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Alabama District Attorney Dismisses Criminal Charges for Nonpayment of Trash Bills

District Attorney will no longer criminally prosecute residents for nonpayment

VALLEY, Ala. — Following an investigation by the Southern Poverty Law Center  (SPLC), Alabama’s Fifth Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office has dismissed all cases involving nonpayment of trash fees in Valley, Alabama. The District Attorney’s announcement ends a practice that has led to hundreds of residents being arrested over the last two decades.

“I was contacted by the SPLC, read their position on it and I agreed,” said Mike Segrest, district attorney of Alabama’s Fifth Judicial Circuit. “I think if you're right you're right, and this was something that was unconstitutional, and it needed to be addressed. So, we felt like it was necessary.”

In January 2023, SPLC sent a letter to District Attorney Segrest expressing concern about his office’s practice of criminally prosecuting residents for falling behind on garbage bills. The letter asked Segrest, who took office on January 17, 2023, to dismiss all open charges against Valley residents for nonpayment of garbage bills, exercise his discretion not to prosecute residents in the future and request the district court to waive all outstanding court costs and fees for residents that have been previously convicted of nonpayment.

SPLC’s investigation identified over 800 people that had been criminally prosecuted for nonpayment of garbage bills over the last two decades. Of those cases, 63% of arrests for nonpayment were of Black residents and 40% of those arrests were of Black women. 

One of those residents was Nortasha Jackson, a 49-year-old grandmother and homeowner in Valley, Alabama, who was arrested the Saturday after Thanksgiving for an overdue $85 garbage bill. SPLC successfully moved to have her charges dismissed earlier this year after filing a motion in the district court alleging that her criminal prosecution was unlawful.

“I’m pleased that the district attorney’s office will no longer be prosecuting people who were delinquent or cannot pay their trash bill,” said Jackson. “I was taken into custody in front of my family, and it was a humiliating experience.” 

Ms. Jackson is not the only Valley resident arrested around Thanksgiving last year. 82-year-old Valley resident Martha Menefield was arrested three days after Thanksgiving for owing $77 for trash pickup. Her story went viral online.

“For decades, Valley residents struggling to make ends meet have been unlawfully prosecuted after falling behind on their garbage bills,” said Micah West, senior staff attorney at the SPLC. “This occurred even though the Alabama and Federal constitutions prohibit punishing people solely because they are indigent. We commend District Attorney Segrest for righting this wrong and exercising his discretion to stop criminally prosecuting people that are unable to pay their garbage bills.”