Lawsuit alleges Angola officials punished prisoner who talked to journalist

BATON ROUGE (WGNO) – A lawsuit filed in federal court today alleges prison officials at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola retaliated against a prisoner who talked to a journalist investigating the jail.

According to the lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana by the New Orleans-based MacArthur Justice Center, prisoner William Kissinger was sent to solitary confinement in the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center after talking to a reporter from the Baton Rouge Advocate about prison conditions and financial irregularities at Angola in 2015 and 2016.

The solitary confinement unit is commonly referred to as “the dungeon,” according to the lawsuit.

“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.”

On the day he was moved to the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center, Kissinger was denied a copy of the investigation report and had no way to defend himself before the prison disciplinary board, according to the MacArthur Justice Center.

“William Kissinger has a clear right to talk to the news media about conditions inside the prison,” MacArthur Justice Center Co-Director Katie 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.”

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, the lawsuit alleges.

“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,” Schwartzmann said.

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.