Quantcast

Steven Hsieh | The Nation

  •  
Steven Hsieh

Steven Hsieh

Stories that matter. Tips: shsieh@thenation.com.

What It Was Like Living Under Police Occupation in Ferguson

Canfield Green

A memorial for Michael Brown at Canfield Green Apartments in Ferguson, Missouri (Photo by Steven Hsieh)

Ferguson, Missouri—Three Mondays ago, Glenn Robinson was walking toward a protest at the end of his street when his eyes started to sting and his throat swelled up. Robinson, 63, immediately recognized the sensation. He first encountered tear gas more than four decades ago during basic Army training for the Vietnam War. But this time it was Robinson’s local police, not his fellow soldiers, that had fired the chemical weapons.

“It brought back bad memories,” Robinson said, sitting on a lawn chair on a sweltering Sunday afternoon. The retired veteran decided to skip the day’s protest and ran back to his daughter’s Canfield Green apartment, where he has lived for three years. They shut their screen door and blasted air conditioning to stop the tear gas from drifting into their home. But the damage may have already been done. Robinson is still dealing with a “peculiar feeling” in his throat and plans to see a doctor as soon as he gets the chance. “I’m going to the Army surplus store to buy myself a gas mask,” he said. “The police showed me that I should be prepared for anything.”

After two weeks of chaos and confusion, life for residents of Canfield Green, the predominately black apartment complex where officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, is slowly returning to normal. Not long ago, nightly protests on West Florissant Avenue—and the heavy-handed police response to them—disrupted neighborhood life, taking a major psychological and financial toll on residents. Tear gas and smoke launched by police drifted from the center of unrest, about a quarter-mile west, into people’s apartments. Blockades and checkpoints locked residents in, keeping them from going to work and school. Nearby convenience stores and markets, for some, the only feasible destination for groceries, closed after a small number of looters broke in late at night. On top of these challenges, residents were still grappling with the enduring image of a teenager gunned down in broad daylight right outside their homes and a growing feeling that the community’s police department does not exist to serve or protect them.

“In my book, we’re basically living under martial law,” said Adrian Wilkerson, standing across a makeshift memorial marking the spot of Michael Brown’s death. Brown often stayed at Wilkerson’s apartment to hang out and create rap music with his fiance’s brother. Although he appreciates the protests, Wilkerson has avoided West Florissant to be with Brown’s family and attend to his own life. “I don’t have time to get tear gassed or shot with rubber bullets. I have kids.”

Wilkerson, 27, found a job through a temp agency for an energy company further out in the suburbs. But at the height of the protests earlier this month, the bus he takes to work never came. Transportation officials had redrawn the only route that stops at Canfield Green to avoid the protests. Like other residents that spoke with The Nation, Wilkerson didn’t get the memo. He missed several days of work as a result, and says he’ll have trouble paying his bills this month. Wilkerson added, “Some people want to say, ‘These people don’t want to work.’ How can we work if we can’t even get on the bus?”

Earlier during the protests, when snipers still lay prone atop armored vehicles and K-9 dogs yowled at peaceful demonstrators, police completely blocked off the only entrance to Canfield Green, locking residents in their own neighborhood. Marquez Larkin, 19, recorded the blockade using his cell phone camera. Larkin and his girlfriend, Britanny Williams, work for a pharmaceutical company packing pills, but missed two days as a result of the blockade, which continued on and off for about five days. Eventually they found an alternate path out of the neighborhood—a lawn at the other end of the street, now indented with tread marks.

Once the unrest settled, police stopped blocking the entrance to Canfield Green. But an ID checkpoint further south on West Florissant was yet another hindrance to residents. Larkin, who moved to the neighborhood in June, still hasn’t had a chance to update the address on his driver’s license, so he was forced to drive several miles to avoid the checkpoint, burning extra fuel, in order to get back home. “I’m managing, but I’m behind on my rent now. We’re making just enough to get by,” Larkin said in his third-floor apartment.

“Officers were placed at these intersections to allow residents in and out access to help assure their safety,” a St. Louis County Police spokesperson said in an e-mail in response to questions about the impact the police presence had on residents of the apartment complex. “Whereas there may have been incidents where residents could not get home, no such reports were made to our communication center or our Internal Affairs Unit.”

