Native Sun News: Navajo man files lawsuit against McDonald's

The following story was written and reported by Kate Saltzstein. All content © Native Sun News.

FARMINGTON, NEW MEXICO — Attorneys for a Navajo man who was allegedly kidnapped and tortured by three men in April have filed suit against the McDonald’s Restaurant in Farmington which had employed the three men.

There are two lawsuits against the defendants who are charged with state and federal crimes. A civil suit filed in Santa Fe on February 4 alleges that the McDonald’s Restaurant in Farmington owned by John Bronson failed to protect its customers by hiring people with criminal records.

Criminal charges also were filed by US Attorneys in Albuquerque and in San Juan County.

“The suit is against McDonald’s which was negligent in hiring these felons. Also, the manager of the McDonald’s was a felon. They had serious crimes on their records including larceny, breach of the peace and drug crimes,” said attorney Ron Morgan who filed the civil complaint in Albuquerque on behalf of the victim’s family.

The suit names the McDonald’s Corporation of Delaware and the Farmington Hamburger Company, a New Mexico corporation operating entity for McDonald’s of Farmington.

The victim, Vincent Kee, 22, is considered to be developmentally disabled and lives with his family in Red Lake, New Mexico on the Navajo Nation, Morgan said. The kidnapping and torture has meant he will need medical attention for years, he added.

The three former employees are alleged to have kidnapped Kee from the McDonald’s restaurant on Main Street in Farmington and held him overnight in an apartment of one of the men where they shaved a swastika on his head, drew words including KKK and White Power on his body and branded a swastika on his arm with a hot wire.

Kee “has problems from everything that has happened to him from aspects of daily living to awaiting surgery to his arm,” Morgan said.

The federal suit alleges that the three men - Paul Beebe, William Hatch and Jesse Sanford all in their 20s - conspired to commit the crimes in violation of the Matthew Shepard and James Boyd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act enacted in October, 2009. This is the first time that a lawsuit has utilized the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, said Elizabeth Martinez, assistant US Attorney Public Affairs Officer.

A November press release from the U.S. Department of Justice states that “a federal grand jury in Albuquerque has indicted the three men on hate crime charges related to a racially-motivated assault of a 22-year-old man of Navajo descent who has significant cognitive impairment.”

It adds that “an indictment is merely an accusation, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty.”

It continues that the case is being investigated by the Albuquerque FBI, in cooperation with the Farmington Police Department and the San Juan County District Attorney’s Office. The men were charged with one count of conspiracy and one count of violating the Hate Crimes Prevention Act. If convicted under this act, the men could serve additional time in prison.

“The indictment alleges that the defendants took advantage of the victim’s developmental disability to induce him to make a cell phone video in which he purportedly consents to the branding,” the press release continues.

The civil suit states that “it is the responsibility of McDonald’s to provide safety precautions at its restaurants for the most vulnerable visitors including children and handicapped people and that it failed to do so by hiring the three men without examining their criminal backgrounds.”

Mr. Kee was eating dinner at McDonald’s “when the three employees in their McDonald’s uniforms discussed, planned and kidnapped him. The three acted within the scope or course of their employment during their on duty status. Mr. Kee was alone and having his last meal of the day after which he was kidnapped, terrorized and tortured, throughout the night and morning,” according to the civil complaint.

The complaint continues by describing Kee as “developmentally disabled with obvious child-level behaviors and diminished physical abilities. He has never possessed the capacity to make adequately considered decisions as an adult.”

The next morning the three men “abandoned him in the streets of Farmington to deal with his ordeal alone.”

McDonald’s failed to adequately investigate the backgrounds of its employees, the civil complaint charges.

“McDonald’s corporate standards and policies require reasonable care and sufficient background checks of job applicants to ensure each person employed was likely to be safe around children and handicapped and elderly people.”

The three employees “were wholly unfit to work in a McDonald’s from the beginning because of poor character and reputation all having multiple criminal convictions including felonies and other anti-social history.”

McDonald’s policies “require applicants for employment to undergo a background check which demonstrates whether the applicant is fit for employment at a McDonald’s restaurant. The defendants were convicted of serious crimes prior to McDonald’s employment. The defendant recklessly failed to follow corporate and industry standards to investigate fully the backgrounds of these job applicants. Applicants must provide employment, educational and criminal history.”

The suit adds that other employees of this McDonald’s have also been arrested or convicted of felonies and or misdemeanors before or during their employment at McDonald’s.

“Before this, McDonald’s Corporation was on notice that employment practices at its Bronson-owned McDonald’s were problematic.”

The compliant adds that the terrorizing and torturing of Kee “will affect him throughout his life and will require resources including medical expenses and emotional injury to him and his family. He will require special assistance throughout his life.”

The company’s corporate policies state that McDonald’s “will emphasize prompt and courteous service in a clean wholesome atmosphere which is intended to be attractive to children and families. By this, the franchise became responsible to provide special safety precautions on the premises for visitors such as children and handicapped persons and the elderly.”

Morgan said that the amount of money requested from McDonald’s “will be determined as the harm is fully analyzed.”

Kent Voetberg, marketing director for McDonald’s in Denver, said he could not comment on the case because it is a legal matter. But he issued a statement from John Bronson, owner of the McDonald’s franchise in Farmington.

“I take these matters extremely seriously. When I was made aware of this situation, I was extremely disturbed, as anyone would be in similar circumstances. Let it be known, I have zero tolerance for this type of behavior in my restaurant, or by my employees. Rest assured the actions of these individuals are not reflective of my organization or the values of my organization. I am deeply saddened by this series of events and my thoughts remain with the victim here. Because this is an ongoing legal matter, it would be inappropriate to comment or speculate further,” Bronson said.

(Kate Saltzetein can be reached at

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