Tuesday 8 February 2011

Add water and kill


Today, the ACLU of Northern California (ACLU-NC) posted new records handed over by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) on its global "secret mission" to acquire lethal injection drugs, as well as additional records provided by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These new records come to light as Federal Judge Jeremy Fogel tours San Quentin's new execution chamber, built at a cost of $900,000,and as more questions are raised about California's costly death penalty system which will set taxpayers back by $1 billion over the next five years.

Links and a quote that can be attributed to Natasha Minsker, ACLU-NC Death Penalty Policy Director, are pasted below.

The records from the CDCR were released following a new Public Records Act request submitted by the ACLU-NC on November 30, 2010. The records cover the time period from Oct 7 through the beginning of December 2010 and provide new information about the illegal 521 grams of sodium thiopental which the CDCR acquired from the United Kingdom.
There are several significant items to note (page numbers refer to the CDCR bates numbers on the documents released February 2, 2010):
Questionable Drug Quality

The CDCR sent the broker in the UK a series of questions including whether the manufacturer of the drugs is FDA-approved and whether the drugs match the US standards (pp. 283-288). The UK broker responded that the facility is not FDA-approved and he did not know if the drugs met the US standards. The CDCR also asked if the drugs come with liquid for mixing, as the US-made drug does. The UK distributor responded that the product is "freeze-dried powder" and does not come with "diluents" (sic) (pp. 261-267). After getting these responses, the CDCR sent a sample of the UK-made drugs out for testing (pp. 129, 273). The results of the tests are not included in the records provided even though the tests should have been completed by the end of October.

FDA "Developing" a Policy

An email from an official at the FDA  states that the drugs are being held while the FDA is "developing a blanket policy" for these types of shipments (p. 33). This would appear to contradict the FDA's later statements to reporters that the drugs were released according to long-standing policy of the department.

$20K Markup and Efforts to Hide Waste of Public Funds
Emails and attachments reveal that the CDCR paid a total of $36,415 for the drugs ordered from the UK. Of this amount, only $16,590 was actually for the costs of the drugs, while almost $20,000 was for various fees. This includes a $10,000 fee, the explanation for which has been blacked out (p. 25). In contrast, the CDCR paid only $1,121.10 for a shipment of all three execution drugs that arrived in August (p. 47). The CDCR tried to further hide the amount paid in fees: CDCR asked for an invoice that would only itemize the purchase price of the drugs and list all other fees together, to avoid disclosure of customs and import fees (p. 58). The CDCR also agreed to pay the attorney for the drug broker, rather than the broker directly, in order to hide from the public who was getting this windfall (pp. 56-57). The failure to disclose this information is particularly troubling since the CDCR did not even put the contract out for public bidding (pp. 26-27). Emails regarding payment for the August drug purchase also indicate that the CDCR violated procurement rules (pp. 185-187, 120), and shifted payment to an account controlled by the Secretary of the CDCR, "due to political sensitivity."

Spin Control

The records further reveal that the CDCR has been willfully hiding the truth from the public while attempting to manipulate the media coverage of this issue. An email with the subject line "talking points" is completely redacted (p. 181). This email was sent on November 30, 2010, the day before the CDCR first disclosed records regarding its secret drug mission to the ACLU-NC, in response to a court order.

In addition, the FDA released to the ACLU-NC new records and less redacted versions of previously released records, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The newly released records include correspondence regarding Arizona's purchase of execution drugs from Dream Pharma, the UK drug dealer who operates out of the back of a driving school that also supplied California's drugs. Other records reveal correspondence regarding importation of execution drugs by the states of California, Arkansas, Georgia and South Carolina.

Below is a statement that can be attributed to Natasha Minsker, Death Penalty Policy Director of the ACLU of Northern California:

"The new data dump reveals that even California's corrections department questions the quality of the illegal lethal injection drugs it purchased from the United Kingdom. They also reveal that California government officials wasted an enormous amount of resources in their desperate global search for drugs, while attempting to hide the truth from the public.

"The most extreme act of government merits the highest degree of transparency and scrupulous adherence to the law. The people of California deserve better than an "add water and kill" policy made up behind closed doors.

"We call on the Governor, the Attorney General and the department of corrections to stop hiding the truth and to disclose to the public what's really going on here."


ACLU - North California

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