Human Rights Defense Center – Mediajustice Willhoite

Willhoite Exessive Force Complaint

Jonathan Afanador, 26, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against former Kennebec County jail guard Nathan Willhoite on July 6, 2020, alleging that Willhoite used excessive force on him. On July 6, 2021, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), publisher of Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News, filed an appeal in Maine state court against a denial of access to public information on the basis of constitutional rights, which was upheld. According to the lawsuit, a former inmate of the Kennebec County Jail had been subjected to excessive force by jail officials while in custody.

There was just one piece of documentation from the county showing a $1 payment, while the Maine County Commissioners Association (MCCA), the county’s insurer, notified HRDC that the compensation was $30,000.

The county and Willhoite were both named as defendants in the lawsuit. The incident occurred after Willhoite pepper sprayed Afanador, an African American man, without reason, according to him, and one of the other guards screamed a racial remark during it, according to him.

The action was captured on video, and it shows Willhoite and another security escorting Afanador from his cell into a communal area for a full physical examination. All of the detainees were directed to take a seat in the prison cafeteria. Viewers witnessed Willhoite grasp Afanador’s arm and pepper spray him in the face before slamming him to the ground. Afanador was allegedly brought to an isolation cell by Willhoiute and refused access to water or medical aid until the next day, according to the report. All of this was justified by Willhoite on the grounds that Afanador had refused to comply with the demand to sit.

According to 1 M.R.S.A. 408-A, HRDC filed a Freedom of Access request for all records related to the settlement after reading a story in the Portland Press Herald on May 3, 2021. In response, attorney Peter T. Marchesi of Wheeler & Arey of Waterville, Maine, the law firm serving as the county’s general counsel, produced three court documents and a settlement agreement, which stated that the lawsuit had been settled for “One Dollar and Other Good and Valuable Considerations” and contained a confidentiality clause, as well as three court

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documents. The amount of the payment was not disclosed by Marchesi since there was no additional settlement papers, although MCCA stated that the sum was $30,000.

As part of the appeal, HRDC collaborated with Portland-based American Civil Liberties Union Foundation attorneys Zachary L. Heiden and Emma E. Bond, who argued that no public agency could settle a complaint for $30,000 without producing paperwork detailing exactly how much money had been paid out. The county as well as the MCCA are identified as defendants in the appeals court case.

According to a press release from the Press Herald, Afanador was sentenced to four years in prison in May 2020 for two counts of major drugs trafficking, and Willhoite was no longer working at the facility. Willhoite was later hired by a separate law enforcement group,

according to Ken Mason, the sheriff of Kennebec County, Maine, who spoke with the Press Herald.

The case is Human Rights Defense Center v. Kennebec County, Maine Super. (Kennebec Co.), Case No. CV-21-131, which is available online.

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“The lack of transparency in how tax payer dollars are being spent to settle lawsuits involving racist excessive force cases against prisoners is especially troubling,” said PLN Editor Paul Wright. Another source of worry is the possibility that government officials are willfully misrepresenting to the public and the media about the result of lawsuits.

 

Source: PLN