Patricia Fleming, assistant general counsel for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said in a letter to Attorney General Greg Abbott that prison employees are under "a substantial threat of physical harm." She refers to the "inherently volatile" nature of executions as a reason to withhold information about the amount of drugs available in Texas for lethal injections.Under Texas' open records precedents, TDCJ would only get to keep this information secret if there is a specific threat, not just a "generalized or speculative fear" that release of information might create security problems. But "generalized and speculative" is precisely how I'd characterize the idea that the handful of nonviolent protesters who show up at executions, who have never in all Texas' history engaged in violence, might do so because this information is released.
The use of various drugs for executions has been an issue for death penalty opponents for years. In recent months some states have postponed executions because of a shortage. TDCJ spokesmen have answered queries about Texas' supply of the drugs in vague terms, but the department does not want to reveal specifics. Fleming's letter is part of a request for Abbott to rule on disclosure.
"The TDCJ has been lucky that those gathered or picketing outside the Huntsville Unit on a scheduled execution date have never fired weapons or even used knives, but both of these events are very real possibilities and amount to more than a generalized and speculative fear of harassment or retribution," the letter reads. "If the requestor published how much sodium thiopental we currently have and when it expires, this would operate to inflame an already volatile situation..."
Indeed, I can't tell how this particular data would increase risk at all - why would violence be more likely if people knew how much of the drug TDCJ has in stock or when it expires? That information creates no specific vulnerability for employees and I fail to understand how a question about inventory would "inflame" people one way or another. Other states have released the same information without negative consequence. The argument makes no sense and the Attorney General's open records division should order the information released.
MORE: From the Austin Statesman.