Munin Kathawa had a passion for tutoring–one he says prison officials took away after he tried to expose rampant cheating.
A Michigan inmate is suing prison officials for retaliation, claiming he lost his job as a jailhouse tutor after complaining that teachers were helping other convicts cheat on high school equivalency tests.
According to The Associated Press, U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith declined to dismiss the lawsuit on Thursday. Without Goldsmith’s ruling, the case will move to trial unless a settlement is reached.
The complaint was filed by 57-year old inmate Munin Kathawa, who’s serving a life sentence for murder. Kathawa’s suit names five defendants, including a deputy warden. He says his rights were violated for reporting obvious wrongdoing.
Kathawa, adds The A.P., had passed on his concerns to a Catholic priest and state legislator in 2018.
In his decision to rebuff the motion for dismissal, Goldsmith noted that Kathawa had a reputation as an excellent tutor.
“There is no dispute that Kathawa was an excellent tutor,” the judge observed. “Nevertheless, he was removed from his position […] A jury could reasonably infer that Kathawa was terminated as retaliation for making comments about the GED program and other matters.”
The Detroit Free Press reports that Kathawa lost his volunteer position after teacher Laura Bendele said she didn’t feel safe around him. However, Kathawa’s lawsuit contends that Bendele said no such thing—and that prison and school officials had, in fact, unsuccessfully tried to pressure Bendele into making false statements against him.
In deposition, Bendele backed Kathawa, saying she believes that corrections officials changed her work assignment because she wouldn’t lie on their behalf.
“I felt ganged up on and that I was made to look weak and stupid,” Bendele said of the pressure purportedly put upon her by Deputy Warden Douglas Smith and local Corrections Department principal Brian Friedman.
Friedman, says the Free Post¸ had earlier reassigned Kathawa from one teacher to another. While before he’d been working with Bendele for nearly two years between 2016 and 2017, he was placed with teacher Spencer Kinney in 2018.
In Kinney’s classroom, Kathawa grew suspicious that the new teacher was passing answers on to students. Kathawa says that one pupil who should’ve just passed the GED scored unreasonably well on it, “and revealed that Kinney, among others, provided him with the exam answers.”
Kathawa says he recorded at least eight other instances which evidence Kinney helping inmates cheat. He also registered other complaints about the quality of teaching, claiming that the GED program emphasized high test scores rather than educational quality.
Smith, writes the Free Post, now claims he didn’t know about Kathawa’s complaints when he decided to transfer Bendele to another facility.