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‘We don’t do it’: As protesters gather, Tx pharmacy owner denies providing lethal injection drugs

December 4, 2018

Denouncing capital punishment and shouting into a bullhorn grisly descriptions of executions, a small cadre of anti-death penalty activists turned out Monday to protest a Houston area pharmacy that allegedly compounded death drugs for the Texas prison system.

But even as the sign-carrying crowd gathered outside, the owner of Greenpark Compounding Pharmacy & Gifts emerged to clear the air and refute allegations that his business compounds drugs destined for the Huntsville death chamber.

“It’s the wrong pharmacy and we don’t do it,” said Ken Hughes. “They have been mistaken or misinformed.”

For more than an hour, close to two dozen activists posted up outside the Southside Place store that BuzzFeed last week identified as one pharmacy that mixes the state’s supply of pentobarbital, the deadly barbiturate used to dole out capital punishment. Previously, Hughes told the online news outlet that his store only did drug testing for the prison system, but did not offer a clear answer when asked if he’d ever compounded death drugs for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

“They need to tell us today that they are going to stop making execution drugs,” said long-time activist Gloria Rubac.

Another activist called lethal injection a “modern-day lynching” and likened it to the Holocaust.

Although the store owner came out to document who turned up, the gathering stayed well-behaved. At one point, Southside Place police Chief Don McCall pulled up and politely asked the protesters not to block the driveways and please not swear on the bullhorn because “there’s women and kids around.”

The protest plans came together in response to Wednesday’s reporting by BuzzFeed’s Chris McDaniel who, citing unidentified federal documents, named the small gift shop in southwest Houston as one of two compounding pharmacies allegedly providing drugs to the state.

Aside from identifying Greenpark as the alleged source of the drugs, the news report also laid out a slew of documented safety violations that landed the Braeswood business on probationary status two years ago.

In 2016, according to state records, the Texas State Board of Pharmacy found that the company had mixed up the wrong drug for three kids. In a warning letter two years later, the FDA dinged the Houston business for “insanitary conditions” that could have contaminated drugs.

It was those problems that prompted lawyers for death row inmate Joseph Garcia - one of the notorious “Texas 7” escapees, who’s set for execution Tuesday - to ask the governor for a 30-day reprieve and file a last-minute federal appeal.

Exactly where the state gets its death drugs has been shrouded in mystery, as a 2015 law keeps secret the suppliers’ names. Previously, the state has argued that revealing identifying information about the source of the drugs could endanger businesses and their workers.

“Releasing publicly the identity of any supplier of execution drugs raises serious safety concerns that real harm could come to the business, operators and its employees,” Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jeremy Desel told the Chronicle in October.

But Monday’s protest stayed peaceful if, at times, loud. And the activists stressed that their presence didn’t present any threat.

“It’s just the right thing to do,” said protester Ward Larkin, “to let these people know that they’re not acting ethically.”

keri.blakinger@chron.com

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