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Havre de Grace woman jailed for dog fines gets support from New Jersey woman

Support continues to build for a Havre de Grace-area woman who was recently jailed for failing to pay fines and failing to show for a court date after being cited for allowing her dogs to get off her property.

The support for Mary Magdalene Root, 81, has extended outside of Maryland as the story of her incarceration spread throughout the country online; it has even appeared on the website of the Daily Mail, a British newspaper.

"I'm horrified by what happened, and I would like to come down and protest," Colleen Krol, 47, of Highland Lakes, N.J., said by telephone Wednesday.

Krol is a physician and animal activist who made headlines in New Jersey five years ago when she and fellow activists planned a protest outside the home of then-Gov. Jon Corzine to stop the killing of black bears by local police officers and state wildlife officers if the bears become a nuisance, according to http://www.nj.com.

"Here in New Jersey we seem to protest at the drop of a hat for causes we think are important," she said.

Krol said she has continued to protest for animal rights on the lawns of New Jersey legislators and governors.

She is considering traveling to Bel Air to protest the actions of Harford County District Court Judge Mimi Cooper, who ordered during a March 5 bail review hearing that Root should be held in the Harford County Detention Center on $2,500 bail.

Cooper also issued an order barring Root from keeping her seven dogs on her property in the 4100 block of Oak Drive, which is in the small community of Webster Village northwest of Havre de Grace.

Root was released March 6 after a stranger paid the 10 percent of her bond needed to release her. She has been living with her daughter, Vatina Gifford, in Cecil County, and the dogs are staying with them.

Gifford owns four of the dogs; Root was watching them for her until Gifford could find a place to live that is suitable for her and her pets.

Root, a widow, has claimed she cannot afford to pay the fines imposed by the county and was sick from multiple health issues, so she could not attend her previous court hearing.

Root is charged with seven counts of having a dog at large, as well as four dog license violations and another count of having a dog at large, which is part of a separate case. Both cases are scheduled to be heard April 9 in District Court, according to online court records.

A judge has not yet been assigned to her case on that day; assignments in some cases can change the day of the trial, District Court staff said Thursday.

Krol said Wednesday she is still planning her protest but hopes to be there when Root goes for trial. She is not sure if she will come alone or with others.

"This is crazy to arrest elderly women like this," she said of Root's case. "If the fine was that important the judge should have paid it herself."

Krol added: "You should step up and help, not hurt, especially if she's disabled and has financial issues. It's just a horrible thing they did to her."

Krol said she learned about Root's case through a New Jersey friend who saw a television news report on it on the CBS station serving the New Jersey-New York-Connecticut area.

"It seems slightly irrational to incarcerate her," Eileen Rowan, 73, of Paramus, N.J., said Wednesday.

Rowan said she told Krol about the case. Rowan said she "felt outraged" because of Root's situation with her health and finances.

"I personally think we're putting too many poor people in jail and incarcerating them, and we're not going after the people with money and power," she said.

Rowan said she thought Root's treatment was "very unfair."

"If I lived down there I would have given her whatever assistance I could have to avoid incarceration," she said of Root.

Her situation has also attracted support from people in the surrounding community, such as a company that offered to fix Root's fence, and a dog groomer who visited her in Cecil County and groomed several of the dogs for free.

A petition to have the charges against Root dropped has been posted on http://www.change.org, and more than 3,000 people have signed it.

The petition can be found at http://www.change.org/petitions/.

Early March was not, however, the first encounter Root or those close to her had recently with law enforcement.

Harford County sheriff's deputies had been to her Webster Village residence four times between October 2013 and January, according to Edward Hopkins, spokesman for the sheriff's office.

No one was arrested in any of the incidents, Hopkins said via e-mail Wednesday.

Deputies visited the home on Oct. 20, 2013 for a report of a theft. They determined it was the result of a dispute among family members, and those involved were referred to a District Court commissioner, according to Hopkins.

Hopkins explained that people will be referred to a court commissioner if one person wants to charge another with a crime.

"This is a common disposition when fights occur where it can't be determined who started it or both parties are responsible; civil matters; certain domestics and family disputes; thefts where the suspect is a friend or family member and known to the victim, etc.," he stated in his e-mail.

Deputies also visited on Nov. 7, 2013, Jan. 2 and Jan. 4 for domestic disputes; the deputies provided assistance to those involved during the November call, and they referred the people involved in the January calls to the court commissioner, Hopkins stated.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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