Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton speaks briefly about the stay of execution issued for Richard Glossip after it was found out that the state didn't have the correct drug. SHANE BEVEL/The Frontier

Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton speaks briefly about the stay of execution issued for Richard Glossip after it was discovered that the state didn’t have the correct drug.
SHANE BEVEL/The Frontier

Late Friday afternoon, I was finishing a short email when a message popped up in my inbox.

It was from a spokesman at the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, announcing that the agency’s director was resigning and his final day at the office would be this month. He was moving back to Arizona to be closer to family, the press release said.

These are the kinds of announcements that folks in power love to dump late on Fridays, in hopes that lazy reporters have already teetered off to happy hour or that there’s only an hour left at the office that they have to answer phones.

Those who watched the spectacle that became Richard Glossip’s execution weren’t surprised that there has been fallout.

In October, Oklahoma State Penitentiary Warden Anita Trammell announced she was retiring amid a probe by Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office into what went wrong with Glossip’s planned execution. Glossip’s death sentence was already mired in controversy and Oklahoma was just a few hours from killing him when it realized it didn’t have the correct drug for the procedure.

Later, we learned that the state used that drug on Charles Warner in January, even though it’s not approved under the protocol that had been challenged all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

State officials had made public proclamations about being able to carry out lethal injections properly in the wake of what happened in 2014 at the execution of Clayton Lockett — and now they couldn’t back those up.

The Attorney General’s office hasn’t announced the results of its probe yet, and we’re still suing Gov. Mary Fallin to find out more about what happened with Lockett.

For instance, the person who authorized Lockett’s execution to begin was not Trammell or Patton, but someone sitting the governor’s office while Fallin was at an NBA game.

Who was that person? We still don’t know, because for some reason, the folks in power believe they have a right to redact his or her name. This is one of the issues we’re still fighting.

Trammell was inside the execution chamber that night, doing the dirty work, while Patton was on the phone trying to get all the people in power to decide whether it was time to call it off. He told us at a press conference months later that he didn’t know some of what was going on in the chamber.

Looking back, the consensus is that someone should have called it off when they realized they didn’t have the right needles or an ultrasound machine to guide the insertion of a difficult IV in a cut-down procedure. Oklahoma DOC acknowledged as much by changing its policy and adding equipment to the chamber.

Patton had only been in office a few months when Lockett’s execution happened in 2014. And honestly, in terms of his dealings with media, those early months were rocky.

Among my first dealings with Patton included being told I could not go inside a prison with cameras to visit with inmates and write about overcrowding and overworked guards. This was about a month before Lockett’s botched execution, when I was still working at Tulsa World.

Other than prisons being on lockdown for incidents of violence, it was the first time I could recall Oklahoma DOC being so restrictive regarding interviews. The taxpayers fund the prisons; they have a right to know what’s going on in them.

My editors were not happy, and asked me to write a story about the change.

Chris McDaniel at Buzzfeed later discovered in some emails he requested and reported on that Patton was not thrilled with that story. I’m not shocked.



About a month later, Patton was dealing with international scrutiny over the Lockett execution.

As that scandal continued, the police in Tulsa were investigating a serial rapist that had the city terrified. We got word one morning in July that a suspect had been found — in a hospital bed.

Police announced Desmond La’don Campbell, was in a coma after crashing his car, possibly as he was leaving a home where another victim was attacked. Campbell had been discharged from the Cimarron Correctional Facility on April 21. The Tulsa sexual assaults Campbell was suspected of committing began in June. (He later died as a result of the car crash.)

I made a records request and quickly discovered that Campbell had been released early under a policy of “recalculated” earned credits. DOC claimed this was not a new policy, but all of a sudden, 700 inmates were released in April.

The following week, the Board of Corrections met at Cimarron Correctional Facility. I tried to talk to Patton about the issue after the meeting, but he kind of ran away from me. His spokesman said it was because he’d just had dental work and it was painful to talk, which I certainly understand.

The board’s chairman, Kevin Gross, chatted with me instead. 

To Patton’s credit, in all the tough stories we did, I don’t ever recall him calling my editors to complain or visiting the publisher to ask us to be nicer.

When I saw Patton at a prison in Boley earlier this year, he was very friendly and eager to chat about JRI, the state’s long, often-derailed attempt at prison reform.

Turned out, many of the provisions of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative had not been funded or implemented and it appeared that warnings about inaction came true: Our state’s prisons were bursting at the seams.

This was actually the story I was trying to tell when I made that interview request earlier in the year, and it’s one I’ve written about many times since I transitioned back to news coverage in 2011.

One of the first major projects I worked on in 2011 was a massive collaboration examining Oklahoma’s highest-in-the-nation female incarceration rate, Women in Prison.

Since that series ran in 2011, the state has passed numerous laws and issued several studies, many women featured in the articles were released from prison, two directors have departed the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, but one thing hasn’t changed: We’re still No. 1 per capita when it comes to sending women to prison.

Patton’s email in March 2014 complained about what he saw as a lax media policy at the state prisons where reporters were allowed to just “walk around.” But it was through my former colleague Ginnie Graham just walking around that we found one of the best stories in that series: Patricia Spottedcrow.

Ginnie met Patricia on her first day of prison at Eddie Warrior, the mother of four had been sentenced to 12 years for a $31 sale of marijuana. The story outraged people, and led to Spottedcrow’s parole a year later. I got to follow Patricia on the day she was released from prison in 2012 and write a story.

Just by happenstance, a few days before Patton announced his resignation, a photo popped up in my Facebook “memories” feed, where it shows you old posts from a few years back on the same day.

It was a simple iPhone photo I’d taken when Patricia returned home to surprise her children. Still one of my favorites.

Patricia Spottedcrow, playing with her daughter on the day she was released from prison in 2012.

Patricia Spottedcrow, playing with her daughter on the day she was released from prison in 2012.