Stephanie Mencimer

Stephanie Mencimer

Reporter

Stephanie works in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. A Utah native and graduate of a crappy public university not worth mentioning, she has spent the last year hanging out with angry white people who occasionally don tricorne hats and come to lunch meetings heavily armed.

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Stephanie covers legal affairs and domestic policy in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. She is the author of Blocking the Courthouse Door: How the Republican Party and Its Corporate Allies Are Taking Away Your Right to Sue. A contributing editor of the Washington Monthly, a former investigative reporter at the Washington Post, and a senior writer at the Washington City Paper, she was nominated for a National Magazine Award in 2004 for a Washington Monthly article about myths surrounding the medical malpractice system. In 2000, she won the Harry Chapin Media award for reporting on poverty and hunger, and her 2010 story in Mother Jones of the collapse of the welfare system in Georgia and elsewhere won a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.

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Active Shooter Drills Don't Really Prepare People, But They Do Make Them Cry

| Fri Sep. 5, 2014 9:58 AM EDT
An active shooter drill at a Florida elementary school.

In the wake of the nation's many recent mass shootings, and in the absence of any meaningful gun control that might stem them, employers and schools have started training their staff to respond should a madman with a gun turn up on their doorsteps. "Active shooter" drills have become the norm in many school districts and downtown office buildings; in many schools, such drills are now mandated by the state. But it turns out that bringing SWAT teams into buildings to simulate an active shooter situation doesn't always make people feel safer. In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, such simulations have seriously traumatized and occasionally injured people, sparking a wave of lawsuits.

The Journal tells several amazing stories of people who were injured or utterly freaked out during such drills, which often weren't announced ahead of time. One involves a Colorado nursing home employee whom a man forced at gunpoint into an empty room at work. The "shooter" was actually a local cop and the gun was fake, but the nurse was so scared that even when the "shooter" finally identified himself as a cop after she started crying and begging for her life, she wasn't really sure he was telling the truth. She was so traumatized that she had to quit her job and has since filed a lawsuit against the nursing home.

Active shooter drills often feature scary looking shooters with realistic looking guns who shoot plastic bullets or blanks at participants, who are then supposed to attack the shooter or at least throw things at him. But apparently, far from creating an army of first responders, these drills often leave teachers and other participants hysterical. Critics told the Journal that the exercises have left school employees and others more terrified and ill-equipped to deal with a real shooting than they would have been otherwise:

Some experts, however, say recreating the chaos of a mass shooting is no way to prime for emergencies. "There ends up being zero learning going on because everyone is upset that you've scared the crap out of them," said Greg Crane, a former SWAT officer with the North Richland Hills Police Department near Dallas who holds seminars to teach civilians different strategies to deal with mass-shooting scenarios.

Given the obvious potential for trauma in active shooter drills, schools and post offices and other institutions worried about active shooters might just want to tell everyone to hide under their desks until help arrives.

Arizona Executioners Had To Use 15 Doses of Lethal Drugs Before Inmate Finally Died

| Sat Aug. 2, 2014 5:30 AM EDT

Documents released Friday afternoon in the case of Arizona's  botched execution of Joseph Wood—who gasped for air and struggled, according to witnesses, repeatedly during the two-hour process—show that  executioners used 15 separate doses of a new drug cocktail before Wood finally died. Lawyers had warned that the combination of 50 milligrams hydromorphone (a pain killer) and 50 milligrams of midazolam (a sedative) was rife with potential problems. (The state also has a long history of failing to follow its own protocol.) The documents suggest they were right.

"Instead of the one dose as required under the protocol, ADC injected 15 separate doses of the drug combination, resulting in the most prolonged execution in recent memory," said Dale Baich, Wood's lawyer. "This is why an independent investigation by a non-governmental authority is necessary.”

Ohio  used a similar drug cocktail in January to execute Dennis McGuire, who gasped and snorted for 25 minutes before finally succumbing, the longest execution in Ohio history. Arizona apparently increased the dosage of midazolam from what Ohio had used, but it doesn't seem to have gotten any better results.

When officials in Ohio and elsewhere first expressed their intent to experiment with the midazolam/hydromorphone combination, experts predicted, as Mother Jones' Molly Redden reported, that little was known about how the new drug combinations would work in executions. She wrote:

Jonathan Groner, a professor of clinical surgery at the Ohio State University College of Medicine who has written extensively on the death penalty, says effects of a hydromorphone overdose include an extreme burning sensation, seizures, hallucination, panic attacks, vomiting, and muscle pain or spasms. [David Waisel, an associate professor of anesthesiology at Harvard Medical School], who has testified extensively on capital-punishment methods, adds that a hydromorphone overdose could result in soft tissue collapse—the same phenomenon that causes sleep apnea patients to jerk awake—that an inmate who had been paralyzed would be unable to clear by jerking or coughing. Instead, he could feel as though he were choking to death.

Because hydromorphone is not designed to kill a person, Groner says, there are no clinical guidelines for how to give a lethal overdose. "You're basically relying on the toxic side effects to kill people while guessing at what levels that occurs," he explains.

The new Arizona documents suggest that these assessments were dead on.

State officials are using new drug combinations because pharmaceutical companies have been refusing to sell or export the drugs traditionally used in executions. The US has seen a shortage of those drugs for several years now, and death penalty states have gone to increasingly desperate measures to kill their condemned, everything from illegally importing the old drugs to buying them from dubious compounding pharmacies. Arizona illustrated the latest gambit—using new combinations of other available drugs, something critics have called an unethical human experiment.

States have also gone to great lengths to hide information about the drugs they're using in executions and how they're getting them. In Arizona, Wood was just the latest of many death row inmates who have tried and failed to force states to be more transparent. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Wood in late July and agreed that he had a right to know how he was going to die. But the US Supreme Court overruled that decision and allowed the execution to go forward.

 

 

 

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