The Herald-Zeitung

Woman found guilty in recycling dispute

By David Saleh Rauf The Herald-Zeitung; Published December 7, 2007

Singer/songwriter Jessica Shepherd says she was inspired to write the melody for one of the tunes on her latest album while traveling on a train through Italy. The Texas country singer can now add the City of New Braunfels to her list of inspirations for songs.

Since August of 2006, the red-headed musician has been embroiled in a beef with the city over a pile of recyclables. Shepherd claims the city neglected to pick up recyclables left in her front yard over a seven-month span, despite paying a $5.25 monthly fee to the city for recycling collection.

From November of 2005 to May of 2006, Shepherd said she made 37 phone calls to the city about the matter and had her recyclables picked up once around February. So when the paper, plastic and glass in her recycling bin grew into a heap weighing more than 20 pounds over the next three months, she decided to act by “returning the recyclables,” to the city.

“Finally after all the attempts I decided to protest,” she said.

Her “protest” took the form of a mass dumping on the city. On the morning of Aug. 24, 2006, Shepherd gathered the recyclables that had accumulated in her front yard since about March and dumped them in front of City Hall — all 22 pounds of them. Shepherd also left a letter taped to the door with a message for the city: “Do your job!!”

On Thursday, a Comal County jury found Shepherd guilty of illegally dumping her recyclables in an area not approved for solid She will also have to pay about $350 in court fees. In all, Shepherd will have spent nearly $1,600 on attorney’s, court fees and fines for extracting revenge against the city for what she says were services never rendered. Prior to the verdict being handed down, Shepherd said she stood by her decision and would do it again. Asked if her actions were worth the $1,600, the musician changed her tune.

“I’m undecided on that at the moment,” Shepherd said. “I still don’t think I did anything wrong.”

Police discovered the 22-pound pile of paper, plastic bottles and empty water jugs in front of City Hall around 4 a.m., on Aug. 24. Police tracked the dumping to Shepherd by locating letters in the heap that had her address on them.

“I wanted them to find me, so they would rectify the cause,” she said.

City police originally cited Shepherd for littering, a class C misdemeanor. That charge was eventually dismissed in municipal court and a new, heftier, charge replaced it. Three months after citing Shepherd for littering, police charged her with illegal dumping, a class B misdemeanor. The case was forwarded to the Comal County District Attorney’s office, which decided to pursue criminal charges against Shepherd.

She said she is considering an appeal to Thursday’s decision and might also file a suit against the city.

During closing arguments Thursday, Shepherd’s lawyer, Steve Smith, asked jurors not to “brand Shepherd as a criminal for returning recyclables.” Smith said

“That’s hogwash ladies and gentleman,” deLemos said. “That is not the action of someone solely returning recyclables.”

County Court at Law judge Charles Stephens did not allow Shepherd’s lawyer to enter evidence into the trial that he said showed call logs and the city’s noncompliance. Thursday’s trial did not seek to establish the city’s alleged negligence in collecting recyclables. The only issue before the jury was whether Shepherd had dumped her pile of garbage in front of City Hall. State law defines illegal dumping as disposing solid waste that weighs more than five pounds but less than 500 pounds in an area not approved for said dumping.

“She’s exactly the type of person this law is designed to address,” deLemos said.

In the courtroom Thursday, an evidence bag full of the recyclables sat behind the witness stand. It stood more than two feet tall.

“She choose to do it because she was angry,” deLemos said.

Shepherd, whose Myspace.Com page features a photo of the “Texas-reared red head” pointing a guitar like a rifle, has penned songs for several compilation and solo albums. One of her songs even reached the top 30 charts in Australia, according to her personal Web site.

Now Shepherd intends to write a song about her ordeal with the city and feature it on her next album. The song, Shepherd said, is still in the “baby stages,” but she is planning on writing and recording it this month.

“It’s going to be pretty much about protesting and the absurdity of the city,” Shepherd said.

Watch Jessica's video. Still image of lake scene from video