New Documents Show Wide-ranging Search for Execution Drugs by CA Reached Military Hospitals, FDA

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ACLU of Northern CA

San Francisco – The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) released 192 pages of records to the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU-NC) in compliance with a Dec. 14, 2010 California Superior Court order. The documents, delivered on Jan. 4, reveal more damaging details about the Department's "secret mission" to acquire sodium thiopental, a controlled substance used as part of California's lethal injection protocol.

CDCR previously produced almost 1,000 pages in response to an earlier, Nov. 30, 2010 order. The new batch of e-mail correspondence and other documents shows a wide-ranging search that included military and Veterans' Administration hospitals, dozens of states, and direct calls to the Governor of Texas and emails to Attorneys General from across the country. Arizona officials also solicited special assistance from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in their effort to quickly acquire lethal doses of the scarce anesthetic in time for scheduled executions.

"The records highlight in vivid detail why we need transparency when it comes to executions." said ACLU of Northern California (ACLU-NC) Staff Attorney Michael Risher. "We now know that many state officials were spending a lot of time and taxpayer money on this effort. We still don't know who was driving the process and why."

The FDA has since stated that it "does not review or approve products for the purpose of lethal injection." Nonetheless, the newly released documents show that the FDA has been actively assisting states with procuring the execution drugs, both within the United States and from foreign sources.

"The people of California are now left in legal limbo. How can the FDA help states get execution drugs without determining if the drugs are what states claim them to be or that they will work as they should?" said Natasha Minsker, Death Penalty Policy Director for the ACLU of Northern California. "If the FDA is not willing to weigh in on the matter, then the courts must. State officials have an obligation to prove the identity and effectiveness of the substances that they want to use for executions."

The CDCR has informed the ACLU of Northern California that more records will be produced shortly. The ACLU of Northern California will continue to make these records available to the media and the public as they are received.

"Officials have called this bizarre effort "staff-intensive" and a "difficult road". At a time of shrinking budgets, we should protect our public resources and replace this expensive practice with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole," added Minsker.

Background and additional information:

The ACLU of Northern California filed suit on Nov. 17, 2010, after the CDCR violated state law by failing to produce any records in response to a California Public Records Act (PRA) request submitted by the ACLU of Northern California on Oct. 7, 2010. The request asked for basic records relating to the CDCR's acquisition, use, and destruction of sodium thiopental.

Key information with corresponding page numbers below:

  • CDCR contacted military and VA hospitals looking for the drugs, pp. 23, 403

  • Direct contact with Governor Perry of Texas, pp. 65, 238, 240

  • The name of the manufacturer, pp. 1-3

  • Previously withheld letters from the Arizona Department of Corrections and federal agencies requesting special treatment for shipments of drugs to be used in executions, pp. 452-453

  • Less redacted versions of documents showing extensive contact between state prison officials and federal officials, pp. 29, 273, 759, 874

  • Washington State acquired drugs from local hospital, p. 46

  • Arkansas imported the drugs from the UK first, pp. 28, 207, 874

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California's Search for Lethal Injection Drugs

ACLU Sues California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

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