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Oklahoma to resume executions with reliable source of lethal injection drugs secured

OKLAHOMA CITY — Five years after its last execution, Oklahoma will resume administering the death penalty using lethal injection, officials announced Thursday.

Attorney General Mike Hunter said the state has secured a reliable supply of the drugs used for lethal injections, which had been difficult to buy in the past.

Nitrogen gas will be used as a backup if the state fails to obtain the drugs used in lethal injections.

“It has been over five years since the state’s last execution,” said Gov. Kevin Stitt. “I can’t imagine the grief and loss of the families and friends that are still mourning the murder of their loved ones. I believe capital punishment is appropriate for the most heinous of crimes, and it is our duty as state officials to obey the laws of the state of Oklahoma by carrying out this somber task.”

State officials said measures have been put in place to ensure that executions are carried out properly.

Of the 47 inmates on death row in Oklahoma, the state says 26 have exhausted their appeals and could be scheduled for execution.

Hunter said 150 days must pass before the state can ask the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to begin setting execution dates.

Hunter said he expects the decision to resume executions to draw a legal challenge that he is confident can be overcome.

The drugs used in Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol are midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride.

The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office in October 2015 requested an indefinite stay of executions after learning that the Oklahoma Department of Corrections received an incorrect drug — potassium acetate — for the lethal injection of Richard Glossip, who is still on death row.

Prior to that, the state had used the wrong drug to execute Charles Warner.

Oklahoma made national news following the April 29, 2014, execution of Clayton Lockett. It was the state’s first use of the sedative midazolam, which was used in problematic executions in Ohio and Arizona.

Lockett writhed for several minutes after he was declared unconscious. His death took 43 minutes and involved numerous failed IV attempts.

A doctor supervising the execution discovered that the lethal drugs were not entering Lockett’s vein but were leaking into his tissue. The execution was halted about 10 minutes before he died.

“The additions we made to the protocol simply add more checks and balances, more safeguards to the system to ensure that what has happened in the past won’t happen again,” Hunter said.

The drugs remain the same in the updated protocol, he said.

“They have been successful in the past, not only in Oklahoma but in numerous other states, and they will continue to be just as effective as we continue with this method,” Hunter said. “Any issues with these drugs have always been connected with human error, not the efficacy of the drugs.”

Dale Baich is one of the attorneys for Oklahoma death-row prisoners challenging the state’s lethal injection protocol.

“Oklahoma officials announced the state will revert to its problematic midazolam protocol and provided no assurances that the state is prepared to carry out executions in a manner that comports with the Constitution,” Baich said. “Oklahoma’s history of mistakes and malfeasance recalls a culture of carelessness around executions (and) should give everyone pause.

“In the next few days, we will advise the federal court and continue with the ongoing litigation challenging the constitutionality of Oklahoma’s protocol.”

Oklahoma death-row prisoners filed a lawsuit seeking increased transparency and an improved lethal injection process before executions resume.

In May 2016, a multicounty grand jury said state officials were “careless” and that secrecy in finding drugs played a role in Warner’s and Glossip’s getting a drug that wasn’t in the DOC’s lethal injection protocol.

State Question 776, approved by voters in 2016, amended the Oklahoma Constitution to specify the state’s right to perform executions. It prohibits the death penalty from being deemed “cruel and unusual punishment.”

In 2015, then-Gov. Mary Fallin signed a measure adding nitrogen hypoxia to the state’s list of execution protocols.

Three years later, Hunter announced that the state would pursue inert gas inhalation due to the controversy surrounding lethal injection.

Hunter said the state will continue to work on a process to perform executions via nitrogen hypoxia, which is allowed by law if the state can’t secure the execution drugs.

“We have made good progress toward that goal,” Hunter said.

Gallery: Oklahoma death row inmates

Gallery: Oklahoma death row inmates


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Black History Month: Wade Watts

Although marching with his friend Martin Luther King Jr. in Alabama once was one of his proudest moments, the Rev. Wade Watts’ focus was advancing the cause of civil rights in Oklahoma.

