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Misdemeanor leads to jailing of 91-year-old

Failure to appear in court on a trespassing charge leads to the woman's arrest, police say.

A 91-year-old St. Pete Beach woman spent her second night in the Pinellas County Jail on Thursday for failing to appear in court on a misdemeanor trespassing charge.

The arrest has outraged Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender Bob Dillinger, whose office was appointed on Thursday to represent Mary Ryan Stankus.

"It's absurd," Dillinger said. "No 91-year-old should be in jail on a misdemeanor charge. What did they do, cuff her and throw her in the back of a police cruiser? This just isn't right. It's not right at all."

St. Pete Beach police could provide no information about the arrest late Thursday.

Dillinger's office expects to win Stankus' release today. Stankus, who lives alone and apparently has no family in the area, will be released into the custody of a local assisted-living facility at least until a family member from Pennsylvania arrives.

Dillinger said the woman appeared confused at a brief court hearing on Thursday, and a judge did not want to release her immediately on her own recognizance for fear she might be incapable of caring for herself. A court-appointed doctor has ruled her incompetent, he said.

Assistant Public Defender Mike Bowdish said he doesn't think St. Pete Beach police handcuffed the woman or treated her unkindly.

"Some police officer just saw the warrant for her arrest and followed procedure quite literally," Bowdish said. "She hadn't appeared in court on a trespass charge, probably because she didn't know what was going on."

Bowdish said the original charge related to a trespassing complaint by a St. Pete Beach Publix supermarket. Details about the charge could not be obtained immediately.

Bowdish said the woman appeared at the same Publix again Wednesday morning. Publix called police, he said. When officers responded, they found Stankus walking nearby, checked her on their computer and discovered the outstanding warrant.

He said the jail is keeping her away from the general inmate population. Stankus is being kept in a medical wing of the jail until her expected release today.

"Everybody is very concerned about her," Bowdish said. "She's very mobile. She talks fine. She walks fine. She's just a little bit confused. I guess neighbors were watching after her."

Dillinger said police should have allowed her to go home, and she never should have been arrested on such a trivial charge.

"Police are already arresting the mentally ill," he said. "Are they going to start jailing the elderly, too?"