News organizations, including The Kansas City Star and The Associated Press, filed suit Thursday against the Missouri Department of Corrections over its refusal to reveal the source of drugs used to carry out executions.
The suit, filed in Cole County Circuit Court in Jefferson City, alleges that the Corrections Department is violating the Missouri Sunshine Law by denying repeated requests for information about the “composition, concentration, source and quality of drugs used to execute inmates in Missouri.”
By withholding access to information that historically has been publicly available, the department also is violating the First and Fourteenth amendments of the U.S. Constitution, according to the suit.
Nanci Gonder, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Chris Koster, said the attorney general’s office does not comment on pending litigation.
In separate court actions, attorneys for men facing execution in Missouri have unsuccessfully attempted to obtain information about the drugs.
They have argued that the information is needed to determine if executions are being carried out in a constitutional manner. If the drugs are not properly manufactured and administered, a prisoner could suffer pain and suffering that would violate the constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment, they have contended.
Thursday’s suit makes a similar argument that public disclosure of the information “reduces the risk that improper, ineffective or defectively prepared drugs are used.”
“The constitution thus compels access to historically available information about the type and source of drugs used in lethal injection executions because disclosure promotes the functioning of the process itself and is essential for democracy to function,” according to the suit.
Joining The AP and The Star in the suit are Guardian US, the New York-based digital news service of England’s The Guardian; the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; and the Springfield News-Leader.
Each of the news outlets has made formal open records requests seeking the information.
By including the pharmacy that compounds the drug as part of its execution team, the state has argued that its identity is confidential under Missouri law.
Six men have been executed in Missouri since October, when Missouri adopted its current execution protocol.
The next execution is scheduled for May 21.
Besides asking for the requested documents to be made available for inspection and copying, the lawsuit seeks civil penalties against the Corrections Department for the alleged Sunshine Law violations.
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