A leader in efforts to desegregate public facilities in the state, he would spend 16 years as president of the Oklahoma chapter of the NAACP, an organization he joined when he was just 17.

The late Watts, uncle of former U.S. congressman J.C. Watts, was also appointed to the national Civil Rights Commission under President Lyndon Johnson and spent four years on the Oklahoma Crime Commission.

He also carried on his ministry, pastoring at churches in Muskogee, Wilburton and Pocola before finishing at Jerusalem Baptist Church in McAlester.

Black History Month: Notable Oklahomans and state history

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Tulsa school board tables action on proposed personnel cuts

The Tulsa Public Schools Board of Education unexpectedly tabled Superintendent Deborah Gist’s personnel-reduction proposal until next week at the conclusion of a four-hour special meeting Thursday night.

Board members did not say why they decided to delay until Tuesday evening their vote on the elimination of 232 district office positions and the creation of 142 new ones. The decision came after listening to a detailed presentation about the changes and then spending more than an hour in executive session.

“We discussed it, and we decided that for a variety of reasons we are going to sleep on the information that we received, and we are going to reconvene on Tuesday and make a decision then,” board President Shawna Keller said.

Gist, who did not hear the discussion behind closed doors, said she understood postponing the proposed reorganization due to the importance and magnitude of the changes.

The personnel reductions are the final piece of her “Shaping our Future” plan that’s meant to address the estimated $20 million shortfall expected for the 2020-21 school year. TPS blames the structural deficit on declining enrollment and a decade of state funding cuts to education.

“These are really big decisions,” Gist said, “and I am looking forward to making sure board members have answers to any questions they might have or any additional information they need, and I’m looking forward to bringing it back and moving forward.”

Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association Shawna Mott-Wright and American Federation of Teachers-Tulsa President Ed McIntosh, whose union represents district support workers, attended the lengthy meeting. Both were vocal about delaying the vote to give everyone a chance to digest the personnel changes, which were not fully disclosed until Tuesday evening.

Mott-Wright said she had received numerous calls from teachers, principals and community members who wanted more time to “sit with the information so we could really absorb it, ask better questions, go over the math and make sure we get it right.”

“I feel like this is a win,” she said. “I feel listened to at the moment.”

Added McIntosh: "I was pleasantly surprised. I really am. That's something that needed to happen. This needs to be given some more thought to hopefully come up with the right answer."

Changes to the district office are the largest element of Gist’s budget redesign, with a total estimated savings of approximately $13 million to $14 million in personnel and nonpersonnel reductions.

Chief Financial Officer Nolberto Delgadillo said the deletion and defunding of 232 positions would save the district approximately $11 million. The creation and funding of 142 positions would cost $6 million, leaving a net loss of 90 positions and possible savings of $5 million to $6.1 million.

The budget-reduction plan also calls for closing four elementary schools to save an estimated $2 million to $3 million and increasing elementary class sizes to save about $3 million. The board approved both cost-saving measures in January.

Delgadillo said the most important factor in creating the plan was to mitigate the direct impact on students, which is why the district office took the biggest blow.

“No matter how you slice the pie, these are difficult decisions that we’re having to contend with,” he said. “As difficult as those decisions are, we’re still being committed to making reductions furthest away from the classroom.”

The proposed district office reorganization involves eliminating 77 currently staffed positions and 91 vacant positions across several departments, effective July 1. The remaining 64 are custodial positions that would be deleted as they become vacant through attrition.

Eleven of the 77 affected employees have continuing contract rights as certified teachers and could choose to return to the classroom. The rest would be encouraged to apply for any existing or new positions for which they’re qualified.

The personnel reductions would be most prevalent in the Operations Department, which would lose 72 positions in addition to the eventual 64 custodial jobs. Of the 72 positions, 25 currently are filled. Many belong to the enrollment and student information registrar. Their positions would be replaced by customer care associates with expanded bilingual supports.

