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Jailed father hunger strikes to protest child support



Kenyon Eastin, 41, is on day four of a hunger strike from within the Tooele County Jail, protesting the treatment he has received in Utah divorce court.---

That's according to man's girlfriend of three years, Niki Hammond, of Stansbury Park (pictured at right with Eastin). Eastin first went to jail for 15 days in January 2009, but was released due to overcrowding. The jail is still over-crowded--Tooele County Sheriff Frank Park even admits the facility is violating people's civil rights due to the crowd--but 3rd District Judge Stephen Henriod sent Eastin back to jail Friday for 30 days for contempt of court and non-payment of child support. Hammond says Eastin can not afford to hire and attorney and has not been appointed one by the court.

That's despite documents from the Office of Recovery Services that show Eastin not only made regular payments for each month of 2009, but paid $500 above those payments toward his arrears total. According to his court docket in his divorce, Eastin owed $9,596 in arrears as of March 19, 2009, the most recent data available.

Eastin's wages have fallen dramatically since 2008. He complains that he can barely pay his regular monthly payments and has an ever harder time making payments toward his arrears debt.

"He was a financial advisor for AG Edwards ... then he actually stopped working there because everything went bad in the market so he couldn't make money like he did the first year," Hammond said. "Meanwhile, his child support was based on $70,000 per year when he was only getting $24,000 per year, but he struggled through it."

Eastin is now self-employed painting address numbers on curbs, Hammond says.

In a seven-page letter to the judge, Eastin requests that his monthly payments be reduced to $525 per month and complains about the employment advice he's received. He complains that jobs are hard to find. Utah currently has a a 7.4 percent unemployment rate, the highest in at least 20 years.

"I have been found in your courtroom as being 'voluntarily underemployed.' ... I have sent out dozens of resumes and put in applications all over the Wasatch Front. ... My ex-wife said I should get a job at McDonals instead of doing the work I do right now. Would my child support then be lowered to match my reduced income from a job at McDonalds? I think not. Because I would then be deemed again as 'voluntarily underemployed.'"

State and county prosecutors can file felony charges for unpaid child support--referred to as 'criminal nonsupport.' If they did that, Eastin would be appointed an attorney if he can't afford one, and eventually receive a jury of his peers to determine his guilt--if any. Or, as is the case for Eastin and other parents who owe child support in Utah, a judge can simply find them in contempt of court, not appoint an attorney, and not allow a jury to hear the case before incarcerating the parent.

Eastin has two biological children--16-year-old twins--as well as his ex-wife's child from a previous relationship who is now an adult, who Eastin adopted while they were married. Hammond says Eastin's ex-wife had custody of the children but their time is spent half with their mother, who also lives in Stansbury Park, and half with their father. Eastin has no criminal record, Hammond says--a cursory search of public records supports this--and is active in his community, once serving on the Stansbury Park community council. He rents his home and drives a 1999 Jeep Cherokee, Hammond said, that he owes about $1,000 on.

"You couldn't ask for a better father," says Hammond, a mother of four.

A sheriff's deputy came to Eastin's home Friday evening, Hammond says, and took Eastin to jail on a $10,000 bench warrant issued by Henriod. He is being held in maximum security, Hammond says.

Hammond said Eastin is worried about what might happen when his jailers learn that he is on a hunger strike. Neither the Tooele County Sheriff's Department--which operates the jail--nor Eastin's ex-wife's attorney, Gary Buhler, returned phone calls in time for this post. If they call, this post will be updated.

See my update to this post for a discussion of the 6th Amendment to the Constitution

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