Charges Dismissed Against Woman Jailed for Failure to Pay $85 Trash Bill
City unlawfully prosecuting residents simply because they cannot pay for garbage
VALLEY, Ala. — Charges of failure to pay solid waste fees were dropped against Nortasha Jackson after she was arrested for falling $85 behind on her trash bill. In their motion to dismiss her charges, Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) lawyers argued that Ms. Jackson was unlawfully charged under a 1975 state statute, which does not actually criminalize failure to pay for garbage. Nonpayment is traditionally treated as a civil matter.
“I’ve experienced a lot of things,” commented Nortasha Jackson, “but this experience has been the most shameful thing that I’ve experienced in my life. I hope that no one ever has to go through this. I was arrested in front of my family simply because I fell behind on my trash bill, and I’m now scared whenever I see a police officer. What happened to me is inhumane, and I hope no one else has to go through what I experienced.”
SPLC sought dismissal of Ms. Jackson’s case, arguing that nonpayment of trash fees is not a crime under the state law the city cited, Alabama Code section 22-27-5. SPLC also contended that Ms. Jackson — who is indigent and relies on social security — has the right not to be punished for her poverty.
“The Alabama and U.S. constitution protect Ms. Jackson and all Valley residents from being charged with a crime simply because they cannot pay a garbage bill,” said Micah West, senior staff attorney at the SPLC. “Although we are pleased that Ms. Jackson’s ordeal is over, other Valley residents still have charges pending against them. We ask officials to dismiss those cases and take proactive steps to ensure that people who fall behind on their trash bills are not unfairly punished for their poverty.”
The city arrested Ms. Jackson the Saturday after Thanksgiving in front of her cousin and her cousin’s three children. Then, once locked in the municipal holding cell, police told her she had 20 minutes to post a $2,500 bail, or she would be transported to the county jail and incarcerated until she appeared before a judge. Using her Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) funds and money borrowed from her son and cousin, Jackson paid $250 to a bondsman to secure her release.
“This ordeal has been a lot for me to go through,” said Jackson. “I haven’t had trash picked up by the city in nearly seven months while I’ve fought these charges, which is causing my health to deteriorate. I’m happy that it is over. It was important to me not to suffer in silence, and I hope that what I have been through gives people the will to speak up about these unlawful practices.”
About the Southern Poverty Law Center
The Southern Poverty Law Center is a catalyst for racial justice in the South and beyond, working in partnership with communities to dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional movements, and advance the human rights of all people. For more information, visit www.splcenter.org.