Nov. 01, 2019

Best of the States

Experience, persistence pay off with breaking news: US to collect asylum seekers’ DNA

Immigration and Homeland Security reporter Colleen Long’s ears perked up in early October when she heard agency officials mention “CODIS” as they briefed reporters on the likelihood they would expand their practice of collecting DNA from migrants. 

CODIS, she knew from experience, was an FBI database usually associated with violent crimes, so Long was surprised to hear of its use in connection with migrants whose only crime was crossing the border illegally. Long followed up with detailed questions at the briefing but didn’t get answers, so she kept pressing officials.

Her persistence was rewarded with an advance briefing on the new rule, and additional details about how the DNA policy would be implemented. Long’s story moved hours ahead of the official announcement, becoming one of the most-read stories of the day. 

For making the early connection to the policy implications of the DNA database, then pressing the issue with officials until she had the exclusive details, Long earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 18, 2019

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Records show Montana official’s misuse of state vehicle

When the Helena Police Department cited the statute of limitations in declining to bring charges against Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton for misuse of a state-owned vehicle, Helena reporter Amy Hanson dug deeper.

After multiple public-records requests Hanson found that Secretary of State Corey Stapleton traveled tens of thousands of miles more than what had been previously reported, including many times when he had no official events on his calendar. And she found that the misuse continued until he turned in the vehicle in March, well within the statute of limitations.

For determined reporting that resulted in a textbook example of accountability journalism, Amy Hanson wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 20, 2019

Best of the States

Going to extremes to tell the story of sexual violence and shortcomings of enforcement

In western Alaska, rape survivors and their supporters say Nome’s police department has often failed to investigate sexual assaults, especially when the victims are Alaska Native women.

Delivering sensitive-but-powerful coverage from a challenging environment, enterprise photographer Maye-E Wong and freelance correspondent Victoria Mckenzie tell the story of average Americans struggling with sexual violence and law enforcement in small communities. Their work made clear that Nome’s struggles don’t represent an isolated case; it is a microcosm of how police and towns and cities across the U.S. have failed survivors of sexual assaults.

For going to extremes – literally and figuratively – to shed light on a remote corner of the larger issue of sexual violence and enforcement, Wong and Mckenzie share this week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 29, 2019

Best of the States

Early Epstein accuser: Police could have stopped him in 1997

It’s exceedingly rare to get any details from a police report in California and even rarer to get a glimpse inside a detective’s notebook. But Jennifer Peltz and Katie Campione did just that. Peltz and Campione convinced police to finally explain how they handled one of the earliest known sex crime accusations against Jeffrey Epstein, a 1997 case that the accuser has called a massive missed opportunity to bring the financier to justice years before he was accused of sexually abusing dozens of girls and young women.

Their story turned out to be one of the most popular stories of the week on the AP News mobile site and was also one of the most engaging with readers. Even the Los Angeles Times had no choice but to put the AP story on its website front page.

For going the extra mile to get an explanation for a case that could have stopped Epstein from the start, Katie Campione and Jennifer Peltz win this week's Best of the States.

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Aug. 16, 2019

Best of the Week

AP investigation: Guam’s ex-archbishop protected culture of clergy sex abuse of children

Knowledge of clergy sex abuse is widespread on the mainland of the United States. But it has long been a secret in the small, overwhelmingly Roman Catholic U.S. territory of Guam.

Washington-based investigative reporter Michael Biesecker, working with Atlanta-based enterprise photographer David Goldman and Seattle video journalist Manuel Valdes, helped to puncture that veil of silence when AP examined thousands of pages of court documents in lawsuits brought by abuse victims and then conducted extensive interviews.

The AP team detailed a pattern of repeated collusion among predator priests, with abuse that spanned generations and reached all the way to the top of the territory’s church hierarchy, ruled over by then-Archbishop Tony Apuron, who himself had been accused of the rape of a 13-year-old choir boy when Apuron was a parish priest.