The majority of Canfield Green residents who spoke with The Nation said they are not planning to move away from the neighborhood in the near future. But Elizabeth Moore, a 28-year-old home health aid, and Tramon Arthur, a 26-year-old hair stylist, couldn’t take it any more. The two, neighbors and friends, broke their leases and moved to a motel to keep their kids safe. “There’s been so much ruckus and chaos that just we packed up. They hit the boiling point for us,” Arthur said, sitting at a burger restaurant on West Florissant. “We’re scared for our lives. My kids are crying. Police are running up with guns by them,” Moore added.

Although she has been inconvenienced by the checkpoints, Wanda Edwards, 57, said she can tolerate the heavy police presence on West Florissant. “I understand they have to do their job. I understand they have to protect themselves, as well as the community. Though some of the things were over the top—all that riot gear and such,” she said on her second-floor deck. “At first, when it was really violent, it was really nerve-wracking. It has not been a good experience.” Edwards was supposed to start school at Columbia College last week, where she’ll be working towards a bachelor’s degree in human services, but she couldn’t figure out how to get out of her neighborhood.

The people of Canfield Green may have differing opinions about the recent police occupation of Ferguson, but everyone who spoke with The Nation agreed that Michael Brown met an unjust death at the hands of Darren Wilson and that something must change. Glenn Robinson, the Vietnam War vet, spoke of endemic racial profiling by area police. “They’ve been doing this shit for years and years and years. Since I was a kid,” he said. Wanda Edwards, who had never seen a dead body before Brown’s, said the police “need to come up with a better mindset on how they deal with people.” Tramon Arthur, who said he hurled a tear gas canister back at police after getting maced, wants “justice for the next generation of kids. This is history right now.”

Adrian Wilkerson, who often hosted Brown at his apartment, said he left South St. Louis because he thought Ferguson would be a better place to raise his two children, but now he feels like “there’s no hope for them—for how society sees them.”

“The guy the police officer killed was going to start college. He wasn’t into the negativity, and for them to take someone like that—how do you think that makes a person that has made a mistake or has been locked up before feel? ‘Oh, ya’ll just killed somebody that did nothing wrong, so I know you’re going to justify doing something to me?’” Wilkerson said. “The police feel like we’re taking this too seriously. You have to understand, they gunned him down like he was an animal. Then they left him in the street like he was road kill.”

Exclusive Video: This Is How Police Treated Residents of the Apartment Complex Where Michael Brown Was Killed

Ferguson, Missouri—Images of police officers using tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters this month have shocked the world, raising awareness of America’s increasingly militarized police forces, many of which are subsidized by the federal government.

While most of the photos from the Ferguson protests were taken on West Florissant Avenue, cell phone footage obtained by The Nation shows how the heavily armed police also made themselves known at Canfield Green Apartments, the neighborhood where Michael Brown was shot and killed on August 9. The video provides another example of the intimidation tactics so commonly used by law enforcement since the beginning of protests in Ferguson earlier this month.

The footage, captured by Canfield Green resident Marquez Larkin on the evening of August 13, features a line of about twenty police officers clad in riot gear, guarding the entrance of the neighborhood. Larkin said he and his brother, Khalil Fells, had just been herded back away from West Florissant at gunpoint.

They saw an unidentified man approaching the blockade of officers, walking back and forth at least three times. Larkin whipped out his cellphone and began to record. In the video, the man can be seen putting his hands up and yelling at the police before multiple popping sounds, which Larkin said came from police shooting rubber bullets, can be heard. The popping continues as the man turns around to walk away. Larkin and a crowd of spectators ran in the opposite direction of the police. Although it’s unclear from the video whether the man is shot, Fells said he saw him get hit in the foot.

Minutes later, a white woman approached the blockade, according to Fells. Although this moment was not captured on camera, another witness at the scene, Hakeem Ibery, also saw an “older white woman” approach the officers.

Fells observed, “Everybody clapped. They wanted to see what will happen to her. All [the police] said was, ‘Ma’am, can you please turn around?’”

She turned around and walked back to the crowd.

