BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana prison officials retaliated against an inmate for corresponding with a reporter whose newspaper published a series of stories critical of the state’s corrections department, a federal lawsuit alleged Monday.
William Kissinger was transferred from Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola and placed in solitary confinement at another prison after communicating with Advocate reporter Maya Lau about the “culture of greed and corruption” in the state’s prison system, the suit says.
The suit describes Kissinger as a whistleblower and asks the court to rule that prison officials violated his constitutional rights to free speech and due process.
Corrections Department spokesman Ken Pastorick said in a Monday afternoon email that Kissinger “violated department policy” and was transferred “for his protection, and for disciplinary reasons.” He added that the department would have no further comment because the matter was in litigation.
The suit was filed by an attorney from the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center’s office in New Orleans.
Kissinger, who was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison, has served most of his sentence at Angola over the past 27 years. The suit says he is “widely regarded as a positive leader at Angola by both prisoners and staff.”
Burl Cain, Angola’s longtime warden, resigned in January 2016 following a string of Advocate reports about his private real estate dealings.
In February 2016, Kissinger told the Baton Rouge newspaper’s reporter that he had information about “financial improprieties” at Angola, according to the suit. Less than a week later, Kissinger was taken from his Angola cell to Elayn Hunt Correctional Center, where he was placed in solitary confinement for 18 days and ultimately served 126 days in “punitive segregation,” his suit says.
The suit claims prison officials previously retaliated against Kissinger in 1995 for his role in whistleblower litigation over the relabeling and sale of expired cans of food at Angola. That experience left him “anxious” about media attention, but an assistant warden told Kissinger last December that he shouldn’t worry about communicating with The Advocate’s reporter, according to the suit.
Katie Schwartzmann, Kissinger’s attorney, said her client had a right to speak out about prison conditions.
“What happens in the prison system affects all of us,” Schwartzmann said during a telephone interview. “He was trying to communicate about what happens behind those bars, and he was retaliated against for it.”
Cain, the former warden, and Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc are among the defendants named in the suit.
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