DETROIT – A jury has awarded $1,251 to a convicted killer who filed a lawsuit after he was barred from touching his wife during a Michigan prison visit.
Kevin King claimed a guard was retaliating against him for past complaints when she prohibited him from embracing his wife during a 2012 visit at the Cotton prison in Jackson.
They had to sit a few feet apart.
Jurors in Detroit federal court last week awarded $1 for a violation of King’s First Amendment rights and $1,250 as punitive damages.
In court filings, the Corrections Department argued it was “de minimis” – no big deal – and didn’t violate the couple’s constitutional rights.
“It trivializes the First Amendment to allow such a minor occurrence to constitute an adverse action,” Assistant Attorney General John Thurber said.
But U.S. District Judge Matthew Leitman had refused to dismiss the case before trial, saying the Kings had been deprived of their “sole form of intimacy.” Some contact typically is allowed under prison policies.
The state “substantially understates the value of human contact in general and its special value to the Kings. … It was certainly meaningful for Williams to deprive them of physical contact,” the judge said, referring to prison officer Tiffaney Williams.
King, 52, is serving a life sentence for murder committed during an armed robbery in Oakland County in 1982. He has repeatedly sued the Corrections Department over his treatment in prison.
He was awarded about $1,500 after being transferred to an Upper Peninsula prison with a higher security classification – and still could collect more. King claimed the transfer was in retaliation for challenging policies on personal property behind bars.
An appeals court in June sent the case back to a federal judge in Grand Rapids to determine if the state should be hit with additional punitive damages.
In another case, a judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit over a radio. King claimed his radio was taken away for 23 days in retaliation for helping another prisoner file a grievance. The case is pending.