.
"Have the courage to let everybody in the city of Wetumpka know that when they come into your courtroom, you will follow the law," Shashy said, wrapping up.
Alston and Roberts did not testify.
Courtney gave the women the opportunity to comment after the verdicts and sentences were handed down. Roberts raised her hand.
"I'm not the first person in Wetumpka to feed cats," she said. "People were doing it long before me. I just got caught."
"You weren't convicted for feeding cats," Courtney answered.
"I know, because that's not illegal!" Roberts shot back.