Dozens of active warrants for unpaid garbage bills are pending in Valley, Alabama

VALLEY, Ala. (WIAT) – She wanted the police to hurry up and put her in the back of their squad car.

Police officers had told the mother of three to get out of her car at a roadside near Lanett, Alabama. She knows she didn’t do anything wrong, she said, but it was the other passing vehicles that really bothered her.

“It was so embarrassing,” she said. “I just wanted it to be over.”

It wasn’t until days later, after the mother spent a weekend in the Chambers County jail, that she learned she’d been arrested on a warrant for failing to pay a $94 garbage bill at her home in Valley, Alabama.

More than a decade later, years after Valley was left behind, fines in the woman’s case have risen to nearly $700, and the mother-of-three has found herself among dozens of Alabamaans with active warrants related to unpaid garbage fees city ​​of the valley.


When she saw the blue lights flashing in her rearview mirror in December 2011, everything immediately went through her head. Did she drive too fast? No, she thought. Was her seat belt on? Yes, it was. However, she had put the chest strap behind her. Perhaps, she suspected, that was the reason for the stop. It was not.

As the officer approached her car, he got to the point pretty quickly, she said. There was an arrest warrant out for her and she was going to jail, he told her. She was stunned.

“I asked him what the search warrant was for and he couldn’t tell me,” she said. “I only found out what I was arrested for after my release.”

Police took the woman to the Lanett Police Department, and soon after, she was taken to the Chambers County Jail in LaFayette, where she was forced to spend the weekend.

She said her experience in prison for unpaid garbage fees was traumatizing. She was on her period, she said, and the prison forced her to remove her underwear because she wasn’t white.

“I was wearing an orange jumpsuit with nothing underneath,” the mother said. “It was traumatic.”

On Monday, after a judge approved the woman’s bail, her aunt arranged for a serf to pay for her release. She said she remembered walking out of prison after her release. She had no vehicle and her other family members had not yet arrived to pick her up. But she couldn’t stay there. Her feet would not let her.

When she left Chambers County Jail that December day, her parents soon stood by her side.

“What happened?” She remembered asking.

“It was really embarrassing,” she said. “That my parents had to pick up their eldest daughter from prison because they thought she was a criminal.”

escape from the valley

Soon the mother had moved away from Valley and, she thought, got on with her life.

But what had happened in Valley kept coming up. She applied for a government-funded job — a job she would eventually get — and they approached her about the charges.

“They came up to me and said, ‘You were arrested for trash,'” she recalled. Supervisors at the job that cares for children with disabilities were concerned.

“I had to have a statement sent to the state letting them know the charges had nothing to do with children,” she said.

Now, more than a decade after her arrest, she said she is due to appear in court next week in relation to the same case. She said that after moving from Valley, she was never informed that she owed additional charges related to the case. Those fees have now accumulated to nearly $700, according to court records. Court filings misspelled the woman’s name, an error that could have led to difficulties in notifying her of compound interest.

“I just didn’t know,” she explained.

However, it is the repeated humiliation that worries the mother the most. She said she does not yet know if she will appear in court on Monday as scheduled. Her past experiences in Valley make her hesitant to trust the system again.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said. “I don’t want to go to jail”

imminent arrest

The mother is not alone. She is one of dozens of people with active warrants related to unpaid garbage fees in Valley, Alabama, according to state court records. In nearly every case investigated by CBS 42, garbage bills that originally totaled around $100 had swelled to hundreds in court fees and charges.

The revelation comes more than a month after the controversial arrest of 82-year-old Martha Menefield at her Valley home for the same alleged “crime”. The city’s police chief at the time defended the arrest, saying his officers treated Menefield with respect.

City officials, including Mayor Leonard Riley and Code Enforcement Officer MJ Jones, did not respond to requests for comment about this story. In his only interview since news of Menefield’s arrest made national and international headlines, Riley mentioned the 82-year-old in a discussion of the city’s alleged fraud investigation.

Martha Menefield sits at her home in Valley, Alabama (Photo by Lee Hedgepeth)

In this interview with a local newspaper, Riley said that the county courts have issued 21 arrest warrants related to garbage collection in the past two years. Thirteen of those warrants (62%) were for black residents, he said, and the remainder for white residents. Black residents make up only about 38 percent of the city’s population.

For her part, the black mother-of-three said she felt her treatment was at least partly motivated by race. But she said no one — black, white or otherwise — should be put in jail for littering.

“I don’t think it should ever be criminal,” she said. “What have I done to hurt someone else? It’s just garbage.”