Gov. Mary Fallin and the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety violated the state’s open records law by delaying for months and years the release of records related to the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in 2014, an Oklahoma County judge has ruled.
A lawsuit was filed in December 2014 against Fallin and then-Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Thompson by former Frontier editor Ziva Branstetter and the BH Media Group, owner of the Tulsa World. Branstetter is currently an editor at the Center for Investigative Reporting and a board member of The Frontier.
Branstetter, who worked for the World at the time the suit was filed, submitted an open records request to Fallin’s office and the Department of Public Safety in May 2015 seeking records about the April 29, 2014 execution of convicted murderer Clayton Lockett.
Lockett’s execution drew international attention after the state, which was struggling at the time to find execution drugs, used a new execution drug protocol. After being injected with the drugs and declared by a doctor assisting in the execution to be unconscious, Lockett began to attempt to speak and rise from the gurney he was strapped to.
It took 43 minutes for Lockett to die.
The Department of Public Safety was ordered by Fallin to open an investigation into the execution, and it was later determined that the needle used to inject the drugs into Lockett had failed to administer the drugs directly into Lockett’s bloodstream, but questions remained about what exactly happened prior to, during and after the botched execution.
About three months after Branstetter and the World filed suit, some documents were produced by Thompson’s office, but the office did not begin to fulfill the request for emails about the execution until about two years after the request was made, court documents state. Fallin’s office did not respond to the request for 17 months, according to court records.
In an April 13 letter to attorneys in the case, Oklahoma County District Court Judge Lisa Davis stated that the documents that were eventually released by Fallin’s and Thompson’s offices substantially filled the records requests by Branstetter and the World.
However, the judge also found that “the Governor and the Commissioner violated the Open Records Act by failing to provide prompt and reasonable access to requested by the Plaintiffs pursuant to the Open Records Act,” Davis wrote.
“The Court declines to opine as to the appropriate process or procedure for responding to an open records request or to set forth a hard and fast rule or a specific time frame for production of documents pursuant to an open records request; however, in this case, neither the delays nor the process which resulted in the delays in excess of 17 months was prompt or reasonable,” Davis wrote.
Several media outlets who have submitted open records requests to Fallin’s office have experienced wait times of a year or more for records. In 2014, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in favor of Fallin, who asserted that some documents held by her office were not subject to open records laws under an “executive privilege” exemption, in a separate open records lawsuit.