Nevada Sued Over Planned Execution of Zane Floyd

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada is suing to ensure full transparency in the state's planned execution of Zane Michael Floyd.

The ACLU filed the federal lawsuit on Friday, calling for a halt to what would be Nevada's first execution in 15 years unless the execution process is more transparent.

The lawsuit argues that the state would violate the First Amendment by not permitting independent witnesses to view the execution process in its entirety.

The ACLU's plaintiff, the Nevada Press Association, represents news organizations throughout the state—many of which will be called on to witness the execution if it goes ahead.

The responsibility of those witnesses takes on greater weight, the ACLU said, as Nevada is moving to carry out Floyd's execution "using experimental drug cocktails and an untested facility."

Floyd, 45, was sentenced to death for killing four people and wounding a fifth in a shotgun attack at a Las Vegas grocery store in 1999.

His execution was put on hold until October after his attorneys asked a judge to allow enough time to investigate the effects of the untested sequence of drugs that prison officials want to use, including the powerful opioid fentanyl, ketamine, cisatracurium, and heart-stopping potassium chloride.

The ACLU's lawsuit objects to several aspects of the state's planned execution protocol, which would limit how much journalists would be able to see and therefore report on.

The execution manual states that the execution will begin with the blinds of the viewing room closed. The blinds will only be opened after Floyd enters the execution chamber, is secured to the execution table, has had his IV connected and is alone with the warden.

The manual "also suggests that witnesses will not be able to hear anything inside the Chamber until after the blinds open, and even then the witnesses will only hear Floyd's last words," the lawsuit adds.

The manual also states that if at any point Floyd experiences any unexpected effects from the lethal drugs, the execution will be paused, the viewing room blinds will be shut and the attending physician will be consulted. Blinds will only reopen if the execution is resumed.

The lawsuit also argues that the plan to give the director of the Nevada Department of Corrections "unfettered authority to deny requests from media representatives for an invitation to Floyd's execution" violates First Amendment rights. The failure to provide an alternative way for press outlets who have been denied an invitation to view the execution is also a violation of First Amendment rights, the lawsuit says.

Texas death chamber
File photo. The death chamber at the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The plaintiffs also argue that the planned use of the drug cisatracurium, a paralytic, would prevent witnesses from "observing and accurately [reporting] on the effects of Nevada's experimental drug cocktail."

The state's plan for Floyd's execution "is designed to limit what reporters can see and to prevent them from reporting if something goes wrong," Richard Karpel, executive director of the Nevada Press Association, said in a statement.

"The people of Nevada have a right to know if the state performs its executions humanely, and the press has a First Amendment right and responsibility to report it."

Christopher Peterson, an attorney with the ACLU of Nevada, added: "The state must not be allowed to move forward with an execution plan that allows them to hide the consequences of using experimental drug combinations to kill someone.

"Reporters have a critical mission of acting as government watchdogs and keeping the people of Nevada informed, and the First Amendment guarantees their right to serve as independent witnesses. We're fighting to make sure Nevada can't close the curtain on such an event."

The ACLU's lawsuit in Nevada comes after Texas executed Quintin Jones in May without any media witnesses present, a glaring error that was branded "a new low in execution transparency."

The Nevada Department of Corrections and Gov. Steve Sisolak's office have been contacted for comment.