Supporters of 79-year-old Clover junk man outraged by his jailing

adys@heraldonline.comOctober 5, 2012 

— Patty Ramsey walked down the steps outside her mobile home all by herself Friday. She walked slowly with a cane. She did not smile.

She walked alone, forlorn and more than a bit upset, because her husband is still in jail.

Johnny Ramsey, 79 years old, a disabled Korean War veteran who sold junk to pay for the light bill and for Patty Ramsey’s medications, was jailed Thursday night for the crime of having too much junk in his back yard. The punishment after he did not comply with a court-ordered cleanup for more than eight months was 30 days in jail to be served on weekends.

“Clover just did Johnny wrong,” Patty Ramsey said. “I think the code enforcer and the judge have got it out for Johnny for some reason.”

Patty Ramsey said her husband did some work out here to clean it.

“A bunch, four, five, six loads were carted off,” she said. “It just is not true he hasn’t tried or that he hasn’t done anything. John is a good man. Generous. He helps people. It is not right to put a 79-year-old man in jail for trying to take care of himself and me.”

Friday, Patty Ramsey sent her husband’s migraine headache prescription medications to the jail, but has not yet talked to him on the telephone.

“I hope he’s all right in there – he’s a strong man, but he’s 79 years old,” she said. “They put a 79-year-old man in the jailhouse for something that just is not right, and I do not like it one bit.”

Patty Ramsey is not alone in Clover, or across York County or even the country, as the decision by Clover Town Judge Melvin Howell to jail Johnny Ramsey for 30 days has caused howls of discontent and a raucous outrage toward perceived heavy-handed government for something as simple as junk in a yard.

Ramsey’s front yard is clean and well-cared for, filled with flowers, play horses, a carrousel, and welcome signs.

Howell ruled that Ramsey had more than eight months to clean up the rest of the property after being found guilty in a January trial where Ramsey was convicted of violating Clover’s junk law. Ramsey refused to clean up to the satisfaction of the town, and despite several extensions, was sentenced to 30 days for contempt of court in refusing to comply with a judicial order.

Howell said, repeatedly in court Thursday, that Ramsey’s refusal to comply with a court order for months left him no choice but to jail him.

But many, including several who attended the court hearing, say that decision to send an old man to jail was dead wrong.

“The decision to send Johnny Ramsey to jail is ridiculous, and doesn’t just bother me but has me sick,” said Terry Byrd, a Rock Hill member of Elevation Church who attended the hearing after building a privacy fence around Ramsey’s property Wednesday.

Yet Byrd had never met Ramsey, or even heard of Ramsey, until reading in The Herald about the stand-off between Ramsey and the town over the junk. Only after Ramsey was threatened with jail did Byrd get donated materials and build the fence himself.

“But even that wasn’t enough to keep this old man trying to survive out of jail,” Byrd said Friday. “They are punishing a man for trying to live like a decent human being. This is America, man.”

And yes, in Clover, South Carolina, America, a 79-year-old veteran selling junk to pay his bills is in jail. Clover officials know that the case and now the sentence, after extensive coverage in The Herald that has spread over the Internet, has put the community under a national microscope that is not flattering and downright negative in the eyes of many.

Many at the town have received nasty electronic messages or phone calls, said Granita Boyd, a Clover Town Council member. But Ramsey had months to comply and did not, Boyd said.

“I understand his military service, his dedication to his wife, but it doesn’t change the facts,” Boyd said. “He has been ordered to clean up. And he, Mr. Ramsey, has to decide to clean up.”

Boyd said she does not second-guess the town judge’s decision to jail Ramsey, because Ramsey had months to comply and was given several extensions by the judge. Yet Ramsey never met the conditions of the sentence, Boyd said, so she supports the judge taking actions required by town law.

But despite outrage from people who are claiming that the town of Clover has gone too far, as of Friday afternoon only Terry Byrd, Byrd’s son and a friend of Byrd had helped Ramsey clean up.

