The interim director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections will be Joe Allbaugh, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency under George W. Bush from 2001 to 2003, the Oklahoma Board of Corrections announced Thursday.
The announcement came a month after the previous director, Robert Patton, resigned in the wake of the state having made several mistakes in carrying out executions and in the midst of investigations into the mistakes.
After working in Oklahoma politics for some time, Allbaugh served as Bush's campaign manager when he ran for governor in 1994 and then worked as his chief of staff and later on his presidential campaign. He later served as Rick Perry's campaign manager when he ran for president in 2012.
The chair of the Oklahoma Board of Corrections, Kevin Gross, said it "might be interesting" to have someone without direct corrections experience run the prison system, according to a Tulsa World reporter.
Allbaugh will take over the department in the midst of upheaval. Patton announced his resignation in early December, as a grand jury was investigating deviations from the execution protocol under his watch.
In a New York Times report on Allbaugh and his role at FEMA in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the newspaper wrote, "Mr. Allbaugh (he is Joe, not Joseph) has experience imposing order on chaos." Allbaugh was responsible, however, for bringing Mike Brown into the agency — the person who became his successor and was heavily criticized for his handling of the response to Hurricane Katrina.
Patton's resignation announcement came weeks after a BuzzFeed News investigation found a pattern of mistakes followed Patton from his time working in corrections in Arizona.
Patton admitted in 2011 that there were several deviations from Arizona's protocol, like allowing unqualified executioners, not doing the proper checks on professional licenses and criminal background checks on them, that he never checked the forms that would indicate which drugs were actually used, and that he allowed a sheet to cover the IV.
Several of these same issues led to botched executions in Oklahoma. In his first execution as director, Clayton Lockett sat up on the gurney after he was declared unconscious. An investigation into why he took 43 minutes to die found it was caused largely by the executioners not being able to see the IV due to a sheet covering it.
In Patton's second execution as director, Charles Warner told witnesses that his "body [was] on fire" as he died. Later, it was revealed that the state used the wrong drug in the execution.
In what would have been his third execution as director, the state obtained, and briefly considered using, the wrong drugs. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt's office informed the corrections department that they could not use a drug not in the protocol, and eventually decided to start the grand jury investigation into the state's executions.
The warden at the prison, Anita Trammell, resigned in October. Patton's last day in the office was December. The Department of Corrections insists that both resignations are unrelated to the grand jury investigation — that Trammell had been considering retiring and that Patton wanted to be closer to family.
Patton's new job will be as a deputy warden at a prison in Arizona run by the GEO Group, a private prison company. The career change has a state lawmaker in Oklahoma questioning the legality, as Patton signed contracts with GEO Group during his time as director in Oklahoma.
Chris McDaniel is an investigative reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. His secure PGP fingerprint is C90B B2EF E872 EF22 4EDA DABB 50E6 F2BE 1164 FCAF
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