Support mounting for 79-year-old Clover veteran facing jail for junky yard

Herald columnistSeptember 25, 2012 

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— The outrage over the possible jailing of a 79-year-old disabled Korean War veteran for having too much junk in his yard has gone national.

John Ramsey sells the junk to cover household bills and pay for his disabled wife’s medications.

The town of Clover has no plans to yield in its case against Ramsey, who has been found in contempt of court for not cleaning up his yard. If he doesn’t pay a $500 contempt fine, a judge says, he’ll go to jail for 30 days.

The stand-off has sparked a backlash from those who want government to get off Ramsey’s back and not threaten him with jail for trying to take care of his family.

Supporters in Clover are organizing a weekend yard sale to help Ramsey, posting signs that read, “Help keep veteran out of jail.”

People from Rock Hill and other communities are pledging to help Ramsey with his yard. Still others are planning to pack a courtroom next month to protest.

Following coverage of Ramsey’s situation in The Herald, donations have come in from as far away as California and Florida to help him pay the $500 fine. Ramsey was convicted in a January jury trial of breaking the town’s law against outdoor junk that is “unsightly.”

The judge gave him six months to clean it up or face a month in jail.

But the town’s code enforcement office was not happy with the progress of Ramsey’s clean-up, so in August a town judge ruled he was in contempt. Ramsey, who had removed some junk and started building a fence by digging the holes himself, was given two more weeks to pay the fine.

Late last week, his court date was rescheduled to Oct. 4.

“I tell people when they call not to send money, that I ain’t no beggar, but they send it anyway,” Ramsey said Tuesday. “They don’t put a return address on some of them, so I can’t send it back.

“People just are showing up, too, and they want to help or they are just mad at Clover for doing this.”

The Ramseys said they have heard from people from as far away as California, including one disabled deputy who sent $100.

“People seem mad that Johnny has to pay this fine, or go to jail, for trying to take care of me and him,” John’s wife, Patty Ramsey, said Tuesday.

When Patty and John Ramsey got their mail Tuesday, they found two letters with a total of $45 in cash inside. Both people who wrote – from Florida and California – expressed outrage that the town of Clover would threaten Ramsey with jail or fines over junk.

A stranger who collected $41 in a white 5-gallon bucket at a weekend car show by using a sign that read, “Help John Ramsey stay out of jail,” brought the money and the bucket Monday to Ramsey’s mobile home.

“What can I say to people except thank you, but I tell them all I don’t ask nobody for nothin’,” Ramsey said. “The reason all this started is, I had this junk here I collected to sell to pay the bills. I tried to make enough money for us to live on. For the water and the lights, my wife’s medications.”

In Clover, Ted Cole at Ted’s Hunting & Fishing store on Kings Mountain Street has organized a yard sale for Friday and Saturday at the open-air building next to his shop to raise money for Ramsey. Don Adams of Courtney’s Creations, a Clover T-shirt and trophy shop, is helping with the sale, along with others from the town of about 4,000 people.

“It is not right what they are doing to Johnny,” Cole said. “The town and its code enforcement is out of control. There is not a lick of common sense being used in this whole thing.

“Clover should be embarrassed, but they keep on doing this.”

Ramsey lives on a cul-de-sac among other mobile homes, and it takes travel on three dead-end streets from U.S. 321 to get to his house. He lives far from any traffic or public sight.

Ramsey’s front yard is filled with play horses and other decorative items. The grass is neat. The side and back yard are what is at issue – although town officials testified in court that neighbors have never complained about Ramsey’s yard.

Only the code enforcement officer has complained.

Ramsey moved some junk out and is in the midst of building a wooden privacy fence. Terry Byrd of Rock Hill and other members of his church drove to Ramsey’s home Sunday and measured to build the privacy fence that could be up as early as Saturday.

“We will find the money to keep him out of jail, too, but all this doesn’t seem right against a man his age who is a disabled war veteran who is just trying to take care of his family,” Byrd said. “Christians are supposed to help our neighbors.”

Joe Funderburk, Clover’s code enforcement officer, has said the town has made repeated efforts to give Ramsey a chance to clean up.

Allison Harvey, Clover town administrator, said Ramsey was convicted of violating the town’s law and was given six months to clean up his yard.

“He still hasn’t cleaned up his property,” Harvey said.

It seems clear that Ramsey’s supporters – many of whom plan to pack the courtroom on Oct. 4 – will have raised far more than the $500 fine by then.

But paying the fine might be just a stopgap measure.

Ramsey, when cited in 2011 for the junk, demanded a jury trial in town court. He lost, then lost an appeal to a higher court, and has lost every battle in court over his yard.

His clean up is still deemed unsatisfactory by town standards. Ramsey’s original sin, in the eyes of the town of Clover, remains without repentance.

One of Ramsey’s sons is in Afghanistan on his fourth deployment overseas in the Army National Guard. Ramsey and his wife live on $898 a month in Social Security and veterans benefits.

Ramsey himself wears a special orthopedic shoe from a broken leg, ankle and foot suffered in Korea almost 60 years ago when he was carrying ammunition in sub-zero temperatures.

The money that he used to make selling junk has dried up because Ramsey no longer can keep the junk in the yard for resale.

“Last weekend we made $12,” Ramsey said. “And Patty give away $6 of that.”

The Ramseys still owe a funeral home for a family member’s death expenses, but Ramsey said he wants to donate money that people are sending him to help somebody else “less fortunate.”

A former member of the Ku Klux Klan, Ramsey was imprisoned decades ago for a couple of years for burning a cross in a police chief’s yard in a case that was later overturned. Ramsey has always said he took the fall for two others. But that Klan past is “all long behind me,” Ramsey said Tuesday.

Ramsey cuts grass for other older people and said he helps others as best he can. He proudly flies the American flag in his yard, as his son fights in a war for America.

“He’s fighting for our freedom over there, and here in America this is happening in Clover,” Ramsey said. “I’m 79 years old and I try and help people, and I do my best for my wife here. And next week I will find out if I gotta go to jail or not.”

Andrew Dys 803-329-4065 adys@heraldonline.com

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