TERRE HAUTE — The Indiana State Police has decided not to challenge a lawsuit charging that it was violating the First Amendment rights of death penalty opponents, according to a news release issued by Death Penalty Action, a national organization opposed to the death penalty.
State police blocked public roads surrounding the Federal Penitentiary at Terre Haute in advance of three federal executions last month. ISP will now stop doing so.
In a suit filed Aug. 4 by the ACLU of Indiana on behalf of Death Penalty Action, the Indiana Abolition Coalition, Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods, Indianapolis attorney Ashley Kincaid Eve and other individuals opposed to the death penalty, plaintiffs sought an injunction preventing road closures during future executions so that they can protest within view of the prison. With an agreement signed by the attorneys of both parties, the suit will now be dismissed.
“For the Indiana State Police to back down immediately shows the government has no problem violating civil and human rights when they think they can get away with it,” said Abraham Bonowitz, director of Death Penalty Action, in the news release.
“This is a victory for the First Amendment, but it is troubling that it took a lawsuit to allow us to shine a spotlight on the outrageous behavior going on behind the razor wire. These executions are being scripted by President Trump’s re-election campaign to create a talking point heading into the Republican National Convention.”
Death Penalty Action has been highlighting the political nature of the resumption of federal executions since execution dates were announced more than a year ago, in July 2019. As two new execution dates were recently announced, Death Penalty Action launched a national sign-on letter and a petition calling on Congress to investigate irregularities in how the July executions were carried out and to stop future presidents from using executions for political purposes by ending the federal death penalty entirely.
“President Trump is not trying to advance justice or help victims,” said Bonowitz. “In fact, the Trump’s administration is completely ignoring murder victims’ families, who do not want their loved ones’ memories sullied by an execution. These prisoners and the families of the victims mean nothing to him. He just wants to be able to say he has executed more people than any president in well over half a century.”
The first federal execution in 17 years was carried out July 14 despite the strong objections of the family of the victims in the case. Earlier last week, the Trump Administration set Aug. 26 as the date to execute Lezmond Mitchell, the only Native American on the federal death row, over the objections of the victim’s family and the Navajo Nation.
If all executions now scheduled are carried out, the Trump Administration will have executed seven prisoners this election year. The Trump campaign blasted out an email July 14, celebrating how tough the president is and challenging Joe Biden on the issue of capital punishment.
“The upcoming executions at the end of August are timed for right before the Republican National Convention, and there is no question that Donald Trump is using the power of the presidency to execute prisoners to establish a ‘Law and Order’ credential for himself,” said Bonowitz. “That is wrong, and that is why we are calling on Congress to investigate these executions, including the role of the Trump campaign, and the legal shenanigans we saw with the first two executions in July.
“We continue to call on Congress to end the federal death penalty and make it impossible for politicians to ever again use capital punishment as a political weapon.”
Death Penalty Action works to end capital punishment at the state and federal level. It is a leading organization among those convening protests at the site of federal executions in Terre Haute. There also will be a protest Aug. 28 at the Department of Justice in Washington in conjunction with a national March on Washington scheduled for that day.