22 January 2023 :
2 Tennessee officials fired after scathing report on lethal injection execution errors
The Tennessee Department of Correction parted ways with its top lawyer and inspector general after an independent investigation into the state's lethal injection execution protocol found the department's process has been riddled with errors and poor oversight for years.
Debra Inglis, TDOC's former general counsel and a deputy commissioner, and Kelly Young, the former TDOC inspector general, were informed of the department decision on Dec. 27, according to documents obtained by The Tennessean, part of the USA TODAY Network. The firings came a day before Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee publicly released the report.
While state officials gave no reasons for the dismissals, Lee's office previously said that two individuals were fired in connection with the report's findings.
Lee announced a moratorium on executions in the state in May, tapping former U.S. Attorney Edward Stanton to review the state's execution protocol after officials discovered drugs for an April execution were not properly tested.
“The fact of the matter is not one TDOC employee made it their duty to understand the current Protocol’s testing requirements and ensure compliance,” the report said.
The investigation found that the three drugs used in Tennessee's lethal injection protocol were not properly tested for endotoxins, a type of contaminant. TDOC never gave its lethal injection protocol to the Texas pharmacy contracted to oversee the procurement and testing of the deadly drugs, the probe found.
The findings largely mirror a Tennessean review of hundreds of pages of court records published in May that found the state did not adhere to its own protocols since reinstituting the death penalty in 2018. The records also indicate the state was aware of issues with its protocol, through ongoing lawsuits against the state, and still chose to move forward with Oscar Franklin Smith's execution on April 21, which was only called off after a last-minute intervention by Lee.
"TDOC leadership viewed the lethal injection process through a tunnel-vision, result-oriented lens rather than provide TDOC with the necessary guidance and counsel needed to ensure that Tennessee’s lethal injection protocol was thorough, consistent, and followed," the report said.
In a December statement on the investigation's findings, Lee's office said "staffing changes at the department's leadership level" was a top priority.
Lee quickly announced Frank Strada would lead the state’s prisons, which have been overseen by interim commissioner Lisa Helton. The pick has already drawn criticism, as Strada comes to Tennessee from the Arizona Department of Corrections.
A federal judge last year found Arizona prisons violated the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, and the department also ran into multiple issues with its lethal injection procedures after restarting executions in 2022.
Lee has tasked new department leadership to revise Tennessee's lethal injection protocol.
Nationwide, the 18 executions performed in 2022 have been the fewest executions carried out in any pre-pandemic year since 1991. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, seven of last year's 20 execution attempts were visibly problematic or took an excessive amount of time to be completed.
(Source: USA Today, 19/01/2023)