Just days before her 94th birthday, an elderly woman received a knock at her door only to be placed in handcuffs and taken to jail. Disturbingly, she soon realized that she was being arrested and charged all because she refused the property owner’s offer.
Just days before her 94th birthday, Juanita Fitzgerald answered a knock at her apartment in the Eustis senior home. Shockingly, it was the Eustis Police Department, and they were tasked with an order to remove the elderly woman with nothing more than the shirt on her back.
Panicked and confused, Fitzgerald refused to go peacefully, crying and resisting when the officers attempted to place her in handcuffs. Disturbingly, it was a spokesperson for the senior home who later admitted that it was because of an offer the pensioner refused.
A society’s success and progress can be determined by evaluating how it treats its most vulnerable citizens. While innocent children should be of the highest priority, the elderly likewise top the list of individuals whose preservation is crucial to a prosperous and civil community.
Sadly, thanks to our own self-interests, we often forget about our elders and everything they have to offer, including a lifetime of wisdom, support, and sacrifice. This negligence brings out the worst in us, exposing the flaw in a one-size-fits-all society.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, Franklin House spokeswoman Karen Twinem admitted that they called the police to forcibly remove the elderly tenet after she refused help from agencies to pay her $161-per-month rent. Twinem explained that, after Fitzgerald failed to pay rent one month and later only offered half of what she owed, they made the decision to evict her.
The situation turned chaotic when Fitzgerald refused to leave her home with police, lamenting that she had nowhere else to go. The frail and elderly woman was literally dragged into a patrol cruiser when she abandoned her walker and refused to move from the concrete in the parking lot. She was subsequently placed in cuffs and taken to Lake County Jail, where she was charged with trespassing.
During an interview with WCMH, Fitzgerald wears an orange jumpsuit and restlessly fidgets with her handcuffs, showcasing massive purple bruises all over her forearms. When asked if she needs help paying her rent, Fitzgerald heart-wrenchingly replies, “No honey,” explaining that the property manager has been trying to get her evicted for years.
“Everything I got’s gone,” she cried. “I don’t have anybody. My family’s in Tennessee.”
A woman who lives at the facility showed no sympathy for Fitzgerald’s plight, insisting that the elderly resident put herself in that situation. She explained that it’s Fitzgerald’s pride and stubbornness that landed her in jail.
“It is what it is about her being there,” resident Terri Goldberg said. “I know there’s lots of mixed feelings about it. I, for one, feel like we offered her all the help that we could offer her and she refused.”
Thankfully, the trespassing charge against Fitzgerald was later dropped. The State Attorney’s Office was disturbed by the body camera footage worn by police, admitting that “criminal prosecution wasn’t warranted.” Still, because of her combative behavior, Fitzgerald was committed for a mental examination to determine if she is capable of caring for herself. Expectedly, the elderly woman is once again refusing assistance, fearing that the agencies will rob her of her independence and freedom.
“Especially after what’s been done to her, she is petrified of anything that has to do with DCF [state Department of Children of Families] or LifeStream Behavioral Center,” said Marie Braithwaite, 38, one of the few people Fitzgerald has agreed to accept help from.
However, arrested officers maintained that they followed protocol and took appropriate action in response to Fitzgerald’s behavior. Eustis Police Department defended their actions, saying in a statement that “since all available options were refused by Ms. Fitzgerald, who appeared to have the mental capacity to form and make her own decisions, the officers had no alternative but to take Fitzgerald into custody.”
Once her story went viral, GoFundMe pages were quickly established in order to help pay for her $500 bond, allowing her to go free. She was subsequently picked up by a friend and moved into a motel. She has since contacted her daughter, who is in her 70s and lives in Tennessee.
Independence and respect are vital to elderly residents like Fitzgerald. The sense of freedom is what keeps them going and extends their lives. While we can’t necessarily expect the property manager to allow her to live rent-free, it’s safe to say that calling the police on a vulnerable old woman wasn’t the best course of action. Incredibly, it hasn’t dampened her indomitable spirit.