Oklahoma has about a month to turn over its death penalty training protocol to attorneys representing inmates on death row as the state continues to work toward a resumption of lethal injections.
Questions about the training given to those conducting executions in the state have been raised since the Department of Corrections released its updated death penalty protocol in February. While much of the protocol was released in detail, sections about the training given to those in the death chamber was sparse.
For instance, under the “Training” heading, the protocol said DOC “will establish protocols and training to enable staff to function in a safe, effective and professional manner before, after and during an execution.” The protocol did not specify what that training would entail.
H Unit, the section of McAlester’s Oklahoma State Penitentiary where death row inmates are housed, would have teams receive one training a week for five weeks prior to an execution, the protocol stated. But again, it did not say what that training would consist of.
In a filing earlier this year by attorneys representing the death row inmates, they argued that this lack of specific training information meant the protocol released by DOC was not complete. District Judge Stephen Friot ordered Oklahoma this week to produce detailed training guidelines by June 5.
Dale Baich, one of the attorneys representing the death row inmates, told The Frontier that Friot told Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter not to begin scheduling executions until the court case concludes.
It’s unclear how long that will be, and though Baich said he thought Friot was attempting to move the case along as fast as possible, it will likely be quite a while before it goes to trial. After the state presents its training protocol on June 5, the attorneys representing the death row inmates then have a month to amend their initial complaint.
That complaint was first filed in 2014 after the botched execution of Clayton Lockett.
“It needs to be updated, of course,” Baich said. “The case has changed a lot since then.”
Since Lockett was executed in April 2014, Oklahoma used the wrong drug in an ensuing execution, then attempted to use it again in a subsequent execution that was halted at the last minute. The death penalty has been on hiatus since then, and in 2018 Oklahoma announced it would attempt to resume executions via inert gas inhalation.
Earlier this year it announced it had abandoned that plan and would resume executions via lethal injection.
For Baich, that announcement, and the state’s new protocol, raised a number of questions. A grand jury, as well as a death penalty review commission, found that, perhaps unsurpsingly given what transpired, serious flaws in the training received by those conducting the Lockett execution.
In the report by the Death Penalty Review Commission, they found that the parademic who worked the Lockett execution (and, she estimated, all but two others conducted by the state since lethal injection was legalized) had received no training by DOC.
The grand jury report urged that everyone involved in the execution process receive thorough training, and said that “most (DOC) employees profoundly misunderstood the (DOC execution) Protocol.”
“We know there were significant flaws in the training that DOC had back in 2014 and 2015,” Baich said. “So we want to know what has changed, and what the state has done to improve the training it had previously provided.”
Baich said that Hunter told Friot there is “something in place that (DOC) is working on.”
“And the judge said you have until June 5 to turn that over,” Baich said.