The one wild card is that Ramsey, himself, has to decide to clean the place up. It was Ramsey alone who defied the court order and did not pay the fine before Thursday’s court date.

Ramsey has always been outspoken and honest, but clearly would not yield, either.

Some groups, including some York County veterans, offered to help him clean up after his January trial conviction, but Ramsey did not take the offers. Ramsey waited, stubbornly refusing to do what the courts ordered him to do for months because he believed he was doing the right thing to make money for his family by keeping the junk and selling it.

Johnny Ramsey waited himself right into a jail cell.

Ramsey has said, in court and out, that he believes the town unfairly targeted him and had it out for him.

Patty Ramsey, his wife, said no clean-up work will be done before Ramsey gets out of jail Sunday.

“It’s his stuff, he has to decide what to do with it, where it goes,” Patty Ramsey said. “Nobody is touching anything until he gets out.”

Assistant Public Defender Toni Johnson, Ramsey’s lawyer, said Friday that Ramsey must clean up the property to have any chance to shorten the sentence and avoid further citations.

“The judge had the authority to rule as he did, and Mr. Ramsey knows what he has been ordered to do,” Johnson said.

Howell, the judge, ordered both Johnson the lawyer and the town code enforcement officer to report back to him next week with a status report on what progress is made on the property before he makes any decision on potentially cutting the 30-day sentence.

Many are also concerned for Ramsey’s health while he is in jail.

Most inmates serving weekends are sent from the county jail to the nearby county prison camp, where inmates work jobs during incarceration such as at the county recycling center and other tasks, said Johnson, Ramsey’s lawyer.

But a spokesman for the York Count Sheriff’s Office said in a statement Friday that Ramsey refused to work at the prison camp Friday, so Ramsey will serve the weekend at the county jail.

It is unclear what job or jobs were expected of 79-year-old Johnny Ramsey, a disabled war veteran who had a leg, ankle and foot broken in Korea, said his wife, Patty. Ramsey had already seen the jail nurse Friday morning.

“He can’t work, his legs swell, and his knee, the one he broke a couple of years ago, the metal they put in there, the wire, it seemed like before this it was about to come through the skin,” Patty Ramsey said late Friday.

Johnson, Ramsey’s lawyer, said Friday the county jail has a nursing staff that should attend to Ramsey should he need it. Yet Johnson hopes that all these people who have stated support for Ramsey will act on those good intentions.

“What would work this in Mr. Ramsey’s favor is for the property to be cleaned up to what the town requires, then we can move forward from there,” Johnson said.

However, Ramsey can’t clean anything up at home while in jail.

And it is Ramsey being sent to jail that sent the stand-off between Ramsey and the town from a dispute over junk into a local and now national debate over the role of government in the lives of people and whether an old man should go to jail for junk.

Ramsey admits is he is a reformed former Ku Klux Klansman who served a stretch in prison decades ago for burning a cross on the former York Police chief’s yard. That conviction was later overturned, and Ramsey said he was the fall guy for others. But Ramsey has never denied his past.

More, Ramsey has never denied he sold junk, or denied that he was standing on principle for so long in not cleaning up. He admitted everything, for months.

It is the fact that Ramsey was sent to jail that has enraged so many, though. A retired Air Force technical sergeant from Tennessee, Randolph Kruger, said over the telephone Friday that putting a veteran in the county lockup at age 79 for some town junk law is “just plain stupid,” whether Ramsey is being stubborn or not.

“He can’t be allowed to be a scofflaw, but jail is not where you send that guy at his age, for what he did,” said Kruger. “I don’t know this guy. But his yard is cleaner than mine. The judge had all kinds of options.”

Howell, the judge, stated in court he spent months trying to keep Ramsey out of jail. But finally the town of Clover judge did sentence Johnny Ramsey to jail, and now more than a few people in this little town and across the country are upset over junk – and over jailing a 79-year-old man over junk in his yard.

Andrew Dys • 803-329-4065

adys@heraldonline.com

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