By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
Mary Root says her pets somehow got loose from her yard several times. A neighbor took pictures of the dogs running down the street and reported her to Animal Control.
The agency slapped Root with a $7,000 fine or she could spend nearly a year in jail.
“I’m struggling to pay my house taxes. I couldn’t pay it. It’s a different thing when you leave your dogs out and you don’t care. But I do care,” Root said. But when the cancer survivor failed to show up at court on her doctor’s orders, a judge had Root arrested.
She was booked, fingerprinted and issued a striped jumpsuit. She waited to see a judge in a cell without her cancer medication.
“I sort of clutched my Bible. And was crying and went to sleep,” Root said.
Root’s defense attorneys asked the judge to let the senior citizen go. She had no previous criminal history and she was in failing health. The judge said no. Instead, he ordered her to pay a $2,500 bail. And if she was able to pay it and get out, then no animals would be allowed back on her property.
“[The judge] gave me the works. I feel like I’m a criminal, but yet I don’t feel like I’ve done anything,” Root said.
Her daughter, Vatina Gifford, was in court for the bail review hearing saying: “Watching your mother, barely able to walk, in prison stripes – she doesn’t deserve that,”
Then on the second night, a Good Samaritan paid the bond.
“There are very nice people out there. But then there are some people who are so struck on the strictness of the law. I don’t know whether maybe that needs to be looked at,” Root said.
But now she can’t go back to her home of 44 years. Under the judge’s orders, the dogs aren’t allowed. But Root says she can’t give them up.
“I love them,” she said. “I was planning on coming down on the dogs. But my dogs, they keep my company and I love them.”
Root says she’s had an outpouring of support from people in the community. In fact, there’s a petition asking lawmakers to make cases like this a little more lenient for senior citizens.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever be the same. I can’t pull myself back,” Root said.
Root says she was taking care of her daughter’s four dogs at the time of her arrest. A good Samaritan paid the $250 bond to get Root out of jail. She is now looking for good homes for the dogs
The callousness of nearly everyone in the system involved is disgraceful. That a neighbor would be so perturbed to take pictures of the dogs running and call animal control is probably the least. But what kind automaton does the county seek in an Animal Control Officer applicant to fulfill the agency’s need to nick an 81 year old disabled woman with criminal citations amounting to reportedly $7,000.00?
Then, what shining example can a judge be by not allowing for a continuance for a defendant, obviously ill in health and having a doctor’s order for her not to attend a trial at that time? Then, going so far to issue a bench warrant and remand her into custody in jail for two days without her cancer pills. This is unacceptable.
Even from a practical point of view most jails are not equipped and do not like to incarcerate inmates such as May. The judge knew this but instead chose retribution toward this frail great-grandmother.
This entire episode is a miscarriage of justice. The criminal justice system in Harford County should be ashamed of itself.
By Darren Smith
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