It wasn’t unusual for Tulsa Police to arrest Ali Sharifi as many as 50 times in a year.
Born in 1957, Sharifi first started popping up on the Tulsa County jail blotter around 1998, records show.
Over the years, Sharifi, who was homeless, would be in and out of jail over 300 times, records show.
Most of his arrests were for public intoxication or public drunk. Sometimes he might catch a 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 also resulted in a mountain of court debt that lives on after his death.
It’s also representative of the disproportionate burden that the current fine and fee system of places on the poor.
Since 2015, local law enforcement officials have made about 500 arrests of homeless, who despite their obvious pauperism, still owe past court fines and fees, the Tulsa World analysis found.
In about a quarter of the 500 cases, a failure to pay warrant was the only reason the homeless person was jailed, the analysis showed.
By comparison, federal judges routinely waive court fines in cases where a defendant was deemed too poor to pay.
Meanwhile, the number of people arrested on failure-to-pay warrants has declined in recent years.
In 2015, police arrested about 4,600 people on charges that included failure to pay a fine and/or court fee, the World analysis of Tulsa County jail data shows.
In 2016 the number of failure to pay arrests declined to about 4,350. The totals fell again in 2017 when the total was 2,648 and 2018 when 1,394 were jailed on failure to pay warrants.
Don Mahnke said he met Sharifi 10 or 15 years ago near a downtown homeless shelter when seeking day workers to help him with his landscaping, irrigation and drainage business.
“He was a simple guy from Iran,” Mahnke recalled. “He was going to college.”
Mahnke said he would offer Sharifi work when he could.
“I just tried to help him...because he had nobody,” Mahnke said. “He told me one time he had some family in Iran, but they disowned him because he drank.”
Mahnke said Sharifi also loved motorcycles, but unfortunately he also loved to drink.
“He got involved with drinking and it occupied his whole life,” Mahnke said, who offered Sharifi work when he could.
Police last arrested Sharifi, whose name was sometimes spelled Sharfi in arrest records, on Feb. 5, 2015. He committed no new law infraction to warrant jailing other than failing to pay fines and fees on seven state court cases dating back to 2013, jail booking records show.
Once on a form to justify being assigned a public defender for a public intoxication charge, Sharifi listed having no cash on hand, a bank account or any other assets.
Under “current employment,” Sharifi simply listed “Labor.”
Sharifi owed the state thousands of dollars in unpaid fines and fees when he died in November 2017. The state Medical Examiner attributed his death to injuries he sustained two years earlier when he was struck by a vehicle while walking down a road, records show.
While most of Sharifi’s charges were in Tulsa Municipal Court, prosecutors charged him at least a dozen times in state court with public intoxication and other misdemeanor charges during the last years of his life.
It was there that the court fines and fees quickly began to add up for Sharifi, with no hope of him ever paying it all off.
One public intoxication conviction would usually net Sharifi a $100 fine from a state judge.
But after court costs and fees were added to the charge, the $100 fine would often swell four-fold or more.
The additional fees tacked on to Sharifi’s fine ranged from a $24 fee when his case was sent to an outside agency for collections to a $50 fee applied when a judge would issue a warrant for Sharifi’s arrest for nonpayment of his fines and court costs.
In all, the dozen convictions in state court meant Sharifi owed more than $7,000 when he died.
The former Tulsa County jail nurse said Sharifi never talked about how much he owed the courts.
“He was penniless,” she said.
Mahnke said he would visit Sharifi after he was hospitalized in Henryetta.
Following his eventual death, Mahnke said he buried Sharifi’s cremated remains on his property.
“He was a good man,” Mahnke said. “He was a good man.”