An 82-year-old Alabama grandmother was handcuffed and arrested for not paying a trash bill that she says she didn’t know was past due.
Martha Louis Menefield said she was embarrassed by the incident and glad her grandchildren did not see her being detained by law enforcement.
Valley Police Department Chief Mike Reynolds said officers arrested Menefield on Nov. 27 for “Failure to Pay-Trash” for an outstanding bill for June, July and August totaling $77.80. The woman says she believed the invoice had already been paid, and she was not aware of the arrest warrant.
The city said in a statement that Valley code enforcement officers issued Menefield a citation in August. It required her to appear in court on Sept. 7, but Menefield said she didn’t know, and since she missed the court date, the warrant was issued for her arrest.
However, officials said they attempted to contact her by phone and other means, even leaving a door hanger at her home.
“Are you Martha Menefield?” one officer said, according to the elderly woman.
When she replied in the affirmative, he said, “Well, Ms. Martha, I got to arrest you.”
This is the second time Menefield has been arrested for not paying her trash bill. The first was in 2006, when she was hit with a $206.54 invoice. The case was later dismissed “upon compliance.” Since then, she has had 22 “incidents” where the trash services were either suspended or revoked, making this a chronic issue between her and the trash service debt collectors.
Although she was released on bond, many believe, including her daughter Neketti Tucker, the senior citizen should not have been arrested and taken to jail, CBS 2 reveals. Handcuffing her, the daughter said, criminalized someone who was not a criminal.
“This isn’t a criminal act,” Tucker said. “This is civil, if anything.”
To top it off, the daughter said her mother had been struggling with memory problems, which further contributed to why she might not have paid her bill.
For Tucker, the issue is bigger than nonpayment but about how user-unfriendly the service company is regarding basic payments. Several people within Menefield’s immediate circle attempted to pay the bill on her behalf but could not. The company said they would not be able to receive payment from her community on her behalf.
A friend of Menefield’s family, Matt VanHouten, 35, was outraged.
“They arrested her for a trash bill?’ This is ridiculous,” he said.
Thea McElvy, a receptionist at the Chambers County Clerk’s Office, said the balance of Menefield’s bill could not be paid until January, Menefield’s next court date, adding that “a million people” have recently tried to pay the debt.
When officers arrived at her home, an oblivious Menefield was prepared to tell them they were at the wrong house. Her rationale was the city would stop picking up the trash if there was a problem.
“I’m just happy my grandkids weren’t here to see that,” an emotional Minefield said. “That would have upset them. I was so ashamed. And it’s been bothering me.”
Menefield told the Washington Post that she was afraid of what could happen when she was being handcuffed. Officers allowed the grandmother to put her hands in front of her and took her to a small jail cell for processing.
“I was in a little cage-like thing at the police station. And I said, ‘Y’all put me in this cage? You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” she recalled.
One officer tried to calm the grandmother down while she was being detained. He “kind of whispered to me: ‘Don’t cry.'”
“How would you feel if they came and arrested your grandmama?” she reportedly replied to the cop.
The city maintains its officers treated Menefield with dignity during the arrest.
“While our officers can use their discretionary judgment on certain matters, the enforcement of an arrest warrant issued by the court and signed by a magistrate is not one of them,” the chief said. “Ms. Menefield was treated respectfully by our officers in the performance of their duties and was released on a bond as prescribed by the violation.”