Oklahoma prisons director steps down amid botched executions probe

The El Reno Federal Correctional Institution outside Oklahoma City. © Kevin Lamarque
Oklahoma Corrections Director Robert Patton has submitted his resignation amid an investigation into several botched executions in the state. The prison chief had presided over two of the cases in question, but claims he is leaving due to family issues.

Patton, who took the post in January 2014, said in a statement that he had accepted a new job in Arizona. His resignation goes into effect on January 31, but Patton will begin taking accrued leave starting December 25.

“I appreciate the members of the board of corrections for their continued support during my time as director,” Patton said in a statement Friday. “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.”

The Corrections director has made no comment on his decision, but his spokesman said he has five grandchildren in Arizona and wants to spend more time with them.

Patton becomes the second high-ranking official to step down amid an investigation into the executions, focused primarily on the recent cases of mix-ups with lethal drugs.

Patton had been heading the department for a few months when the execution of Clayton Lockett went awry in April 2014, resulting in a prolonged death for the inmate. Lockett, 38, died of a heart attack after being injected with an insufficient dose of deadly chemicals due to an improperly set intravenous line. Visibly writhing in pain, he died 43 minutes after the procedure began.

This September, the execution of Richard Glossip, convicted of murdering his boss in the 1997, had to be postponed after it emerged that the Department of Corrections had received a shipment of potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride. The use of potassium acetate is not part of the state’s official lethal injection protocol, meaning that the execution could not be legally carried out.

Following that revelation, in October Oklahoma’s attorney general requested an indefinite stay of execution for Benjamin Cole and John Marion Grant.

Soon after Glossip’s botched execution, more worrying details about the state’s program surfaced. An autopsy report from Charles Warner revealed that potassium acetate rather than potassium chloride had been used in his January execution.

In October 2015, Patton and Oklahoma State Penitentiary warden Anita Trammell appeared before a multicounty grand jury looking into Warner’s case and how the wrong lethal injection drugs had ended up at the state’s corrections facility. Trammell resigned following the hearing.

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin said in a statement that she “regrets” Patton’s departure.

“I appreciate Robert Patton’s efforts to keep our state prisons safe for both correctional officers and inmates,” Fallin 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.”