Louisiana Prison Officials Sued for Retaliating Against Whistleblower
After communicating with journalist, prisoner was banished to “the Dungeon”
BATON ROUGE – A federal lawsuit has been filed against filed against Louisiana prison officials who retaliated against a prisoner after he communicated with a journalist investigating prison conditions and financial irregularities at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.
When prison officials learned of William Kissinger’s communications with a Baton Rouge Advocate reporter in 2015 and 2016, they transferred Kissinger to the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center where he was placed in solitary confinement – known commonly as “the Dungeon,” according to the lawsuit filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana.
“In the Dungeon, Kissinger had no access to any item other than a mattress,” states the lawsuit. “He did not have bed sheets or any toiletry items. He was not even afforded a toothbrush. He received toilet paper every other day. He was allowed out of his cell for 15 minutes per day and was shackled with hard restraints, resulting in cuts to his wrists.”
Before the abrupt transfer to “the Dungeon,” Kissinger had lived most of the last 27 years of his life at the prison in Angola where he was widely regarded as a positive leader by prisoners and staff and had built a successful, productive life behind bars.
On the day he was moved to the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center, prison officials only told Kissinger he was being written up for a “30-W,” also known as “General Prohibited Behaviors.” He was denied a copy of the investigation report and had no way to defend himself before the prison disciplinary board. Although sentenced by the board to 10 days in isolation, Kissinger was kept in isolation for 18 days. For the next three and a half months, he was kept in the maximum security section of the prison with restrictions on movement and contact with the world outside the prison.
Katie Schwartzmann, Co-Director with the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center’s office in New Orleans, represents Kissinger.
“William Kissinger has a clear right to talk to the news media about conditions inside the prison,” Schwartzmann said. “Louisiana has the nation’s highest incarceration rate, and the prison corrections system consumes a large portion of our State budget. We deserve to know what happens behind the walls of our state correctional facilities.”
“It appears that the leaders of the Louisiana prison system don’t want the public to know what goes on, and they decided to teach William Kissinger a lesson – a lesson they hoped would silence him and any other whistleblower thinking about speaking publicly.”
The lawsuit seeks an injunction to cease the unconstitutional and unlawful practices and to restore all rights and privileges held by Kissinger prior to the retaliation. Defendants in the lawsuit include Secretary James LeBlanc, as well as the current and former Wardens at Angola and Elayn Hunt.
A copy of the lawsuit as filed is available here»
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