Tulsa World reporter and Enterprise Editor Ziva Branstetter and her newspaper have filed suit against the state of Oklahoma seeking access to witness interviews, state officials’ email, and other records regarding the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in April 2014. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Litigation Director Katie Townsend and Oklahoma City attorney Robert D. Nelon of Hall Estill are representing the plaintiffs pro bono.
During Lockett’s execution, which Branstetter was covering for the Tulsa World, Lockett’s veins reportedly “exploded” after receiving the lethal injection, and he died from a heart attack after the procedure was halted. The execution of another inmate, Charles Warner, which was also planned for that evening, was delayed until Jan. 15, 2015.
Branstetter filed several requests under Oklahoma’s Open Records Act seeking, among other things, the transcripts of witness interviews conducted as part of the investigation into what happened during Lockett’s execution, and for emails between state officials discussing the issue. For some seven months, Branstetter’s efforts to obtain the records from the office of Gov. Mary Fallin and the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety have been stymied.
“Defendants in this case are withholding information from Plaintiff, a member of the news media and, accordingly, from the public, concerning the State of Oklahoma’s execution of criminal defendants,” the petition stated. “Access to such information is critical for the citizens of Oklahoma to be informed about the workings of their government, and the conduct of their elected officials. Absent such information, citizens of Oklahoma cannot meaningfully engage and/or petition their elected representatives concerning policy and other issues relating to the manner in which death sentences are carried out by the State.”
“The public’s need for access to this information is particularly pressing given that the State of Oklahoma has four executions scheduled to take place from January 15 to March 5, 2015,” the filing added.
In addition, the newspaper and its reporter note that state officials made redacted versions of the interview transcripts available to plaintiffs in a civil suit in November. When she learned of this, Branstetter again asked state officials to release the transcripts, but state officials have failed to do so.
About the Reporters Committee
Founded in 1970, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press offers free legal support to thousands of working journalists and media lawyers each year. It is a leader in the fight against persistent efforts by government officials to impede the release of public information, whether by withholding documents or threatening reporters with jail. In addition to its 24/7 Legal Defense Hotline, the Reporters Committee and its attorneys conduct cutting-edge legal research, publishhandbooks and guides on media law issues, file frequent friend-of-the-court legal briefs and offer challenging fellowships and internships for young lawyers and journalists. For more information, go to www.rcfp.org, or follow us on Twitter @rcfp.
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