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ACLU, reporters sue Corrections over executions

ACLU, reporters sue Corrections over executions

May 15th, 2014 in News

Two lawsuits filed Thursday claim Missouri's Corrections department (DOC) is refusing to release information about its executions, which the state's Sunshine Law requires it to release.

Both suits were filed in Cole County's circuit court.

The Associated Press, three Missouri newspapers and the New York City-based Guardian News & Media are plaintiffs in an 18-page suit filed by Kansas City attorney Bernard J. Rhodes. The Missouri newspapers are the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Kansas City Star and Springfield News-Leader.

The other suit was filed by the Virginia-based Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri and Christopher S. McDaniel, a St. Louis Public Radio reporter.

Both lawsuits provide details of various records requests that plaintiffs have filed with the department, seeking information about drugs being used in Missouri executions and details about the companies making those drugs.

"Historically, information about the drugs used by DOC in lethal injection executions was routinely made available to the public," Rhodes wrote in media groups' suit. "In October 2013, DOC unilaterally changed course and began to deny all public access to this information.

"Without this information, the public cannot provide meaningful oversight of the executions that the State of Missouri conducts in its name."

The ACLU lawsuit noted state law "grants the director of the DOC authority to choose an execution team, "consist[ing] of those persons who administer lethal gas or lethal chemicals and those persons, such as medical personnel, who provide direct support for the administration of lethal gas or lethal chemicals.'"

But, the ACLU suit added, when the department changed its execution protocols last October, the change included the addition of "a compounding pharmacy to its execution team."

Both lawsuits argued the drug makers should not be included in the execution team, whose identities are protected by another state law.

Both suits also said the department gave various reasons for rejecting the requests.

The ACLU lawsuit said: "The DOC has repeatedly refused to release information regarding the name of the pharmacy (or pharmacies) producing the drugs to be used in executing prisoners in Missouri and the name of the laboratory (or laboratories) testing those drugs."

The media lawsuit argued: "DOC's refusal to disclose critical information as to the nature and source of the drugs used violates both ... the Sunshine Law and the qualified right of access to government proceedings and records guaranteed to the public by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution."

But, both suits noted, Missouri's Sunshine Law first was enacted in 1973, and always has declared the state's public policy to be "that meetings, records, votes, actions and deliberations of public governmental bodies be open to the public unless otherwise provided by law."

And both suits want the courts to require the department to provide the documents the plaintiffs already have requested, rule that the department violated the Sunshine law and order the department to pay a civil penalty and attorneys' fees as the Sunshine Law allows.

Nanci Gonder, spokeswoman for Attorney General Chris Koster, declined to comment on the litigation.