[Update] TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark said the agency would cooperate fully with any investigation. “We are still reviewing the allegations, but are confident that we have not violated any state or federal law,” he said.
Lawyers for two Texas death row inmates today asked state and federal law enforcement to investigate whether prison officials illegally obtained death penalty drugs the state used in nearly all of its 466 executions by using the Drug Enforcement Agency registration number of a long-closed facility.
The DEA registration number that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice uses to a obtain drugs used for lethal injection is issued to the Huntsville Unit Hospital. That hospital, built in 1935, used to be the main medical facility for inmates. But during state reforms to prison health care, the Huntsville Unit Hospital was replaced in 1983 with a facility at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.
"For TDCJ to have misrepresented for 25 years the information the DEA relies upon to assess the legitimacy of these drugs reflects a profound disregard for protocol and the law,” said Maurie Levin, an attorney for two death row inmates who are suing the state over its recent decision to change its lethal injection protocol. The inmates ague that the TDCJ violated state transparency laws when it decided to change one of the drugs used in the state's three-drug lethal injection cocktail.
TDCJ announced last week that it would use pentobarbital in executions. Texas and other states were forced to find a substitute for sodium thiopental when the only American producer of that drug, Illinois-based Hospira Inc., announced in January it would stop selling it. Hospira had planned to manufacture the drug in an Italian plant, but authorities in that country wanted a guarantee that the drug would not be used in executions.
Levin said documents obtained through public information requests show that TDCJ recently purchased pentobarbital using the DEA number registered to the defunct Huntsville Hospital Unit. The letter sent today to the U.S. Department of Justice and the Texas Department of Public Safety asks those agencies to review the TDCJ's actions. If an investigation shows the drugs were obtained illegally, Levin said, the DEA could revoke or suspend the state's registration that allows it to have the drugs and make the state forfeit its supply of drugs to the DEA.
TDCJ officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.