June 29, 2018

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Kobach sought pardon for VP of a corporate donor

Topeka correspondent John Hanna had been hearing hints for weeks that there might be something in Kris Kobach’s record that could cause trouble for the Kansas secretary of state and candidate for governor.

At first, it was just that: hints. The suggestions were so vague that Hanna set off to review the nationally known Republican’s statements, but Hanna, whose reporting sense is informed by 30 years of statehouse reporting, found nothing.

So he kept digging. Eventually a source suggested there might be something to do with a pardon, and Hanna filed a records request.

The governor’s office released a copy of its file on a pardon request for Ryan Bader, the vice president of TriStar Arms, a firearms importer. Bader had faced an aggravated robbery charge over a 2009 incident but agreed to a plea bargain and received a light sentence. Now he wanted a pardon so that he could buy a gun again and get the licenses needed to take over the family business.

Bader’s attorney for the pardon request? Kobach. The records showed Kobach did not provide a key police affidavit that was later released by the office of GOP Gov. Jeff Colyer – whom Kobach is challenging. But there was more. Campaign finance records showed that TriStar had donated at least $7,000 to Kobach’s campaigns for secretary of state and governor. The company also helped sponsor a fundraiser with Donald Trump Jr.

Hanna’s APNewsBreak was well used, including a post on the homepage of a member that is usually hesitant to showcase work done outside its newsroom. It also became a topic of a gubernatorial debate, with Kobach defending the pardon request.

For smart digging and use of public records that helped drive the news agenda and political conversation, Hanna wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 17, 2018

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Texas biker accused of killing man who was shot by police

In the three years since the deadliest biker shooting in U.S. history, Fort Worth correspondent Emily Schmall has meticulously gathered documents, reports and court records to put together a spreadsheet that integrates autopsy reports, firearms analyses and ballistics evidence, including the names and serial numbers of the weapons, to whom they were traced, where they were recovered from and whether they were linked to a death or injury.

Her work paid off last week when prosecutors handed down the first murder charges in the case. Schmall was able to exclusively report that prosecutors had charged one of the bikers for murdering a man who was shot twice by a SWAT officer.

For persistent, investigative reporting that exclusively illuminated potential problems with a shifting strategy in a closely-watched case, Schmall wins this week’s Best of the States.

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March 16, 2018

Best of the States

AP analysis: NRA contributes to schools; few willing to decline the money

Major corporations were cutting ties with the National Rifle Association after the massacre at a Florida high school, but what about schools that had received grants from the gun organization? It was a natural follow to the Associated Press’ exclusive story that the alleged shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School had belonged to a school JROTC program that received NRA grants.

Data journalist Meghan Hoyer dug through tax records to identify the schools that had received more than $7 million in NRA grants. Education beat team member Collin Binkley began calling recipients around the country to see if they would forgo the money. Few said they would.

For their work breaking news on a story that everyone is reporting and providing data that allowed AP members to localize the story, Binkley and Hoyer will receive this week’s Best of the States prize.

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Feb. 23, 2018

Best of the Week

AP photo and reporting beats from Florida school shooting

– Photographer Joel Auerbach’s poignant image of two women crying outside a Florida high school as parents awaited news about their children after a gunman’s deadly rampage on the campus.

– Reporters Michael Biesecker and Collin Binkley’s exclusive reporting that the suspect was a “good shot” on a National Rifle Association-backed rifle team at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The two exclusives helped distinguish the coverage of the shooting at the school that left 17 dead. For capturing the human toll in a single iconic image and shedding light on the suspect’s marksmanship training, Auerbach, Biesecker and Binkley win this week’s Beat of the Week.

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Feb. 09, 2018

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Man charged with selling armor-piercing bullets to Las Vegas shooter

In the days after the Las Vegas shooting that killed 58 people, authorities said gunman Stephen Paddock acted alone. But search warrants showed that police and the FBI were looking at two "persons of interest."

One was Paddock's girlfriend, whom police had cleared, and the other was a man named Douglas Haig of Arizona.

Haig talked to various media, including the AP, and held a news conference characterizing his sale of tracer ammunition to Paddock as a lawful transaction.

But Phoenix newsman Jacques Billeaud wasn’t convinced. He called a source he has cultivated in law enforcement who was willing to help but didn’t know the answer to Billeaud’s questions. Then, a few days later, the official called to say that Haig indeed had been charged with a crime. Billeaud quickly checked an electronic court records system and found that armor-piercing ammunition with Haig's fingerprints had been found in Paddock's hotel room. Haig was charged with illegally manufacturing and selling the ammunition.

Billeaud's relationship with his source put the AP ahead, and customers used the AP as first word on a competitive story. For sticking with the story and using long-term source work to break news, Billeaud will receive this week’s Best of the States prize.

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Oct. 13, 2017

Best of the Week

Exclusive visuals, reporting distinguish Vegas shooting coverage

It was just one of the many mysteries surrounding the Las Vegas concert shooting: How did the gunman, perched up on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay resort, fire off as many as 90 rounds onto thousands of concert-goers in just 10 seconds, killing 58 people and injuring hundreds?

Reporters Sadie Gurman and Mike Balsamo found the answer. Through sourcework, they learned that Stephen Paddock was able to carry out his assault in moments because he had used two “bump stocks,” devices that allow a semi-automatic rifle to repeatedly fire like a machine gun.

The scoop was part of an impressive week of coverage by staff in the Las Vegas bureau and across the AP that also included photographer John Locher’s dramatic images of police screaming for people to take cover as the gunman sprayed the crowd with bullets.

For their work in bringing critical details and images of the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, Gurman, Balsamo and Locher win this week’s Beat of the Week prize.

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