A 49-year-old woman has her case dismissed in Wednesday by an Alabama judge for her unpaid $85 trash bill. Nortasha Johnson is among many Valley, Alabama residents that has been either arrested or prosecuted for not paying their trash bill.
In November 2022, Martha Louis Menefield, a 85-year-old woman, was arrested after failing to appear in court to answer summonses about her arrears on a $77 bill. The Valley Police Department received backlash from the community, and it drew so much attention that rapper Trae the Truth help raised over $30k for her.
Johnson failed to pay three months worth of trash bills and was charged with “failing to pay solid waste.”
“Thank God this part is over,” said Johnson after her case was dismissed.
Last week, Johnson’s lawyers Ellen Degnan and Micah West with the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a motion to throw out the case. They argued on Nov. 30 that the complaint filed against their client did not charge a criminal offense.
“The Alabama and federal constitutions prohibit prosecuting people simply because they cannot pay a garbage bill,” West said in a statement.
“Although we are pleased that Ms. Jackson’s ordeal is over, the city of Valley is currently prosecuting other people for violating a statute that does not make nonpayment a crime. We ask officials to dismiss those charges, too, and to take proactive steps to ensure that people who fall behind on their trash bills are not unfairly punished for their poverty.”
In addition, Johnson lawyers stated that she was indigent and did not willfully neglect or refuse to comply with payment notice of the trash bill. They argued that in Alabama, “willfulness” is needed to charge residents with a crime for nonpayment of bills.
“Ms. Johnson lives well below the federal poverty line during normal times. She was under even greater financial strain during the summer of 2022, when the City initiated this case, because she was acting as the primary caregiver for her two grandchildren, her cousin, and her cousin’s two children,” the motion stated. “Because she could not afford to pay her trash bill, prosecuting her for nonpayment violates her constitutional rights.”
A federal class action lawsuit was filed last month against the city of Valley and their trash service provider Amwaste. The lawsuit accused the two parties of violating the residents’ constitutional rights.
Santini Little filed the lawsuit because she is a former resident of Valley and a victim of not paying her trash bill. In 2011, Little claimed she was arrested for her unpaid trash bill of less than $150 and then jailed on $2,500 bond for the same offense again in 2013.
“Valley knew, or should have known, that it cannot imprison people, or threaten to imprison people, for the failure to pay garbage collection fees,” according to the lawsuit filed on the behalf of Little.
“Amwaste was a direct beneficiary of the jail threats because its was paid from revenues derived from a system enforced, ultimately, by the imposition of jail time for failure to pay garbage fees,” the suit claimed. “Amwaste knew of this process. Without Amwaste’s services, the fees would never have been collected.”
The lawsuit also accused Amwaste and the city of engaging in a pattern of racketeering activity by using the threat and of jail time along with intimidation to extort money from people such as Little, Johnson, Menefield, and many others.
Neither the city of Valley nor Amwaste has responded to the accusations filed in the lawsuit against them.