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$4,000 Awarded to Subject of Esquire Article

by Lonnie Burton

Timothy Murphy and Joe Hoffman dug a makeshift tunnel in an attempt to escape from Michigan's Kinross prison in March 2007. While their effort was ultimately foiled at the last minute, a feature article in the August 2008 edition of Esquire magazine entitled "The Tunnel" detailed the brazen scheme, and was decidedly unflattering to Michigan prison officials.

 Following publication of the article, Murphy said he was subject to numerous forms of retaliation at his new prison, and in August 2013 he received a $4,000 settlement to resolve a lawsuit he filed in response to the retaliation.

At the time the lawsuit was filed in April 2010, Murphy had been in administrative segregation (ad-seg) for three years, first at the Standish Maximum Correctional Facility, then at the Baraga Maximum Correctional Facility. Part of the suit alleges that Murphy remains in segregation despite no longer meeting the criteria for placement there. Murphy alleged that upon his arrival to the Standish prison in May 2007 following the discovery of the tunnel, he encountered a staff member, Mark Machulis, whom he had previously sued on other grounds. Machulis told Murphy "You're going to enjoy your stay here, I'll see to it." Machulis then had what is known as an "RPA" hold placed on Murphy, meaning he could not be released from ad-seg without prior approval from the regional prison administrator. Murphy alleged that this hold was unwarranted and done in retaliation for his exercise of constitutionally protected speech, i.e., the Esquire article on which Murphy worked with the author and is quoted extensively, and his previous lawsuit against Machulis.

During one meeting with RPA Jeri Ann Sherry, Murphy asked her how long he would have to remain in ad-seg. According to the complaint, Sherry responded "I don't make deals. You didn't do yourself any favors with that magazine story."

Murphy's suit also alleged First Amendment violations because the prison rejected the August 2008 edition of Esquire that contained "The Tunnel" article. Murphy was also fired from his prison job shortly after the article came out, and when he complained about it, a unit supervisor told him "You should have thought about it before you did that article."

Murphy's lawsuit – lodged in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan – was settled just over three years after he filed it. The $4,000 settlement was exempted by agreement from Michigan's Correctional Facility Reimbursement Act, but is inclusive of all costs and attorney's fees, although Murphy represented himself pro se throughout the case.

See: Murphy v. Lockhart, et al., No. 2:10— cv-11676 (USDC ED MI).


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Related legal case

Murphy v. Lockhart