After spending two nights in jail in Lake County, Florida, on a trespassing charge filed when she refused to leave her apartment during an eviction, Juanita Fitzgerald was glad to spend her 94th birthday somewhere else.
Fitzgerald was placed in a Eustis patrol car Tuesday after repeatedly refusing to leave the lobby of Franklin House.
At one point, she reportedly told officers that if they wanted her to leave, they would have to "carry me out of here."
Fitzgerald, who turned 94 Friday, spoke to WFTV from jail before she was released on her own recognizance Thursday.
“There’s no reason for me to leave. Not one,” said Fitzgerald, who was sitting shackled in a wheelchair wearing an orange jumpsuit.
Fitzgerald said she lived at Franklin House, an affordable housing facility in Eustis, for nearly eight years.
She said she couldn’t understand why she was being evicted, but court records show she owed rent and would not pay.
Bodycam footage released by Eustis police shows officers taking a screaming Fitzgerald to jail. At one point, she slides out of her wheelchair onto the ground to avoid arrest.
Police said they offered Fitzgerald assistance from nearly a dozen agencies to avoid arresting her, but she refused, so they had no choice but to place her under arrest for trespassing.
Franklin House resident Dave Howell didn't understand why Fitzgerald was so resistant to accepting help.
"Everybody here has attempted to help her," he said. "And one thing's that unique (is) she refuses all help."
After spending two nights in jail, Fitzgerald said she’ll bounce back.
“I’m a born-again Christian and I’m spirit-filled,” she said.
Fitzgerald also said she would like to go back to Franklin House, if possible.
"Yeah, I'd go back there and live," she said. "You know, that's all the people I know."
Since she was released from jail, members of the community have offered support to Fitzgerald. They include a Mount Dora dentist who offered to make her a new set of dentures as a Christmas present.
She is currently staying in a Tavares hotel room, which is being paid for with donations.
Fitzgerald's story was shared extensively on social media, with several people offering to pay her $500 bond to get out of jail and many others saying they were working to find her a permanent place to live.
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