Editor's note: See update below.
A 79-year-old disabled veteran is facing one month in jail for having too much junk in his front yard -- junk that he fixes up and sells in order to keep his home and buy medicine for his wife, the Rock Hill Herald reported.
John Ramsey was first convicted in January of keeping junk in his front yard, a misdemeanor offense in the small rural town of Clover, S.C. He was ordered to clean it up, or face 30 days in jail. He cleaned it up.
But last month, the court ruled Ramsey's cleanup effort wasn't good enough. He was held in contempt and given two weeks to pay $500. Ramsey -- living on $898 a month in Social Security and veterans benefits -- didn't have $500, so when the deadline passed he went to the police department to turn himself in. Instead, town officials told him he had a hearing on Monday to determine whether he should go to jail for being unable to pay his fine.
“They are gonna give me 30 days,” Ramsey told the Herald. “For junk.”
According to the newspaper, the Korean War veteran collects anything he can, including washing machines, bricks and wood, and strips it down to sell. The money goes toward paying utilities for his home and keeping his wife -- also disabled -- alive. He got rid of the washing machines and other items during his cleanup, and the bricks and wood are neatly stacked. A fence is currently under construction to shield everything from view. Ramsey's building it himself.
“Ain’t got a dollar to pay fines; I sure ain’t got money to pay nobody," he said.
No neighbors have complained to the town about Ramsey's yard, the Herald reported, and it seems the only person bothered by it is the town's code officer who started the proceedings in the first place. Ramsey's public defender tried unsuccessfully to argue that the town's law about keeping junk was vague, but a jury was not swayed.
“Johnny doesn’t bother nobody,” neighbor Wendy Christopher told the newspaper. “I don’t know what the big deal is for this town. You can’t see what he has on the other side.”
His grass is kept neat and trimmed, and there are rocking horses and a miniature carousel on the lawn for children to play with. According to the Herald, Ramsey is a former Ku Klux Klansman who was convicted of burning a cross on the former police chief's front yard. The conviction was later overturned; Ramsey said he took the fall for two others and is reformed. He flies his neighbors' Mexican flag on his flag pole, along with his American flag.
Ramsey has one son serving in Afghanistan, and Ramsey himself wears a special orthopedic shoe because of a leg injury he sustained in Korea. He said he was told that he would have to wear sandals if he goes to jail -- not the shoe, which is paid for by veterans benefits.
“They want to put my husband in jail for trying to help his family,” Patty Ramsey said.
Update: The Rock Hill Herald reported Friday afternoon that Ramsey's court hearing has been postponed until October:
The Town of Clover court has rescheduled a contempt of court hearing for the 79-year old Clover man who was scheduled to appear in court Monday and potentially faces 30 days of jail time for not cleaning up his yard.
Patty Ramsey, wife of John Ramsey, said Friday afternoon that police hand-delivered a new summons to Ramsey that changed his court date to October.