Texas – TDCJ wants to block release of lethal injection drug info

april 3, 2012 source : http://www.chron.com

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is refusing to disclose the size of its stock of a key pharmaceutical used in executions, saying doing so would endanger its drug makers and suppliers.

The charge comes in a brief filed with the Texas Attorney General’s Office in response to a December query by an British newspaper concerning the contents of state’s death house medicine chest. The agency said releasing such information would provide ammunition for Reprieve, a British anti-death penalty group that successfully has pressured drug makers to stop selling to executioners.

Likening Reprieve’s campaigns to those of violent prison gangs, the brief written by TDCJ Assistant General Counsel Patricia Fleming asserts that releasing information “creates a substantial risk of physical harm to our supplier. … It is not a question of if, but when, Reprieve’s unrestrained harassment will escalate into violence…”

TDCJ is seeking authorization not to answer questions posed in a December public information request by Ed Pilkington, the New York correspondent for The Guardian, a national British newspaper. An attorney general’s response is expected this month.

Pilkington sought to determine how much pentobarbital, one of three drugs used in executions, the death house had in stock. He also asked how the agency met requirements that a second “back up” dose of lethal drugs be available at executions.

“I was very surprised by the language they chose to use, which was pretty inflammatory, really,” Pilkington said. “Obviously, there is an international disagreement over the death penalty. … Usually that discourse is conducted in a civilized manner.”

He called the claim that the prison system’s drug suppliers were in jeopardy, “pretty far-fetched.”

‘Public interest’

Joseph Larsen, a lawyer for the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said Pilkington’s questions go to the “heart of how effectively TDCJ performs its official functions.”

“The whole idea behind the Texas Public Information Act is that the governmental bodies do not get to control the information that underlies political discussion,” he said. “Specifically, the governmental body does not even get to ask why a requestor wants certain information. How then can a governmental body base its argument for withholding on what use it anticipates will be made of the information if released?”

In a 2008 case, the Attorney General’s Office sided with TDCJ in denying Forbes magazine the names of companies that supplied execution drugs, noting that “releasing the names of the companies would place the employees of those companies in imminent threat of physical danger.”

Drug’s maker pressed

An appeals court rejected that ruling the following year.

Pentobarbital was added to the state’s lethal cocktail in May 2011, replacing sodium thiopental after that drug’s maker stopped production, in part because of Reprieve’s anti-drug agitation.

Reprieve followed by directing international pressure on Lundbeck, pentobarbital’s Danish maker, obtaining a July 2011 agreement that the company no longer would sell to prisons in death penalty states. The production plant later was sold, but the new owner abided by the agreement.

Reprieve also targeted a pharmaceutical company that had supplied sodium thiopental to Arizona. On its website, Reprieve posted photos of the supplier’s office along with its tax returns and the name, phone number and address of its owner.

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