Gov. Lee announces decisive action to ensure proper protocol at TDOC

Published 1:42 pm Thursday, December 29, 2022

Following a months-long third-party review of lethal injection operations at the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC), Tennessee Governor Bill Lee this week announced several decisive actions to ensure the department adheres to established protocol. Additionally, the Governor proactively released the independent investigator’s third-party report to the public.
“I have thoroughly reviewed the findings in the independent investigator’s report and am directing several actions to ensure the Tennessee Department of Correction adheres to proper protocol,” said Gov. Lee. “We are proactively sharing both the third-party report and my administration’s next steps to ensure continued transparency for the people of Tennessee.”
On May 2, 2022, Tennessee retained former U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton to conduct an independent review and recommend corrective actions, following an oversight in adhering to the TDOC lethal injection protocol. After completing the independent investigation, Stanton delivered the third-party report to the Governor’s office on December 14. All legally-required redactions were applied by the independent investigator prior to the report’s delivery.
The report noted that Tennessee has not complied with its own lethal injection process ever since it was revised in 2018, resulting in several executions being conducted without proper testing of the drugs used.
Gov. Lee paused all executions in May after acknowledging the state had failed to ensure its lethal injection drugs were properly tested. The oversight forced Lee in April to abruptly halt the execution of Oscar Smith an hour before he was to have been put to death. Gov. Lee’s administration has been reviewing the report for more than a week, declining to release it until the Governor and his aides examined the hundreds of pages detailing the state’s death row process. Gov. Lee has maintained he is not trying to bury the report’s findings during the holidays.
Tennessee has put seven inmates to death since it ended a prior pause in executions in 2018 — two by injection and five in the electric chair. In none of those, nor in Smith’s planned execution, did the pharmacy conduct a required test for endotoxins, the report states. In one lethal injection that was carried out, the drug midazolam was not tested for potency either.
After an internal assessment of the third-party report, Gov. Lee has directed several proactive steps to ensure TDOC adheres to established protocol, which will occur in the following sequence:
– Make staffing changes at the department’s leadership level.
— Hire and onboard a permanent TDOC commissioner in January.
— New department leadership will revise the state’s lethal injection protocol, in consultation with the governor’s office and the Tennessee Attorney General’s office.
— New department leadership will review all training associated with the revised protocol and make appropriate operational updates.
As previously planned, Interim Commissioner Lisa Helton will remain in the role until a permanent commissioner is announced in January 2023. At that time, Helton will continue serving the department as Assistant Commissioner for Community Supervision.
Gov. Lee added, “I commend Interim Commissioner Helton for her steady leadership, which has been particularly important during this time of change and transition at the department, and we are deeply grateful for her continued public service to our state.”

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