Police Arrest Two Protesters Demanding a Special Investigator in the Michael Brown Shooting

Jamelle Spain

A police officer on Tuesday arrested Jamelle Spain outside the Buzz Westfall Justice Center in Clayton, Missouri. (Photo by Steven Hsieh)

Clayton, Missouri—Police arrested two protesters on Tuesday during a demonstration outside a government building, adding to a growing list of civil disobedience arrests related to the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by a police officer earlier this month.

Roughly sixty demonstrators gathered in front of the office building of St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch in Clayton, a wealthy city bordering St. Louis, about ten miles south of Ferguson. On a humid afternoon, the protesters chanted “Black lives matter!” and “Move Bob, get out the way!” A line of police officers guarded the building’s entrance, demarcating a no-walk zone directly in front of them.

Two protesters, Jamelle Spain and Alexis Templeton, peacefully approached the police officers. Officers then placed the two in plastic handcuffs and escorted them into the building. Spain and Templeton were both charged for failing to obey a police officer and will be released, according to a spokesperson for the Clayton Police Department.

protester
Jeffrey Hill, 24, of the Organization for Black Struggle and Rasheed Aldridge, 20, of Show Me 15 protested in Clayton on Tuesday (Photo by Steven Hsieh)

The demonstrators demanded McCulloch step down from the Michael Brown investigation. They also called for the county to appoint an independent investigator to take over Brown’s case. Some residents of St. Louis County say McCulloch harbors a pro-police bias. McCulloch’s father, a police officer, was killed by a black man in 1964. McCulloch also harshly criticized Governor Nixon’s order last week to turn over the Ferguson protest jurisdiction to Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, a move that was praised by community leaders and local politicians.

“We don’t feel like McCulloch can do this accurately. We feel like there’s a lot of emotions tied into everything he does when it comes with dealing with black people,” said Jeffrey Hill, a 24-year-old protester from North St. Louis County. Hill led chants through a megaphone and wore a surgical mask strapped to his head, noting the possibility of tear gas later Tuesday night.

A spokesperson for the county prosecutor’s office declined to comment on the protest. Reports say prosecutors will present evidence to a grand jury on Wednesday, who will decide whether to indict Darren Wilson, the white police officer who shot Brown.

The crowd began dispersing around 3:40 pm. As protesters headed across the street to a parking lot, they chanted, “We’ll be back! We’ll be back!”

Take Action: Demand that Cops Stop Acting Like Soldiers

St. Louis Police Arrest Nine Protesters Demanding Justice for Michael Brown

Hedy Epstein

St. Louis Metropolitan Police officers escort Hedy Epstein, a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor, after arresting her for failure to disperse. (Photo by Steven Hsieh)

St. LouisIn the second week of protests over the shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer, St. Louis Metropolitan police on Monday arrested nine protesters for blocking the entrance of a state office building.

Among those arrested was Hedy Epstein, a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor who lives in St. Louis.

“I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90,” Epstein told The Nation, as two officers walked her to a police van. “We need to stand up today so that people won’t have to do this when they’re 90.”

Roughly 125 protesters marched to the entrance of the historic Wainwright Building, which houses Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s downtown office. They demanded Nixon withdraw National Guard troops from Ferguson municipality, where peaceful protests throughout the week were disrupted by late night riots. The protesters also called for a special prosecutor to lead the investigation of Brown’s death, as well as an expansion of the Department of Justice’s existing investigation to look into patterns of civil rights violations across North St. Louis County.

The crowd kicked off the two-block march singing, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me ’round.” Participants took turns addressing the crowd, using a megaphone. The demonstrators chanted “Hey hey! Ho ho! National Guard has got to go!” and “Hands up! Don’t shoot!”


Ebony Williams, 22, addresses a crowd of protesters outside the Wainwright Building in downtown St. Louis. (Photo by Steven Hsieh)

Nine demonstrators linked arms in front of security guards at the building’s entrance, as police officers watched from inside. At around 4:20 pm, a police officer informed the nine that they each faced arrest for blocking the doorway. Shortly after, police escorted each demonstrator away in plastic handcuffs.

St. Louis police charged the nine arrestees with failure to disperse. All but one of were released, according to Jeff Ordower, an organizer with Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment.

The rally was organized by the Organization for Black Struggle. A Facebook page for the action reads, “Effective policing does not need to include masses of military equipment, intimidation, and denial of constitutional rights.”

