The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations (CDCR) finally released 989 pages of heavily redacted records to the ACLU of Northern California revealing how it acquired one of the drugs needed for executions. The documents literally mention a "secret mission" to get the drugs. They show the expense and incredible lengths California government officials were willing go to in order to carry out executions — and to keep it all secret.
The ACLU believes that it is crucial for us to have full transparency and accountability in government, especially when it comes to executions. These documents dramatically highlight some of the reasons that is so, and clearly show that taxpayer money, not to mention hundreds of hours of public employee time, were no object to acquiring these drugs.
Back in September, California Attorney General Jerry Brown suddenly hurried to carry out an execution, after a nearly five-year hiatus. Judges, reporters and the public all asked themselves "What's the rush?" Then we found out: the state's supply of one of the critical execution drugs, sodium thiopental, was about to expire on October 1. After a week-long legal rollercoaster, California courts ruled that the expiration date of pharmaceuticals was not a good enough reason to cut short judicial review in a death penalty case. The execution was halted.
Then, just days later, the CDCR announced it had a new stash of the drug, despite a nationwide shortage. The ACLU of Northern California immediately began asking questions, submitting a Public Records Act request (PDF) to find out how the CDCR got these drugs, how much it paid, and who was involved. For two months, CDCR officials did everything they could to hide the truth. So we filed suit on November 17, to enforce the public record request.
Still, the CDCR would not turn over records on its bizarre shopping spree until a California Superior Court ordered the CDCR to give up the records by December 7, 2010.
Some lowlights from the just-released documents include:
We still have many questions. More than a hundred pages were withheld and the documents we have received are heavily redacted. What we do know is that while public safety and health care resources are dwindling in California, state officials are wasting huge amounts of the public's time and money, and doing everything they can to keep their bungled process secret. It's time to save our precious resources and replace the death penalty with permanent imprisonment.