VALLEY, Ala. (WIAT) – An Alabama mother arrested over a garbage bill has filed suit against the city that jailed her.
Santori Little, a mother of three who now resides in Talladega County, filed a class action lawsuit in federal court Thursday evening. The suit against the City of Valley and AmWaste, the garbage company contracted to provide residential trash pickup in the city, claims that city officials took advantage of state law in an unconstitutional racket to imprison its citizens over private debt.
The suit comes a day after CBS 42 was the first to report that Little is one of dozens of former and current Valley residents who have active warrants for their arrest over trash.
Little told CBS 42 she was forced to stay in jail over the weekend because a judge wasn’t immediately available. She was on her period, she said, and was forced to remove her underwear because they weren’t white.
“I was in an orange jumpsuit with nothing on underneath,” the mother said. “It was traumatic.”
Little’s lawsuit, filed in federal court, argues that the law is undeniably clear: citizens cannot be legally imprisoned over debt.
“In this country and state, we do not have debtors’ prisons,” the complaint said. “Section 20 of the Alabama Constitution says quite simply, ‘That no person shall be imprisoned for debt.’”
The suit seeks to represent not just Little, but “all persons who have been prosecuted criminally and either jailed or threatened with jail for the failure to pay a garbage collection fee to the City of Valley…”
“Defendants use the threat and intimidation of jail time to extort money from Plaintiff and the Plaintiff class,” the suit said.
Little’s complaint asks the court to bar the city from imprisoning or threatening to imprison others over unpaid garbage fees, to award monetary damages to each person in her situation, and to award reasonable attorney’s costs.
Little is represented by multiple, notable lawyers in the state, including former Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley.
Allan Armstrong, another lead attorney on the case, said that the scheme operated by Valley and AmWaste officials was beyond belief.
“To think you can jail folks over garbage fees is just crazy,” he told CBS 42.
Valley’s practice of jailing its citizens first came into critical focus last year after the controversial arrest of 82-year-old Martha Menefield at her home in Valley for the same alleged “crime.” The city’s police chief defended the arrest at the time, saying his officers’ treated Menefield respectfully.
Officials with Valley and AmWaste could not immediately be reached for comment.
You can read more of CBS 42’s original reporting on Valley, Martha Menefield, and Santori Little below.