May 29, 2014

Corrections Department Has Yet to Release Execution Log

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A view of part of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, where corrections officials are considering re-opening a block of cells to relieve prison-system overcrowding.

Clifton Adcock/Oklahoma Watch

A view of part of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, where corrections officials are considering re-opening a block of cells to relieve prison-system overcrowding.

Clayton Lockett

Clayton Lockett” credit=” 

A month after the controversial attempt to execute an Oklahoma prisoner, the state Department of Corrections has yet to release the official log detailing what went on in the days and hours leading up to the incident.

The Corrections Department did release a detailed timeline covering the 14 hours before and during the botched execution of Clayton Lockett on April 29. But so far the department has not released a copy of the execution log, which officials are required to keep starting seven days before an execution.

Oklahoma’s execution protocol states, “Seven days prior to the execution of an offender sentenced to death, a daily log will be kept regarding every aspect of the proceedings except names of those participants who are to remain anonymous.”

Lockett’s execution went awry when medical workers failed to find a suitable vein in the arms, legs, feet and neck to deliver lethal drugs, and instead inserted the needle into the groin area, said a letter with the timeline from Corrections Director Robert Patton. A doctor on site said the vein collapsed, and the execution was halted. A few minutes later, Lockett, 38, died of an apparent heart attack.

That morning, Lockett had resisted removal from his cell, and officers stunned him with a Taser device. Lockett had a self-inflicted cut on his arm and refused food and visitors, Patton said. The agency did not describe Lockett’s behavior during the previous days.

The incident has drawn worldwide attention and helped fuel debate over use of lethal injections to carry out the death penalty. It also caused other states to delay scheduled executions.

Oklahoma suspended further executions and Gov. Mary Fallin ordered an investigation by the state Department of Public Safety into what happened and the state’s execution protocols.

Lockett had been sentenced to death for the murder of Perry resident Stephanie Neiman, 19, in 1999. Lockett shot Neiman twice with a shotgun before burying her alive in a shallow grave in rural Kay County.

The execution log is part of an Open Records Act request submitted April 30 by Oklahoma Watch to the Corrections Department. Other media have filed similar requests, said Jerry Massie, department spokesman.

Massie said the execution log had been brought to the agency’s headquarters in Oklahoma City after Lockett’s death, but was not copied and was taken back to the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. Penitentiary Warden Anita Trammell delivered the log to Patton’s office to allow him to prepare the timeline, which on May 1 was sent to Fallin and released to the media.

Massie said he does not know when the prison will return the execution log to headquarters. Administrators must review the log to redact any names of those involved in the execution and possibly other information, he said.

Stephen Krise, general counsel for the state Department of Public Safety, said the department has not directed other agencies to withhold release of public documents during its investigation.

Krise said the investigation should be completed in less than a month. Investigators are waiting for Lockett’s autopsy report, being prepared in Dallas.

Massie said he expects the log will be released before the investigation is done.

Joey Senat, Oklahoma State University journalism professor and board member of FOI Oklahoma, which advocates for open government, said the Open Records Act does not specify a time limit for agencies to respond to records requests, but the law and Attorney General opinions state that agencies are given only the time to “locate and compile” the records.

“Basically, they’re not entitled to hold records for any amount of time,” Senat said. “There’s no reason not to put those things in the mail, particularly if they were up there once.”

“They’re not complying with the law by this kind of delay,” Senat said.

Clifton Adcock can be reached at cadcock@Oklahomawatch.org