April 06, 2018

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Confidential toxicology report details Prince overdose

In the nearly two years since Prince’s sudden drug overdose death in 2016, Minneapolis reporter Amy Forliti has closely tracked the criminal investigation into his death, cultivating sources who could help her break developments along the way, including the possibility of criminal charges.

A medical examiner's scant one-page report had cited an accidental overdose of fentanyl as the cause of Prince’s death, but provided almost no other detail. Forliti had pursued a copy of the autopsy and toxicology report ever since from multiple sources. She finally obtained the confidential toxicology report on March 26.

Forliti talked to three experts not involved in the case who analyzed blood and liver readings in the report and characterized them as “exceedingly high” – as one expert put it, they were very high even for a chronic pain patient. The details were something no other media could match.

Forliti's exclusive was widely played. It led the Minneapolis Star Tribune's website for hours and made the printed paper, a rarity for a story on which they compete with AP. CNN referenced the story on-air and online with credit to AP.

For relentlessly working her sources to break news on a long-simmering story, Amy Forliti wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 25, 2016

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Innocent suspects face terrible choice: Plead guilty or risk life in prison

for using data and shoe-leather reporting to spotlight a terrible choice faced by many innocent people in a judicial system full of overworked defense lawyers and expedient judges and prosecutors: Plead guilty or risk going to prison for life. Last year, they found, 68 of 157 exonerations were in cases in which the defendant had pleaded guilty after facing that choice. http://apne.ws/2fVEf1O

Jan. 06, 2017

Best of the States

Disability and desperation

When federal prosecutors alleged that Kentucky attorney Eric Conn had funneled $600 million in fraudulent disability claims to Appalachia, Claire Galofaro saw a chance to tell a much bigger story.

Over a period of months, Galofaro, the AP’s administrative correspondent in Louisville, sat in on federal hearings and heard the anguish of Conn’s former clients, some severely disabled, others who seemed like they might be able-bodied enough to be working. She met with many who were being asked to prove their disability years after it had first been approved by the government, forced to go searching for old medical records in order to make a case they thought they had already made.

She learned about three people who killed themselves rather than face the prospect of demonstrating, once again, that they were disabled and unable to work.

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April 21, 2017

Best of the States

AP investigation reveals federal judge impaired by alcoholism

Baton Rouge-based reporter Michael Kunzelman was reporting on the police killing of a black man outside a convenience store last summer when a source called to encourage him to look into a case in front of a federal judge that had been mysteriously reassigned. It wasn’t the easiest time to be chasing down tips: the Alton Sterling shooting was swiftly followed by the killings of three law enforcement officials and then catastrophic flooding in Louisiana’s capital.

But Kunzelman didn’t forget about it.

When he was free, he began an investigation into the performance of U.S. District Judge Patricia Minaldi, work that would take months and aggressive use of public records. It culminated with the discovery last week she’d been ordered to seek treatment for alcoholism so severe that a colleague believed she couldn’t take care of herself. For his work Kunzelman wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 20, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

APNewsBreak reveals renewed investigation into Emmett Till killing

The killing of black teenager Emmett Till remains one of the most notorious crimes in American history, unresolved more than 60 years later. The 14-year-old boy was lynched after being accused of whistling at a white woman in Mississippi in 1955, a case that shocked the nation and helped inspire the civil rights movement. Alabama correspondent Jay Reeves has doggedly pursued any developments in the case over the years, and last week came away with a bombshell: the investigation was being reopened.

For that exclusive, Reeves wins the Beat of the Week.

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Aug. 10, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

50-state investigation reveals arbitrary patchwork of justice for juvenile lifers

After the U.S. Supreme Court told states that juveniles who had been given mandatory life without parole sentences should get the chance to argue for their release, national writers Sharon Cohen and Adam Geller wanted to know how judges, prosecutors, lawmakers and parole boards were dealing with the inmates.

Aided by reporters in all 50 states, their exhaustive investigation showed for the first time that the high court’s mandate in 2016 to give inmates a chance at freedom is being applied inconsistently, varying from state to state, even county to county, “in a pattern that can make justice seem arbitrary.”

The resulting three-day series featured deeply reported text stories, an expansive photo report of inmates from across the country, a 16-minute audio extra, a video animation on teen brain development, a video story, and a searchable trove of state-by-state details – all hosted in a dynamic hub on APNews.com.

Cohen and Geller’s work wins this week’s Beat of the Week prize.

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Jan. 26, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Pope responds, in person, after AP scoop on papal letter about Chilean bishop

Holding prominent officials accountable is one of the main missions of journalism, even if it is uncomfortable at times. AP’s Nicole Winfield did just that, politely but firmly pressing Pope Francis on his knowledge of a sexual abuse scandal that has clouded his appointment of a Chilean bishop in 2015 and cast doubt about his commitment to fighting the problem.

AP Santiago correspondent Eva Vergara got the first part of the scoop for AP. She knew a letter she had spent months tracking down was toxic to Francis, to his upcoming trip to Chile, and to the Chilean bishop appointed by Francis and accused of covering up for the country's most notorious pedophile priest.

The letter showed that Francis knew that Bishop Juan Barros was accused of complicity in covering up the sexual abuse by Rev. Fernando Karadima, but appointed Barros bishop anyway. The scandal and Francis' subsequent accusations of slander against abuse victims dominated coverage. It led to Francis trying to explain himself under tough questioning by Winfield on an extraordinary in-flight press conference on his way home.

For Winfield's unflinching questioning of the pope, and Vergara's determined efforts to surface the letter that launched the story, the pair wins Beat of the Week.

