STRINGTOWN (AP) — The Oklahoma Board of Corrections met behind closed doors for part of its meeting Thursday for a briefing on an investigation into the botched execution of a death row inmate.
After meeting privately for about 45 minutes with the seven-member board and the agency’s general counsel at the Mack Alford Correctional Center, Oklahoma’s prison chief Robert Patton declined to discuss anything related to the April 29 execution of Clayton Lockett.
“I’m informed (the Department of Public Safety) is making very good progress on its investigation,” Patton said. “Once the investigation is complete, I’ll be happy to sit down with anyone and talk about any changes that need to be made, but not until that time.”
Public bodies in Oklahoma are authorized to go into closed-door sessions to discuss ongoing investigations and possible litigation, among other things.
Patton halted Lockett’s execution after a doctor inside the death chamber reported the inmate’s vein collapsed during his lethal injection, resulting in the drugs being absorbed into his tissue or leaking out of his body. Oklahoma was using a new three-drug combination for the first time, and Lockett, who had been writhing on the gurney, gritting his teeth, mumbling and attempting to raise his head, was pronounced dead of a heart attack about ten minutes later.
Gov. Mary Fallin ordered DPS to investigate the bungled execution, and the head of that agency, Commissioner Michael Thompson, said last week he expects the probe will be wrapped up in a “matter of weeks instead of months.”
Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals granted a six-month stay of execution for a second inmate, Charles Warner, who was scheduled to die the same night as Lockett. Fallin and Attorney General Scott Pruitt have said no executions will take place in Oklahoma until the investigation is completed and any necessary changes are made to the state’s lethal injection protocols.
Patton has said previously he supports an extensive review of Oklahoma’s protocols and plans to explore best practices from other states. Among the changes he has already recommended is making the director, not the prison warden, responsible for all decisions regarding the execution. He also has said prison staff will “require extensive training and understanding of new protocols before an execution can be scheduled.”
Also during Thursday’s meeting, Patton notified the board that Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz had dropped a lawsuit against the DOC. Glanz was seeking to force the agency to more quickly remove inmates from the county jail who had already been sentenced to prison.
Patton has made the transfer of inmates from county jails into the prison system one of his top priorities since taking the job earlier this year. Prison officials reported there were 269 DOC inmates backed up in county jails as of last Friday, compared to more than 1,800 one year ago.
Prison officials also informed the board the agency expects to lose about $500,000 annually as a result of new Federal Communications Commission caps on rates for interstate phone calls. The agency already has lost $81,000 since the new caps took effect in February, said Ashlee Clemons, acting chief of business services.