An Idaho prison official acknowledged Tuesday that the state extensively blacked out documents about executions, ranging from handwriting samples to the names of hairstylists who might be available to give a condemned inmate his final haircut.
Idaho Department of Correction Deputy Director Jeff Zmuda detailed the redactions in court this week as he testified in a lawsuit by a University of Idaho professor who requested the documents.
Professor Aliza Cover studies the death penalty and how public participation shapes execution policy and process. She filed a public records request with the Department of Correction in 2017 seeking receipts, purchase orders, paperwork and other documents on the drugs the state used in its two most recent executions and any drugs it plans to use in future executions.
The department provided a copy of Idaho’s execution policy manual but refused to turn over other documents, contending an exemption under Idaho Board of Correction rules. Cover, who is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, sued, and the trial began this week.
Prison officials fear releasing certain information surrounding the death penalty could endanger staffers, volunteers and even people tangentially tied to an execution by making them targets for protests or even violence.
The Department of Correction also has argued that releasing the names of companies that supply lethal injection drugs would prompt them to stop selling to Idaho, making executions impossible because lethal injection is the only legal method in the state.
States nationwide have increasingly had trouble obtaining lethal injection drugs as major pharmaceutical companies ban prisons from using their products for capital punishment.
During a long period of testimony that began Monday and stretched into Tuesday, Zmuda went through dozens of redactions and the reasons behind them.
“Just to protect the identity of that person from being at risk,” he told correction department attorney Jessica Kuehl on why he blacked out the name of a hairstylist.
He also covered over the locations of two family members of a condemned man — both also prisoners.
Other redactions included the dates of practices of executions and the phone numbers of members of the clergy who were available to counsel condemned prisoners during their final days and hours.
The names of prison staffers called in to provide extra help manning the cell blocks on execution days were blacked out, along with aerial views of a prison complex and the names of companies who provided basic medical equipment like catheters and IV lines used in lethal injections.
Handwriting on some of the documents was covered over because it could have been used to identify a member of the execution team, Zmuda said. Staffers who volunteered to be part of the execution teams that do everything from escorting the inmate to the death chamber to helping administer the drugs were paid in cash rather than through the usual payroll system.
During questioning by ACLU attorney Ritchie Eppink, Zmuda acknowledged that he didn’t check for newly generated documents, run any keyword electronic searches or send out an email asking other correction staffers whether they had lethal execution-related documents for the professor’s public records request.
After Cover sued and a judge issued a preliminary ruling ordering the state to find and turn over more documents, correction officials provided hundreds of additional pages. Correction attorneys have said those additional documents weren’t directly related to Cover’s request but were provided as a courtesy.
Idaho has executed just three people in the last several decades. Kenneth Eugene Wells was executed in 1994, Paul Ezra Rhoades in 2011 and Richard Albert Leavitt in 2012.