Today's Austin American-Statesman reports, "Prison system appears to have bought $50,000 in execution drug last year." It's by Mike Ward.
A year ago, facing a possible shortage of key drugs needed to keep the nation's busiest execution chamber in business, Texas prison officials appear to have purchased tens of thousands of dollars worth of the lethal drugs, new disclosures by state officials reveal.
While no detail is provided, records obtained by the American-Statesman hint that Texas could have enough of the drugs on hand to cover its executions for more than a year and perhaps the largest stockpile in the country — at a time when other states are scrambling to find suppliers for the same drugs.
The disclosure came this week, when the Texas Department of Criminal Justice filed paperwork seeking to keep secret all details of five purchases last May and June of "medical supplies" from Physician Sales & Service Inc.
Asked by the Statesman to make public details about those purchases made with taxpayer dollars, as the agency routinely does with other items it buys, prison officials appealed to Attorney General Greg Abbott to keep the information from public view.
"The requested copies of vouchers, invoices, purchase orders and other purchasing documents will reveal the identities of suppliers of the agency's lethal injection drugs," Patricia Fleming, an assistant general counsel for the prison system, wrote in a letter Tuesday to Abbott.
Although Fleming's letter seems to state that the purchases were lethal drugs, a spokesman for the prison agency disputed that.
"We've not identified what the medical supplies are listed on the invoices," prison spokesman Jason Clark said.
In seeking to keep the information secret, Fleming wrote that disclosure would allow death penalty opponents and others "to intimidate, harass and threaten the suppliers, forcing them to shut down production or blacklist correctional departments."
She also accused an "abolitionist coalition" including death penalty opponents, human-rights organizations, criminal defense attorneys and the media of engaging in a campaign to cut off the supply of execution drugs.
It accused groups such as Reprieve, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International of harassment and intimidation of state corrections agencies such as Texas' prison system from being able to buy the lethal drugs.
London-based Reprieve is singled out for the harshest criticism. Fleming compares it to a violent prison gang.
The group's methods "present classic, hallmark practices comparable to practices by gangs incarcerated in the TDCJ who intimidate and coerce rival gang members and which have erupted into prison riots," Fleming wrote.
"It is not a question of if but when Reprieve's unrestrained harassment will escalate into violence against a supplier" of the lethal drugs, the letter says.
Maya Foa, a London-based investigator for Reprieve who was criticized by name in Fleming's filing, said the drug companies "objected to the misuse of their products well before they met Reprieve. ... These companies' ethics and actions are very much their own."
Earlier coverage of TDCJ's war of words with Reprieve begins at the link.