Police also arrested Ebony Williams, a 22-year-old from St. Louis. Williams, who is pregnant, earlier told the crowd that she worries about raising her son around police officers that could target him because of his race.

“I’m out here standing up for what’s right. What they did to Michael Brown is not right,” Williams said. “We have to have justice. We want justice now.”

CORRECTION (8/19/2014 3:06 am): An earlier version of this post stated that eight protesters were arrested in downtown St. Louis on Monday. In fact, nine were arrested.

Take Action: Demand that Cops Stop Acting Like Soldiers

Despite SCOTUS Ban, 15 States Still Have Not Passed Laws Ending Mandatory Life Without Parole for Juveniles

Juvenile facility

A juvenile offender mops the floor during his work program at Circleville Youth Center in Ohio. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

Exactly two years after the US Supreme Court ruled against mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles convicted of murder, the majority of states affected by the ruling have not passed laws banning the practice, according to a report by the Sentencing Project.

The Supreme Court ruled five-to-four in Miller v. Arizona that mandatory life without parole (LWOP) sentences for minors violate the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. In her majority opinion, Justice Kagan cited research that found that “only a relatively small proportion of adolescents who experiment in risky or illegal activities develop entrenched patterns of problem behavior that persist into adulthood.”

Only thirteen of twenty-eight states that had locked up minors for life without a chance for release have passed laws to comply with the Court’s decision. Several of the states that amended their sentencing laws, however, set lengthy requirements that some juvenile advocates are still calling inhumane. For example, both Texas and Nebraska set new minimum sentences of forty years, practically guaranteeing that some juvenile offenders will spend the majority of their lives behind bars.

“It appears that many states are disregarding the spirit of the Court’s ruling. Of the states that have passed legislative responses to Miller, many replaced their laws with sentences that are as nearly as narrow-minded,” said Ashley Nellis, a senior analyst at the Sentencing Project, in a statement.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

The Miller decision did not determine whether the estimated 2,000 prisoners already serving mandatory LWOP sentences would be eligible for re-sentencing. Ten of the twenty-eight affected states have addressed this issue, passing laws or issuing court decisions that apply Miller retroactively.

The Sentencing Project's report notes that states do not necessarily have to pass new legislation to comply with Miller, but 

States’ practices of sending children to die in prison puts the United States at odds with international standards. In fact, ours is the only nation in the world that sends minors to die in prison, and is one of few that refuses to sign the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which bans the practice.

(CORRECTION, 6/26/2014): An earlier version of this post suggested that states must pass legislation to comply with Miller. In fact, some states have ended mandatory life without parole for juveniles through litigation. The headline and first paragraph of this post have been updated for clarification.

 

Read Next: A new report criticizes the increasing militarization of American police departments.

Report: SWAT Teams Armed With Military Equipment Spend Most of Their Time Waging the Drug War

SWAT

Police stand next to a SWAT robot in Sanford, Maine, during a media demonstration. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones was shot to death by a SWAT officer during a midnight raid in Detroit, moments after a flashbang grenade lit her blanket on fire. The mayor of a small Maryland town and his spouse were held at gunpoint for hours on unfounded drug allegations, during which time officers shot and killed their two dogs. A SWAT officer’s flashbang landed in a baby’s crib, blowing a hole in the 19-month-old’s face and chest.

In a new report, the American Civil Liberties Union ties each of these tragic stories to the increasing militarization of America’s police forces, a trend financially and materially supported by the federal government. The report, titled “War Comes Home,” finds that SWAT teams, equipped with assault rifles and armored vehicles, are mostly used to search suspected drug offenders’ homes, rather than rescuing hostages or stopping active shooters.

“Our police are trampling on our civil rights and turning communities of color into war zones,” ACLU Senior Counsel Kara Dansky said in a statement. “We all pay for it with our tax dollars.”

ACLU Researchers examined 818 SWAT incident reports, filed between 2011 and 2012, from twenty police departments in eleven states. The data, obtained through public records requests, was collected by local ACLU affiliates over the span of a year.