The care and sensitivity of the reporting and images were essential to the project’s power. “To see my story told in this way gives me a lot of peace, that I have a purpose,” said Walter Denton, a former U.S. Army sergeant and survivor of abuse nearly 40 years ago.

For telling a sensitive and little-known story of systemic clerical abuse dating from the 1950s to as recently as 2013, Biesecker, Goldman and Valdes share AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Aug. 16, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Former classmates say Ohio shooter kept a 'hit list' and a 'rape list'

for reporting that the gunman in the Dayton, Ohio, shooting that killed nine people had significant red flags in his background.Following up on a thinly sourced local news report that Ohio shooter Connor Betts had a hit list in high school, Biesecker and Dunklin began calling dozens of former classmates, particularly those who may have had a chance of knowing Betts well. They struck paydirt with a former track teammate and a classmate who gave firsthand accounts of knowing not only about the hit list of people Betts wanted to kill, but also a rape list of girls he wanted to sexually assault. Both students had knowledge of separate high school suspensions of Betts, and with help from Smyth and others on the ground in Dayton, AP found more people who could confirm the accounts. https://bit.ly/2YIUEQg

June 21, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

‘Betrayed’: Student who reported rape says university failed to protect her

for a compelling, sensitively handled interview with a woman who said she’d been raped on the campus of Marshall University, revealing the extent of personal damage inflicted when the man, who was convicted of battery, was allowed to remain on campus. Alicia Gonzales, who allowed Izaguirre to use her name, described how her friends warned her about the man’s whereabouts. She would retreat to her dorm room to avoid him, and on the occasions when she did see him, he and his friends taunted her. She now has a federal lawsuit against the university. https://bit.ly/2FkYWSN

May 31, 2019

Best of the States

The one that got away: Survivor of serial killer adds emotion, depth to execution coverage

Execution coverage often focuses on the condemned inmate or the manner of death. So, faced with covering his eighth execution – a Florida serial killer – Tallahassee correspondent Brendan Farrington told the extraordinary personal story of a victim who escaped and helped police find the man after he raped her decades ago. That woman had chosen to witness the man’s execution.

Farrington doggedly tracked down the woman, now a sheriff’s deputy, who finally agreed to an interview on the eve of the execution. Her compelling story resonated with readers everywhere.

For his persistence and sensitivity in telling a personal and emotional victim’s story in what could have been a rote story on a serial killer’s execution, Farrington wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 24, 2019

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Military prosecutors sent tracking software to defense team, reporter

Los Angeles courts reporter Brian Melley was enjoying a Sunday afternoon when a longtime legal source reached out with a remarkable tip in the case of Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL facing a court martial on charges he murdered a teenage Islamic State fighter in Iraq in 2017.

The source told Melley that military prosecutors, frustrated by leaks in the case, planted tracking software in emails sent to defense lawyers and a reporter. The unsophisticated software was quickly discovered by the recipients.

Melley worked up the story, including an interview with a military law expert who thought the tactic was ethically, legally and intellectually dubious. His story hit the wire the next morning, quickly gaining traction online. AP was widely credited everywhere it appeared and no major media outlet matched it.

For giving AP an exclusive on an important military justice story, Melley wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 17, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Loophole preventing federal charges against minors in terrorism cases

for discovering that a 2018 Supreme Court case had impeded the Justice Department’s ability to charge minors with supporting terrorist groups. Bleiberg was curious why an FBI investigation of a teen plotting an Islamic State-inspired shooting was prosecuted by local Texas officials. He and Balsamo exposed the loophole created by a SCOTUS ruling in a non-terrorism case that could prevent minors from facing federal charges for supporting international terrorism. https://bit.ly/2JlSqiw

May 10, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Lawmakers target loopholes for spouses who drug, rape their partners

for a distinctive and deeply reported legislative story on the so-called “marital rape exemption” or “spousal defense,” a legal loophole in many states that allows spouses to escape criminal prosecution for raping partners who are drugged, unconscious or otherwise incapacitated. Smyth and Karnowski reported that previous state legislative attempts to remove those exemptions have a mixed record, but that’s starting to change. https://bit.ly/2vLmScQ

