BATON ROUGE, La. — A settlement agreement on Tuesday resolves a lawsuit that accused Louisiana prison officials of retaliating against an inmate for exchanging emails with a reporter whose newspaper published a series of stories critical of the state’s corrections department.
The agreement requires prison officials to rescind a disciplinary action against William Kissinger, restore his trusty status at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola and give him a job that pays 16 cents an hour.
January’s lawsuit said Kissinger was transferred from Angola last year and placed in solitary confinement at another prison after communicating with an Advocate reporter about an alleged “culture of greed and corruption” in Louisiana’s prison system.
Burl Cain, Angola’s longtime warden, resigned in January 2016 following a string of Advocate reports about his private real estate dealings.
Kissinger’s attorney, Katie Schwartzmann, said her client was being transferred Tuesday from Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel back to Angola, the state’s largest maximum-security prison.
“Angola really was his home, and he was uprooted from his entire life and everything that mattered to him,” said Schwartzmann, a New Orleans-based attorney from the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center.
Kissinger, 64, was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. He has served most of his sentence at Angola over the past 27 years.
In February 2016, Kissinger told the Baton Rouge newspaper’s reporter Maya Lau 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 the other prison, where he was placed in solitary confinement for 18 days and ultimately served 126 days in “punitive segregation,” his suit said.
The suit, which described Kissinger as a whistleblower, had asked the court to rule that prison officials violated his constitutional rights to free speech and due process.
Corrections department spokesman Ken Pastorick said in an email Tuesday evening that settling the lawsuit was in the best interest of the state of Louisiana and its taxpayers. He added, “The department maintains the transfer was in the best interest of all parties, and that it did nothing wrong.”
Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc and other prison officials were named as defendants in the suit.
Tuesday’s settlement doesn’t include any monetary award or admission of wrongdoing by prison officials. Any compensation, including attorney’s fees and costs, will be negotiated separately.
This story has been corrected to delete reference that William Kissinger will be working in the prison woodshop.