The data lends credence to long-held assumptions that SWAT teams primarily serve to fight the War on Drugs. Of the deployments examined by the ACLU, 62 percent were for drug searches, while nearly 80 percent involved search warrants. In contrast, only 7 percent of deployments responded to hostage, barricade or active shooters, the types of emergency situations for which SWAT teams were originally created. At least 36 percent of drug search deployments, and as many as 65 percent, turned up no evidence of contraband.


(ACLU)

As with other components of the War on Drugs, the SWAT raids examined by the ACLU disproportionately targeted people of color. Of people impacted by the ACLU’s sample of paramilitary deployments, 37 percent are black, 12 percent are Latino and 19 percent are white. Another 32 percent are of unknown race, because some police departments failed to record that information.


(ACLU)

The scope of police militarization in America would not be possible without the help of the federal government. Programs run by the Defense Department and Department of Homeland Security provide millions of dollars’ worth of military equipment to police departments every year, while grant money from the Justice Department is often used to buy weapons and body armor. For example, the North Little Rock Police Department in Arkansas received thirty-four semi-automatic rifles from the DOD, along with two MARCbots (military robots used in Afghanistan), ground troop helmets and a Mamba tactical vehicle.

The ACLU’s report builds on the research of Peter Kraska, an Eastern Kentucky University professor who found a 1,400 percent increase in the total number of SWAT deployments between 1989 and 2000. Kraska concluded that SWAT teams have evolved from “strictly reactive components” of police departments to proactive units “actively engaged in fighting the drug war.”

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

“The ACLU’s data demonstrates what we’ve known for a long time, though it certainly provides updated information,” Kraska told The Nation. “Police departments are not sitting back and responding to serious situations underway. They’re actually going out and manufacturing very risky and dangerous situations by choosing to use the military special operations model approach to police the drug problem inside people’s private residences.”

Kara Dansky, senior counsel at the ACLU and the report’s lead writer, said it is currently impossible to conduct a comprehensive analysis of police militarization nationwide, because there is very little public oversight of SWAT teams. Researchers found that data collection among police departments was “at best sporadic and at worst virtually nonexistent” in the context of SWAT.

“If we could get police departments to mandate reporting, this necessary information would be more readily available and someone could conduct a more thorough study,” Dansky told The Nation. “The people have a right to know when police are raiding homes for nonviolent drug allegations, using excessively aggressive and militarized tactics.”

 

Read Next: Human rights groups fight the opening of new immigrant family detention centers

Human Rights Groups Blast Obama’s Plan to Open New Immigrant Family Detention Centers

Brownsville detention center

Child detainees sleep in a holding cell at a US Customs and Border Protection processing facility in Brownsville, Texas. (Reuters/Eric Gay/Pool)

The Obama administration on Friday announced a plan to open new detention facilities to house families apprehended while crossing the southwest border, drawing criticism from congressional Democrats and immigrant rights groups who say there are more humane ways to handle migrants.

“Human rights require that detention be the last resort, not the first,” said ACLU Legislative Counsel Joanne Lin in a statement. “Families should be moved out of detention as soon as possible and be released under humane and reasonable supervision, including community-based alternatives to detention which have proven to be cost-effective and efficient.”

The push for ramped-up detention is the federal government’s response to an unprecedented surge of migrant children crossing the US-Mexico border, which both Democrats and Republicans are calling a humanitarian crisis. The plan also calls for more judges and immigration officials in the area to expedite deportation proceedings. While the majority of children detained near the border are traveling alone, the new detention centers will specifically house children who came with families.

Clara Long, an immigration policy researcher at Human Rights Watch told The Nation, “We’re really concerned that, especially where children are detained, that these centers will not be under compliance with international law.”

“The underlying approach to such a program should be ‘care’ and not ‘detention,’” Long said, stressing that children under detention are entitled to education, legal aid, counseling and recreation. Alternatives to detention, such as electronic monitoring via ankle bracelets, should be considered, Long added.

US Border Patrol says it has captured 47,000 unaccompanied minors since October 1 and estimates say that number could reach 90,000 by the end of this fiscal year. Most of the minors arrived from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, countries plagued by rampant gang violence. Researchers for the UN human rights commissioner for refugees found that many of the children crossing the border are fleeing threats of violence in their home countries. Fifty-eight percent of 400 unaccompanied minors interviewed by researchers “raise potential international protection needs.” UNHCR guidelines minors who are seeking asylum “should not, as a general rule, be detained.”

