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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, December 6, 2023 | Back issues
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Inmate Says He Was Thrown In Solitary for Talking to Reporter

A Louisiana inmate claims in court that he was subjected to more than four months in solitary confinement as punishment by prison officials for corresponding with a journalist.

BATON ROUGE (CN) – A Louisiana inmate claims in court that he was subjected to more than four months in solitary confinement as punishment by prison officials for corresponding with a journalist.

In a complaint filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, William Kissinger claims that after he corresponded with a reporter from the Baton Rouge Advocate about the “culture of greed and corruption” in the state corrections system, he was sent from Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola to another prison where he was placed in solitary confinement.

Kissinger, who has spent the last 27 years in prison, mostly at Angola, for murder, “is widely regarded as a positive leader at Angola by both prisoners and staff,” the lawsuit says.

The information he gave the reporter later appeared in a series of stories the newspaper ran that were critical of Louisiana’s corrections department.

The series ultimately led to the resignation of longtime Angola Warden Burl Cain. The stories also resulted in the investigation of many high-ranking department officials and employees, the lawsuit said.

In retaliation, Kissinger was taken from his cell in the middle of the night. He was transported to a different corrections facility where his belongings were seized and disposed of, the lawsuit says.

Kissinger was then placed in solitary confinement, where he remained for 126 days.

In 1995 Kissinger was a whistleblower at Angola related to the sale of expired cans of food, the lawsuit says.

He says he was retaliated against for his role in the ensuing controversy, but that he ultimately successfully sued the corrections department.

In 2015 a reporter for the Baton Rouge Advocate named Maya Lau found Kissinger’s 1995 whistleblower litigation and included it in a story she wrote pertaining to Angola.

After publication of the story, Lau contacted Kissinger and asked him to add her to his visitation list, the lawsuit said.

“Kissinger was anxious about contact with the press due to his very negative experience of retaliation” in the 1990s, according to the lawsuit.

Because of this, Kissinger advised a prison staff member of the December 2015 letter from Lau and was advised he should “not worry about” communicating with her.

Thereafter, Kissinger sent a response to Lau through a friend using Angola’s monitored e-mail system called J-Pay, and the two began to correspond regularly, the lawsuit says.

On February 1, 2016, Kissinger sent Lau a message saying he was going to send her a large amount of information in a letter.

“In the same message 'he highlighted questions that she should be asking as part of the Baton Rouge Advocate’s ongoing investigations of financial improprieties at Angola,'" the lawsuit says. “He also noted that he had additional information about financial improprieties that she would be interested in.”

Three days later, on February 4, 2016, Kissinger was called to the exit area of Angola and advised that he was being written up for a violation of Rule 30-W that regulates “general prohibited behaviors” at the jail.

He says he was told only that he was being placed in “Administrative segregation pending a thorough investigation.”

Kissinger says he was given 15 minutes to pack his belongings and he was transferred to solitary confinement, called “the dungeon” at Elayn Hunt Correctional Center.

At the center, he claims he was allowed one bag in his cell. The remainder of his belongings were thrown away.

Neither Angola nor Ealyn Hunt Correctional Center immediately replied to phoned requests for comment Tuesday.

Katie Schwartzmann, Kissinger’s attorney, told the Associated Press Monday that her client had a right to speak up about prison conditions.

“What happens in the prison system affects all of us,” Schwartzmann told the AP. She said Kissinger “was trying to communicate what happens behind those bars, and he was retaliated against for it.”

Former Angola Warden Cain is a named defendant, along with numerous other guards and officers, James LeBlanc, Darryl Vannoy, Seth Smith, Robert Tanner, Tim Hooper, Greg McKey, Stephen Waguespack, Michael Vaughn, Stewart Hawkins, Becky Hill, Gregory Polozola and several others who were not fully named.

The lawsuit filed by the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center in New Orleans.

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Categories / Civil Rights, Government, Law

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