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Oklahoma Department of Corrections director announces resignation

Dec 4, 2015 | by Lynn Powell

By SAMANTHA VICENT World Staff Writer | Posted: Friday, December 4, 2015 4:01 pm Oklahoma DOC director Robert Patton Sept 2015 In this Sept. 30, 2015, file photo, Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton gives a statement to reporters in the media center at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. SUE OGROCKI/AP File Photo OKLAHOMA CITY – The director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections will resign from his position effective Jan. 31, marking the second departure of a high-profile figure amid a pending investigation into a series of execution mix-ups in the state, a DOC spokesman announced Friday. Spokesman Alex Gerszewski said in a news release that Robert Patton has accepted another job in Arizona, where he worked before becoming the Oklahoma DOC director, to be closer to family. Patton will begin his accrued leave time on Christmas Day, Gerszewski said. Patton joins Oklahoma State Penitentiary Warden Anita Trammell, who announced her resignation Oct. 29, in leaving before the completion of an inquiry led by the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office into the DOC’s handling of the Jan. 15 execution of Charles Warner and the events leading to Richard Glossip receiving a stay of execution via an executive order from Gov. Mary Fallin Sept. 30.

By SAMANTHA VICENT World Staff Writer | Posted: Friday, December 4, 2015 4:01 pm

Oklahoma DOC director Robert Patton Sept 2015

In this Sept. 30, 2015, file photo, Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton gives a statement to reporters in the media center at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. SUE OGROCKI/AP File Photo

OKLAHOMA CITY – The director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections will resign from his position effective Jan. 31, marking the second departure of a high-profile figure amid a pending investigation into a series of execution mix-ups in the state, a DOC spokesman announced Friday.

Spokesman Alex Gerszewski said in a news release that Robert Patton has accepted another job in Arizona, where he worked before becoming the Oklahoma DOC director, to be closer to family. Patton will begin his accrued leave time on Christmas Day, Gerszewski said.

Patton joins Oklahoma State Penitentiary Warden Anita Trammell, who announced her resignation Oct. 29, in leaving before the completion of an inquiry led by the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office into the DOC’s handling of the Jan. 15 execution of Charles Warner and the events leading to Richard Glossip receiving a stay of execution via an executive order from Gov. Mary Fallin Sept. 30.

He previously served as division director of operations for the Arizona Department of Corrections and has worked in corrections for three decades.

Patton and Trammell both appeared in October before a multicounty grand jury related to the AG’s investigation. During the Board of Corrections’ Nov. 5 meeting in Oklahoma City, board members said they were still supportive of Patton as the director.

“I appreciate the members of the Board of Corrections for their continued support during my time as director,” Patton said in a statement. “It has been an honor to serve this agency, the state of Oklahoma and to work with the talented people who make up the department. It has also been a privilege to work with Governor Fallin and her staff on initiatives to improve corrections within the state.”

Patton began his tenure as director in January 2014 and has overseen the lethal injections of Clayton Lockett and Warner that took place in apparent violation of the DOC’s execution protocols. Lockett was killed April 29, 2014 in a 43-minute procedure that went awry due to what the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety said was improper executioner training and issues with establishing the intravenous line.

An autopsy report first obtained by The Oklahoman showed Warner was executed in January 2015 using potassium acetate, not potassium chloride, as the final drug in the three-drug cocktail. The drug substitution did not come to light until the autopsy report was publicly released.

Glossip was granted a stay of execution in an executive order Sept. 30 after Fallin’s office became aware DOC staff obtained potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride less than two hours before he was scheduled to die. Patton at the time said the supplier provided an alternative drug without advance notice but said the supplier believed the drugs were “medically interchangeable.”

A status report filed with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on Tuesday states the status of the attorney general’s office inquiry remains unchanged since the court in October granted an indefinite stay of all scheduled executions in the state.

A federal court on Oct. 16 administratively closed a case filed by Glossip and more than a dozen other death row inmates, which challenges the constitutionality of the lethal injection protocols following an update to them that occurred after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 they were constitutional.

The most recent lethal injection protocol states death row inmates will be executed using the sedative midazolam, paralytic rocuronium bromide and potassium chloride. Other lethal injection protocols provide for the use of pentobarbital and sodium thiopental, but both are more difficult for states to obtain because manufacturers have refused to provide them to death penalty states.

Gerszewski said Patton decided to move back to Arizona to spend more time with his five grandchildren and said the resignation is not related to an ongoing inquiry by the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office into the DOC’s handling of Glossip’s and Warner’s cases. He said Patton did not say what his job in Arizona would be, but that an interim director would be announced before Patton’s last day at work.

Fallin issued a statement Friday about her appreciation of Patton’s efforts to “keep our state prisons safe for both correctional officers and inmates.”

“During his tenure, he worked to reform DOC’s internal operations to be more efficient and effective, as well as implementing the Justice Reinvestment Initiative’s corrections reform package to emphasize rehabilitation and treatment for non-violent offenders,” she said. “I regret his departure, but I understand the importance of family and the need to be close to loved ones. I wish him well in his future endeavors.”

Oklahoma Board of Corrections Chairman Kevin Gross said Patton initiated “positive change” within the organization since joining the DOC.

“He has stabilized the agency’s budget, reformed internal operations to be more efficient, and launched a recruiting effort that has resulted in increased staffing levels of correctional officers,” Gross said in his own statement. “Patton has upheld the mission of the agency and helped to ensure public safety. On behalf of the board and the Department of Corrections, I would like to thank him for his service to the state and wish him well as he returns to Arizona.”