“As a human rights organization, it bothers us that they see detention as the only option. It doesn’t matter how many more beds they have, this will continue to happen,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Texas-based Border Network For Human Rights. “We need policy solutions, not just infrastructure.”

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

Garcia told The Nation that the federal government should find a way to grant asylum to migrants fleeing violence in their home countries. There should also be legal path for migrants to reunite with families are already living in the US, he added.

Congressional Democrats, including Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Representative Luiz Guiterrez (D-IL), also spoke out against the detention plan. In a statement offered to BuzzFeed, Senator Menendez said, “Using up our nation’s resources to jail families will not be a deterrent—these kids are fleeing violence and are willing to risk their lives to cross the border. The threat of a jail will not stop these families from coming here. Instead, we need to fully address the root causes of the crisis.”

On Thursday, Senator Menendez released a twenty-point plan to address the border crisis. The plan recommends Obama administration to continue cracking down on human smugglers and traffickers taking advantage of the surge. It also calls for increased efforts to provide detainee children with legal representation.

 

Read Next: This Is what an overcrowded holding center for migrant children looks like

This Is What an Overcrowded Holding Center for Migrant Children Looks Like

Brownsville, TX

Detainees sleep in a holding cell at a US Customs and Border Protection processing facility in Brownsville, Texas. (Reuters/Eric Gay/Pool)

Under mounting pressure from lawmakers and immigrant rights groups, Border Patrol officials on Wednesday finally let reporters visit two processing facilities where hundreds of unaccompanied migrant youth are being detained.

Some 900 children are being housed at a former warehouse in Nogales, Arizona, which was recently outfitted to handle an unprecedented surge of mostly Central American child migrants across the US-Mexico border. Another facility in Brownsville, Texas, is holding around 500 children, double its intended capacity. The Los Angeles Times described conditions there as “overcrowded and unsanitary.” CBP is required by law to turn over any migrant children to the Department of Health and Human Services within seventy-two hours of detaining them. Officials at the Nogales and Brownsville facilities told reporters they are struggling to meet this requirement.

Earlier this month, the White House requested $2 billion to handle the surge of migrant youths, which President Obama has declared an “urgent humanitarian situation.” US Customs and Border Protection reports that around 47,000 unaccompanied children have crossed the border since October 1, 2013, nearly double the amount of last year. A majority of the migrant children arrived from Central American countries, seeking refuge from rampant violence or hoping to reconnect with family members already in the states.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

CBP officials took reporters on highly controlled tours of the Brownsville and Nogales facilities, in which visitors were prohibited from bringing cellphones and sound recorders, or speaking with any of the children. Only two photographers, one for each facility, were allowed to bring a camera. Here are some of their photos:


Some 900 unaccompanied children are being held at a converted warehouse in Nogales. Border Patrol officials set up the Arizona facility after a similiar processing center in Texas ran out of space. (Reuters/Ross D. Franklin/Pool)

Nogales
Female detainees sleep in a holding cell. According to The New York Times, children held at the Nogales facility are allowed just forty-five minutes of outdoor time a day. (Reuters/Ross D. Franklin/Pool)


Child detainees are escorted to make phone calls. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)


Child detainees wait to use a portable restroom, as a World Cup match plays on a suspended television. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

 

Read Next: “Will the Death Penalty Return to the US This Week?”

Will the Death Penalty Return to the US This Week?

Georgia death penalty

This 2001 photo shows the death chamber at the state prison in Jackson, Georgia. (AP Photo/Ric Feld, File)

Three prisoners could be executed in the coming days, ending a nearly two-month, de facto moratorium on American capital punishment since a gruesomely botched attempt in Oklahoma renewed national debates over death penalty procedures.

Georgia inmate Marcus Wellons is set to die today at 7 pm ET. The Florida execution of John Ruthell Henry is scheduled for 6 pm Wednesday. A stayed execution in Missouri, originally scheduled for midnight tonight, could still proceed if state prosecutors succeed in appealing a federal judge’s decision.

