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5 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. Westerly

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Judge finds homeless woman to be incompetent to stand trial

WAKEFIELD — A 48-year-old woman’s battle to live untethered by municipal rules came to an abrupt end last week after a District Court judge found her incompetent to stand trial on a felony charge of desecration of places of public assemblage. The woman, Mary Russo, is accused of pouring a container of urine onto the floor of the Richmond police station last month. She is being held at the Institute of Mental Health in Cranston.

Russo has steadfastly maintained that she is homeless by choice and has persistently battled local officials in her fight to remain living in a tent with her two cats, mountains of books, and no sanitary facilities. She managed to grab showers at the local YMCA, was well fed and rode a bike for transportation.

Russo has refused the help of social service agency workers, judges and concerned people she has met along the way — in court, at the YMCA, in the grocery store. She has said that she is satisfied with her lifestyle. Last month, she was close to a compromise with court officials that would have allowed her to live at a longterm residential facility. She balked when she learned that her cats would not be allowed to accompany her.

She had also refused judges’ requests that she undergo mental health counseling, part of the authorities’ efforts to steer her into a program that mighty help her find housing and employment. Last week, however — when Russo was faced with a felony charge — it was disclosed in court that she had undergone a mental health evaluation. On that basis, Judge Madeline Quirk deemed her incompetent to stand trial on the Aug. 6, Richmond police charges. In that incident, the police said Russo walked into the station, which also houses the Richmond Senior Center, on Main Street in Wyoming at 9:55 a.m., and moments later poured a “pungent smelling liquid substance (containing urine),” on the floor next to the stairwell leading to the center and immediately left the scene. Police said her actions were captured on surveillance videos and were seen by a witness.

Police Chief Elwood M. Johnson Jr. said the substance, considered a biohazardous material, required professional cleaning services. Russo was also charged with disorderly conduct and malicious damage, both misdemeanors.

Russo had been issued several no-trespassing orders after she pitched her tent on private property at 7 Kingstown Road in Richmond. Russo insisted the property was state-owned, but town officials and police said it was owned by George Card, who wanted her off his land.

She has been in and out of prison after failing to post the required bail for the trespassing charges, usually $100. At other times she has been released on a promise to appear in court.

In January, Quirk warned Russo to “keep the peace and be of good behavior” when she dismissed the latest charges against her. She had been charged with throwing a rock through the window of the Richmond Animal Control Center, where her cats were being kept after she was removed from the Card property. Police said she was probably trying to free her cats from the facility.

Before her removal to the Institute of Mental Health, Russo was said to have been living on state-owned property in Richmond, with her cats. Town officials waived the fee for the cats’ previous stay at the animal shelter. There is no indication that state officials had asked her to move from her location when the most recent arrest occurred.

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