TPS Chief Operating Officer Jorge Robles said the maintenance shop would be reduced in areas where work could be supported with a smaller team. There also would be reduced warehouse support and changes to transportation routes that may result in longer distances to bus stops.

The 64 custodian positions, as they gradually were deleted through attrition, would be replaced by 79 new custodian positions that would be contracted for 210 days per year instead of all 12 months.

Robles said the district faces a need to increase custodial support for its schools during the school year, particularly in high schools.

“So our recommendation is actually to implement a new support model for summer cleaning in our custodial services,” Robles said.

Meanwhile, the talent management team would lose 25 positions and gain 11 new ones, for a net loss of 14 positions. Twenty of the jobs targeted for deletion are instructional manager positions, 13 of which are currently staffed.

These changes would result in decreased support for novice teachers as well as direct support for the talent management team and support employee processing, said Devin Fletcher, the district’s chief talent and learning officer.

“During our Shaping the Future conversations, while this was important, it did not rise to the top of the list for what was most important to our community stakeholders,” Fletcher said. “But what we’ve done is we’ve maintained some of the staff to make sure we’re able to support our highest-needs schools with the highest number of novice educators because we know that as a district, this is incredibly important because that number continues to grow.”

The finance team would lose 15 positions and gain four. This would involve minimizing warehouse staff and, in some cases, outsourcing supply warehousing to outside vendors.

The information and analytics team would lose six positions, increasing the response time for schools needing technology support and decreasing the department’s capacity to manage data requests. The changes also would reduce internal support systems for district applications and systems.

Two occupied positions and one vacant position would be eliminated from the communications team. One of the affected employees is a media coordinator who produces videos that market schools and spread information. The other is an administrative assistant responsible for providing information to external entities.

One of the personnel changes that could most affect schools would be the deletion of one of the district’s seven instructional leadership directors, who oversee principals and each manage a network of school sites. The elimination of the position would result in an increase in the number of schools assigned to the remaining directors.

Some affected teams would gain the same number of jobs they would lose. Student and Family Support Services, for instance, would have 10 eliminated positions and 10 newly created positions. The Design Lab would lose a vacant position supervising high school design and receive an innovation project manager.

Others would end up with more positions than they would lose. Language and Cultural Services would see 11 positions deleted and 15 positions created, for a net gain of four. Fletcher said the team would receive a boost to provide more direct support for the district’s growing population of immigrant and English-learner students and expand overall access to multilingual programs.

Early Childhood Education wouldn’t lose anything, but the team would gain three positions that are meant to help expand access to prekindergarten and create sustained enrollment growth over time.

The school board originally was scheduled to vote on the elimination of 84 staffed district office positions at Thursday’s meeting, with the other seven coming from the Indian Education Program. The proposed reductions in that program won’t be heard until mid-March due to extensive community feedback.

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Tribes ask court to dismiss Stitt's claims that Class III gaming is now operating illegally

OKLAHOMA CITY — Gaming tribes involved in a legal dispute with Gov. Kevin Stitt on Wednesday asked a federal court to dismiss his counter claims.

The tribes on Dec. 31 filed suit against Stitt, asking the court to declare that its gaming compacts automatically renewed.

Stitt has said the compacts expired on Jan. 1 and that continued operation of Class III gaming is illegal.

Stitt is seeking higher fees.

Tribes pay between 4% and 10% for the exclusive right to operate Class III gaming, which includes slot machines, craps and roulette.

In Stitt’s response to the suit, he asked the court to prevent the state’s American Indian tribes from Operating Class III gaming, saying it is illegal. He also wants the court to declare that the 15-year-old gaming compacts expired.

“The Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction because the Tribes are immune from Defendant’s counterclaims under the doctrine of sovereign immunity,” according to the tribes’ response.

The tribes are asking the court to dismiss Stitt’s counterclaims and bar them from been refiled.

The tribal response also said that they deny the compacts have expired or that their conduct of Class III gaming is unlawful or causes irreparable harm to the defendant or state.

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