If Wellons’s execution goes as planned, it will be the first to take place in the United States since Oklahoma officials botched the execution of Lockett on April 29. Lockett “writhed and grimaced,” apparently in pain, during a forty-three-minute procedure, even after he was already declared unconscious.

Lockett’s gruesome death prompted calls for increased transparency over death penalty procedures. President Obama last month asked the Justice Department to investigate the implementation of capital punishment throughout the country, calling the situation in Oklahoma “deeply troubling.” Judges have stayed or delayed eight executions since April’s botched lethal injection.

“Oklahoma turned the corner. People are more skeptical of how reliable the whole process is. That puts a high burden on Georgia and Florida to be prepared,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “Now, with executions, everybody is watching to see if anything goes wrong.”

As with Oklahoma, the three states set to execute prisoners this week won’t disclose where they procured their lethal injection drugs. Georgia’s Supreme Court most recently upheld a law protecting the anonymity of the state’s drug source, arguing that secrecy makes the execution process “more timely and orderly.”

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

Wellons’s attorneys cited Oklahoma’s botched execution in arguing that Georgia’s secrecy statute “deprives him and this court of the information necessary to determine whether those procedures present a ‘substantial risk of significant harm’ in violation of his Eighth Amendment rights.” Wellons was sentenced to death for the 1989 rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl.

A federal judge last week temporarily halted the execution of John Winfield, originally scheduled to die in Missouri at 12:01 am Wednesday, but state prosecutors are appealing that decision. Winfield’s lawyers presented evidence that state prison officials had unlawfully interfered in his clemency process. Winfield was convicted of shooting three women in the head, killing two, during a 1996 rampage against an ex-girlfriend.

Florida’s Supreme Court last week rejected an appeal from John Henry, whose attorneys argued that he is not mentally fit for execution. Henry stabbed his estranged wife and 5-year-old son to death in 1989. He has an IQ of 78, according to a test, but attorneys said his “abhorrent childhood, extensive personal and family mental health history, poor social adjustment, and lack of rational thinking and reasoning skills so impaired his adaptive functioning that he was actually performing at the level of a person with an IQ of 70,” the state’s cutoff for executions.

 

Read Next: “Autposy Report Reveals Oklahoma Officials Botched Execution.”

Autopsy Report: Oklahoma Officials Failed to Properly Insert IV During Botched Execution

OK death chamber

The gurney in the execution chamber at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary (AP Photo, File)

Oklahoma officials failed to properly insert an IV into death row prisoner Clayton Lockett, despite his having healthy veins, according to a preliminary autopsy report released by attorneys Friday.

Lockett, a convicted murderer and rapist, died during a botched lethal injection that the White House said fell short of “humane” standards. Media witnesses saw Lockett writhe and kick, apparently in pain, after he was already declared unconscious. He died forty-three minutes after the procedure began.

An independent autopsy, performed by Dr. Joseph Cohen, revealed that Lockett’s veins were in excellent condition for the injection procedure. Despite that, punctures on Lockett’s arms and groin area indicate that medical professionals failed in multiple attempts to set an IV in his veins. Attorneys say Dr. Cohen’s findings contradict official claims that Lockett’s vein collapsed during the procedure.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

Little is known about the medical professionals who botched Lockett’s procedure, since Oklahoma law shields the identities of execution team personnel. An initial report from Oklahoma’s Department of Corrections said a phlebotomist placed the IV into Lockett, in violation of the state’s execution protocol. When asked by Tulsa World in May, DOC officials reversed this claim, saying that the person was actually an EMT.

Dr. Cohen is requesting additional information to complete the autopsy, including a medical examination of his heart and larynx, which were removed by officials after the execution. He is also asking for Oklahoma’s execution policies and procedures and Lockett’s complete medical and prison records.

“Dr. Cohen has begun a critically important inquiry into the botched execution of Clayton Lockett,” says Dr. Mark Heath, assistant professor of anesthesiology at Columbia University and expert in lethal injection executions, in a statement. “However, to complete this inquiry, Dr. Cohen will need the state to provide extensive additional information beyond what the body itself revealed. I hope that Oklahoma provides everything he asks for so that we can all understand what went so terribly wrong in Mr. Lockett’s execution.”

Read Next: “Migrant Children Accuse Border Patrol Agents of Physical and Sexual Assualt”

Syndicate content