Charge dropped against 94-year-old woman arrested for not paying rent

Juanita Fitzgerald staying at hotel since release from Lake County Jail

LAKE COUNTY, Fla. – The criminal charge against a 94-year-old Eustis woman who was arrested after refusing to pay rent at an independent-living facility has been dropped, according to the Lake County officials.

Juanita Fitzgerald was arrested Tuesday on a trespassing charge and was held in the Lake County Jail until Thursday, when she was released on her own recognizance a day before her 94th birthday.

Karen Twinem, with National Church Residences, which owns the Franklin House where Fitzgerald has lived since April 2011, said Fitzgerald told the staff she held back rent for the past three months because she thought she was going to die soon.

Fitzgerald denied that claim, telling News 6 that she tried to pay October rent but was denied.

According to the Lake County Sheriff's Office, deputies responded to Franklin House in Eustis on Tuesday morning because Fitzgerald would not leave the property, despite being evicted.

Deputies said Fitzgerald ignored their commands to leave, resisted when they tried to escort her out of the lobby and pulled the glasses off one deputy's face.

“Unless you carry me out of here, I’m not going anywhere,” Fitzgerald said, according to the affidavit.

Body camera video from Fitzgerald's arrest showed her yelling out as authorities lifted her into the backseat of a patrol car to transport her to the Lake County Jail. She was not handcuffed.

A court document filed Monday did not list a reason as to why the trespassing charge was dropped.

Since News 6 first published a report about Fitzgerald on Thursday, her story has gone viral and countless people have offered their support for the nonagenarian.

Fitzgerald, who has been at a hotel in Tavares, said she doesn't need money and would likely give away any donations, but she could benefit from being able to stay in a small room somewhere and being given her belongings back, namely her Bible.

"I could probably get some more clothes. I'm not doing this for me. I'm doing this for God," Fitzgerald said.

Aid groups have been in contact with Fitzgerald, but no GoFundMe or crowd fundraising pages have been established.

About the Author: