Clover judge will rule Friday whether to send 79-year-old junk man back to jail

October 11, 2012 

— Johnny Ramsey was “wore slap out” Thursday night after working to clean up his yard with hopes of avoiding another weekend in jail – but a judge will not decide until Friday whether his efforts were enough.

The 79-year-old disabled Korean war veteran spent last weekend as York County’s oldest jail inmate for not cleaning up the junk in his yard after a judge ordered him to do so months ago.

Even the Clover code enforcement officer who prosecuted Ramsey earlier this year asked the judge for leniency Thursday.

Ramsey says he needs to sell the junk to pay for his wife’s medications and other basic living expenses, but he has finally started moving it off his property.

Town Judge Melvin Howell jailed Ramsey last week after finding he had made no effort to clean up his yard after being convicted in January of violating a town law against unsightly junk.

Since Ramsey’s release late Sunday, family, friends and volunteers have helped Ramsey.

That now includes Clover Town Councilman Todd Blanton, who said Thursday he “wants to do all he can to help Mr. Ramsey clean up and not have to go back to jail.” Blanton showed code enforcement officer Joe Funderburk what work had been done and assured him it would continue.

Ramsey, who lives in a mobile home with his wife on less than $900 a month, was given six months to clean up after his January conviction. He refused even though the town offered to pick up the junk, then Howell the judge found Ramsey in contempt in August.

Howell gave Ramsey yet another extension to clean up, but by Oct. 4, the judge had had enough. He sentenced Ramsey to 30 days in jail, to be served on weekends.

Ramsey’s lawyer, York County assistant public defender Toni Johnson, said Thursday night after a closed-door meeting with Howell at Clover’s court that Howell will make a decision today.

“He is going to make a decision Friday whether to suspend the weekend sentence, after reviewing photographs and what he’s been told about Mr. Ramsey’s ongoing efforts,” Johnson said.

Ramsey said Thursday night he would continue to clean up, after having started work at 6 that morning. He was still outside as the sun set.

“If they give me time to clean up, I’ll clean it up,” Ramsey said, standing near a pile of wood, tires and other junk that was pulled from the yard and waiting for a town truck to haul it away.

“I don’t want to go back to jail, but if I gotta go, I’ll go – but I don’t like a cold cell.”

Funderburk said late Thursday he “recommended leniency” to Howell.

“Mr. Ramsey’s family was extremely cooperative and expressed an interest in continuing to clean up,” Funderburk said. “There is still an enormous amount of material there, but they are committed to move it. They promised to comply.”

Ramsey and others spent time working on a privacy fence installed by volunteers last week. However, hiding the junk was never part of the court-ordered clean up, Funderburk said.

Much of the junk – including tires, metal and bricks – remained on Ramsey’s property Thursday.

Councilman Blanton made it clear he was not second-guessing the town’s decision to have Ramsey clean up or the judge’s decision to send Ramsey to jail last week. The town “bent over backwards” to do all it could to keep Ramsey out of jail and gave him months to comply, he said.

“It breaks my heart to see a man that age, a veteran, go to jail,” Blanton said. “My late father was the same age as Mr. Ramsey. He was also a veteran, and he collected items, too. I will put on my jeans and go help Mr. Ramsey myself.”

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

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