FOI Foundation warns TDCJ about unwitnessed execution of Quintin Jones

The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas has issued the following letter to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice:

June 9, 2021

Bryan Collier
Executive Director
Texas Department of Criminal Justice
P.O. Box 99
Huntsville, TX 77342

                                    Re:      Unwitnessed execution of Quintin Jones

Dear Mr. Collier:

The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas (“FOIFT”) writes to rebuke the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and your execution of Quintin Jones with no public witness present. Executions must be done publicly to maintain the integrity of the judicial process. Indeed, the public interest is at its highest when the government is using its power to extinguish the life of a person. The media are the public’s eyes—and if they are excluded, there is no public witness.

TDCJ’s spokesman, Jeremy Desel, stated that this inexcusable failure resulted from a “miscommunication,” and that an investigation is “ongoing.” However, Mr. Desel also said that no state law was violated, and that the Texas Administrative Code “does not mention or use the word must in any way, just that the following persons may be authorized to witness.” TDCJ’s position, therefore, is that it has the legal discretion to allow a public witness or not. In other words, TDCJ decides by fiat whether the public may witness an execution.

You are mistaken. You are not authorized to rule by fiat, and failure by TDCJ to follow the requirements of the Administrative Code is a violation of Texas law. There is no penological interest served by excluding the public from this most grave exercise of sovereign power. Rather, the opposite is true, for people do not readily accept or trust what they cannot see. Carrying out a capital sentence is the last stage of a public trial. This should not be a partisan issue.

Without question you are well aware of what transpired to cause this grievous failure, and you must promptly release the details so that those culpable may be held accountable. Please act with gravity commensurate with the seriousness of the violation. TDCJ is not a black box where people go to simply disappear, no matter how terrible their crime may be.

Kelley Shannon
Executive Director, Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas

C:  Jeremy Desel                                                                     jeremy.desel@tdcj.texas.gov