Down And Out: A Homeless Alcoholic Dies Owing Thousands In Court Debt

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Apprehending Ali Sharifi had become a routine task for Tulsa Police.

As per the records, Sharifi, born in 1957, made his first visit to the Tulsa Jail blotter around 1998. For over decades, Sharifi, who was a destitute, homeless man, became a regular visitant the Tulsa Jail. He was mostly charged for public intoxication or public drunk. Sporadically, he might catch trespassing or outraging public decency charge.“Even when he came in drunk, he was a happy drunk,” a jail nurse recalled. “Always courteous.”

Sharifi’s repetitive jailing eventually resulted in a mountain of court debt that lives on after his death. It’s also paradigmatic of the unfair burden that the current fine and fee system puts on the poor.

Sharifi’s Private Life

Don Mahnke had known Sharifi for 10 or 15 years when he employed him as a day worker to help him with his landscaping, irrigation and drainage business.

In an interview, Mahnke said, “I just tried to help him…because he had nobody,”. He once told Mahnke that his folks lived in Iran but disowned him because of his drinking problems. Mahnke said Sharifi had a fascination with motorcycles as well.

Police sometimes spelt him as Sharfi in arrest records. On Feb 5, 2015, according to the jail booking records, Sharifi hadn’t committed any new law violation to mandate jailing other than failing to pay fines and fees on seven state court cases dating back to 2013.

A Death With Dues

Sharifi died in November 2017, owing to the state more than seven thousand dollars in unpaid fines and fees. The state Medical Examiner ascribed his death to injuries he sustained two years earlier when a vehicle hit him in an accident, records show.

Most of the charges against Sharifi were in Tulsa Municipal Court, where prosecutors charged him at least a dozen times in state court with public intoxication and other felonies during the last years of his life. For Sharifi, the state fees and penalties started to pile up, with no hope of him ever paying it all off. A state judge would usually charge $100 for one public intoxication conviction as a fine. After adding court costs and fees were to the charge, the $100 fine would often amplify by multiple times. On failure to pay these fees, he would be charged with another penalty.

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