May 10, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Emails reveal lobbyist pushing legislation to help expelled son

for using an open records request to reveal behind-the-scenes maneuvering by a Missouri lobbyist who promoted a measure that would help college students – like his son – who have been disciplined for sex-discrimination complaints. Emails obtained by Ballentine showed the lobbyist strategizing to make the ruling cover his son’s situation, and pushing the idea that the real problem on campuses is not rape but women regretting casual sex. https://bit.ly/2VlNS22

May 03, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Dedicated reporting in case against Hawaii’s law enforcement power couple

for years of beat work and shoe leather reporting on the city’s former police chief and his wife, a powerful city prosecutor. The couple now faces trial on corruption charges as prosecutors say they paid for their lavish lifestyle by lying, stealing and cheating their family and clients. Kelleher’s intimate knowledge of the case enabled her to set up the trial in a way no other media could match. https://bit.ly/2Wkq76E

April 05, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Florida targeting massage parlor prostitution, trafficking

When police busted several massage parlors engaging in prostitution in Florida in February, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft drew all the attention, but hundreds of other men were also charged in what seemed like a new approach for Florida authorities.

AP Florida reporters Mike Schneider, Orlando, and Terry Spencer, West Palm Beach, seized on the Kraft-driven attention to dig into legal issues surrounding massage parlors and prostitution in Florida. With a deep dive into state records and a key interview with a local source, the pair landed an AP Exclusive that showed a change in strategy: Usually only low-level massage therapists were arrested. Owners were rarely charged and typically faced only fines and probation. Johns typically were not charged at all.

But the recent investigation had instead focused heavily on the possibility of widespread human trafficking. Several spa owners were charged with felonies, and authorities also charged 300 men accused of being patrons, including Kraft and the former president of Citigroup. The Martin County sheriff told Spencer that he wanted to shut down the sex-massage industry in part by targeting the demand side.

Strong play included prominent display in The Washington Post.

For their enterprising use of state records and source-building to find an AP Exclusive in a story that drew enormous global attention, Schneider and Spencer win this week’s Best of States award.

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March 15, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Major win for Tokyo bureau as former Nissan chairman is released

for their outstanding cross-formats effort to capture and verify the image of former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn who was released on bail after more than three months in custody on charges of understating income. AP’s report on this highly competitive story included strong visuals and live coverage unmatched by other agencies, and ahead of even some Japanese media.https://yhoo.it/2u8fUxChttps://bit.ly/2CfSMC0

Jan. 11, 2019

Best of the Week

AP investigation exposes sex abuse suffered at hands of priests by India’s nuns

New Delhi-based investigative reporter Tim Sullivan spent months looking into whispers that Indian nuns had endured sexual pressure by Catholic priests. What he found, after months of reporting into the closed-off world of Catholic convents, was a pattern of abuse that went back decades, ranging from drunken priests barging into nuns’ rooms to outright rape. He also found a culture of silence that had long kept these attacks hidden. Slowly, though, Sullivan found sisters willing to open up about their attacks, and others who could give perspective on why they’d been kept secret for so long. Finally, he and New Delhi photographer Manish Swarup traveled to southern India’s Catholic heartland to meet with nuns who had become pariahs in their community for defending a sister who accused a bishop of rape.

Sullivan’s powerful narrative attracted widespread attention. Accompanied by Swarup’s evocative photos, it was one of the AP’s most-read stories for the week, with excellent reader engagement. AP clients specializing in Catholic affairs ran the story prominently.

The standout work by Sullivan and Swarup contributed to the week’s remarkable body of work across the AP in covering abuse by clergy. For exposing long-held scandals in India’s Catholic ministries, Sullivan and Swarup share AP’s Best of the Week.

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