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Oklahoma Execution Review Finds Lack Of Training, “Antiquated” Processes

Review was ordered after the April 29 botched execution of Clayton Lockett.

Mike Fiala/AFP/File

WASHINGTON — After botching the April execution of an Oklahoma man, the people performing the execution did not know what to do because there were no “policies or protocols in place at that time,” according to a shocking new report released by the state Thursday.

After problems with the April 29 execution of Clayton Lockett, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin ordered a review of how executions are carried out. Thursday’s report of that review reveals an execution process with little formal oversight or training.

The warden of Oklahoma State Penitentiary, Anita Trammell, told investigators looking into the execution process in the state that “the only training she received was on-the-job training” and that there were “no formalized training procedures or processes concerning the duties of each specific position’s responsibility.”

The director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Robert Patton, and Trammell said those carrying out the execution of Lockett “were unaware of how to proceed” once “it was determined that problems were present during Lockett’s execution … due to the lack of policies and/or protocols in place at that time.”

Nine of the report’s 22 recommendations relate to the lack of training or contingency plans during the state’s execution process.

The 29-page report lays out a current process that in some instances leaves decisions undefined or up to individual judgment and at other times has a defined process that has remained seemingly unchanged in a modern era.

At one point, for example, the report states, “It was apparent during this investigation that specific terminology should be clearly defined so they are understood by all personnel involved in the execution process.” This was not a discussion of intricate medical terminology that the investigation concluded should be defined. Rather, the report concluded that officials from the Department of Corrections, attorney general’s office, and governor’s office should define terms that “include, but are not limited to ‘stop,’ ‘stay,’ and ‘halt.’”

Another recommendation was that the department “Conduct formal, specific training related to information documented on all execution logs,” suggesting that such training does not happen currently. Earlier, the report also noted, “This investigation revealed areas of training that need to be addressed. It was noted there was no formal training process involving the paramedic, the physician or the executioners and their specific roles.”

Among the 22 recommendations were some that appeared directly to result from the botched execution of Lockett — and the lengthy execution in Arizona of Joseph Wood that occurred since Lockett’s execution. “After one hour of unsuccessful IV attempts, (the Department of Corrections) should contact the governor to advise the status and potentially request a postponement of the execution,” the report recommends.

Because one of the problems with Lockett’s execution was when the IV dislodged during the execution, one recommendation is that “[t]he IV catheter insertion point(s) should remain visible during all phases of the execution and continuously observed by a person with proper medical training in assessing the ongoing viability of an IV.”

In another area of the report, the summary details that Oklahoma officials communicate during executions using an “antiquated” process of officials using “color pencil and hand signals.”

“The current communication methods used during the execution process are antiquated and require unnecessary multi-tasking from key personnel in the execution chamber,” according to the report. The Department of Corrections, the report recommends, “should research and implement modern methods that allow personnel in these two areas to communicate clearly.”

Other recommendations suggest a current process that makes investigations such as this one more difficult.

“[The Department of Corrections] should explore maintaining an executed offender’s personal property and any items removed from his/her cell until the autopsy report is completed,” the report recommends, suggesting that the department is immediately throwing away executed people’s property. “This would allow [the Department of Corrections] administrative personnel time to determine if such property should be maintained for an additional period of time, if appropriate circumstances exist.”

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Chris Geidner is the legal editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, D.C. In 2014, Geidner won the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association award for journalist of the year.
Contact Chris Geidner at chris.geidner@buzzfeed.com
 
 
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