IDOC turns over more withheld documents after lethal injection records trial

From the Idaho Press

By TOMMY SIMMONS

BOISE — Idaho Department of Correction officials have discovered six more records they should have turned over in response to a public records request in 2017.

The request is at the center of an ongoing lawsuit. University of Idaho law professor Aliza Cover sued the department in 2018 for denying her request for public records about the chemicals used in executions and where the chemicals came from.

In March, 4th District Court Judge Lynn Norton ordered the department to turn over information about the source of the chemicals used in the 2012 execution of Richard Leavitt but could withhold certain pieces of information related to the 2011 execution of Paul Rhoades.

Both parties have appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court.

In the meantime, however, Norton also ordered the Department of Correction conduct a thorough, final search of its records, to see if more documents remained that should have been given to Cover in 2017.

The department found six such records — three documents and three email conversations — and realized it no longer had access to files on a former director’s hard drive.

Those records have since been handed over to Cover, according to the May 17 document from Jeff Zmuda, IDOC deputy director.

“I met with staff from the IT department,” Zmuda wrote in the document. “As a result of that meeting, staff completed two additional searches to ensure the department had completed a diligent search of records responsive to petitioner’s public records request.”

Zmuda provided a list of department employees whose hard drives might contain relevant records. Among them were current department director Josh Tewalt and himself, as deputy director. The staff ran searches using specific terms he wrote. Those included: pharmaceutical, Leavitt, Rhoades, chemical, execution, supplier and lethal injection.

He also directed the staff to search the hard drives of former directors, including Kevin Kempf and Brent Reinke, who served as director from 2007 until his resignation in 2014.

“Based on IT’s efforts, it was determined that former director Brent Reinke’s hard drive was no longer available,” Zmuda wrote.

In her ruling, Norton found Zmuda testified “disingenuously” in an affidavit related to the case. She also said Jeff Ray, the department’s public information officer, acted in bad faith in declining to release the records to Cover originally and ordered him to pay a $1,000 fine — the maximum the law allows.

Zmuda has since accepted a position as Kansas’ secretary of prisons and will start July 1.

The case resulting from Cover’s request is one of multiple cases involving the Idaho Department of Correction in which records and record-keeping were in question. Earlier this month, a judge declared a mistrial, and the Ada County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office dropped charges in the case against seven inmates accused of rioting, after it was learned — in court — that the department had withheld records and may have altered at least one.

Days after prosecutors dropped those charges, another Ada County prosecutor told a judge he’d learned, after personally inspecting department records himself, that the department had again failed to turn over all relevant evidence in a separate case. The case had been set for a trial, but attorneys have opted instead to try to work out a plea deal. It is scheduled for a hearing June 5.

From the Idaho Press

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