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March 22, 2018

Best of the States

Sex assaults among children on US military bases routinely ignored

Last May, as Reese Dunklin and Justin Pritchard sifted through readers' email responses to AP's 2017 investigation into schoolhouse sex assault, both reporters flagged the same messages for follow-up: The tips described problems with the handling of sex assaults reported on U.S. military bases among the children and teens of service members.

Through dozens of FOIA requests and interviews, they found that reports of sexual assaults and rapes among military kids were getting lost in a dead zone of justice, with neither victim nor offender receiving help. Cases often died on the desks of prosecutors, even when an attacker confessed. And criminal investigators shelved other cases, despite requirements they be pursued, the reporters found.

Using government records and data released by the Pentagon’s military branches and school system, Dunklin and Pritchard catalogued nearly 600 cases of sex assaults among children on military bases, often after protracted FOIA negotiations. Though an acknowledged undercount, it was the first such quantification – something neither the Pentagon nor its global school system had previously done.

For shedding light on a problem too long ignored, and localizing it for AP members in their states, Dunklin and Pritchard share this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 21, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP Investigation: Moscow taking Ukrainian kids to raise them as Russians

Russia has been open about its desire to turn Ukrainian orphans into Russian citizens with Russian families — a flashpoint of the war. But whether or not they have parents, raising the children of war in another country or culture can be a marker of genocide, an attempt to erase culture and identity.

This investigative piece, reported from Ukraine, Russia and France, made AP the first news organization to show the disturbing process from beginning to end — and prove that many of the children are not orphans at all. The all-formats story led with the account of a Ukrainian mother who, against the odds, successfully retrieved six children who had been trapped in Mariupol and seized by pro-Russia forces.

The story won wide play online, was a hit on Twitter and was singled out during a State Department briefing.

For documenting a severe breach of human rights with a heart-wrenching story that resonated across audiences, Sarah El Deeb, Tanya Titova, Anastasiia Shvets, Elizaveta Tilna and Kirill Zarubin earn AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner honors.

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April 27, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Fast and furious: AP is hours ahead with sought-after Comey memos

The moment James Comey let slip that he had written “contemporaneous notes” detailing his dealings with President Donald Trump, those memos became the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

The memos quickly became fodder for special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections as it related to possible collusion with the Trump campaign – and in particular, whether the president sought to obstruct justice. Prosecutors perused them, members of Congress demanded them and the public speculated about them.

In the end, The Associated Press got them.

Thanks to the resourceful reporting of the Washington bureau’s Mary Clare Jalonick, Chad Day, Tom LoBianco and Eric Tucker, the AP was the first news organization to publish the contents of those 15 pages of notes, hours ahead of the competition. And that major scoop is the Beat of the Week.

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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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May 31, 2018

Best of the States

Mentally disabled man made false confession to murder in 1998 – now it's used against him

A mentally disabled Louisiana man walked free last week after 20 years in prison for a killing his attorneys say he didn't commit. But New Orleans reporter Janet McConnaughey questioned why his plea agreement blames him for obstructing justice.

Corey Williams was a 16-year-old who still sucked his thumb, often wet himself and had been hospitalized for extreme lead poisoning when Shreveport, Louisiana, police brought him in for questioning in 1998 about a shooting that killed a pizza deliveryman.

For hours, he said he was innocent. Finally, Williams told police he did it and wanted to go home and lie down.

Two decades later, with doubts swirling around his murder conviction and the case submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court for review, Williams accepted a plea agreement, pleading guilty to manslaughter and obstructing justice.

McConnaughey asked the district attorney's office for documentation outlining the plea deal. There it was: Williams said he’d obstructed justice by removing evidence from the crime scene and by providing “a false inculpatory statement to police." Williams’ signature was in inch-high printing, with big circles over the i’s.

McConnaughey’s story received strong use by AP customers. For pursuing the underlying details and shining a light on a deal that set Williams free – but only after putting the blame on himself for a false confession – McConnaughey wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 08, 2018

Best of the States

Only on AP: No justice for patients of sex-abusing Philadelphia physician

Police in New York City and New Jersey had already charged Dr. Ricardo Cruciani with rape and other serious sex offenses that could put him away for decades.

But in Philadelphia, where the allegations first surfaced? Some officials wouldn’t even return phone calls, according to the women who say they were victimized by the prominent neurologist.

Alarm bells went off for northeastern Pennsylvania correspondent Michael Rubinkam when police in Philadelphia did not pursue a felony case, even though some of the accusers in New York and New Jersey cases said they had been assaulted in Philadelphia, too. He interviewed six women who described what they viewed as a shocking lack of care and concern on the part of city police and prosecutors. The women said they felt like they’d been victimized twice – first by the doctor, then by law enforcement.

Rubinkam’s artfully written Only on AP story was widely used, and was displayed prominently on the homepage of Philadelphia's two major newspapers.

For enterprising work on a story of intense regional interest, Rubinkam wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 22, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Smart source work delivers exclusive on Polanski case transcript

scooped everyone by obtaining the first copy of a newly unsealed transcript in Roman Polanski's long-running underage sex abuse case, filing a story before anyone else had it, including prosecutors and the director's attorney.Melley drew on experience to quickly find the court reporter and arrange to electronically obtain the 400-page transcript of testimony by a former prosecutor who handled the case. In the previously sealed testimony, the former prosecutor said that the judge in the 1977 case was reneging on a promise not to jail Polanski, prompting the director to flee the country on the eve of sentencing.After receiving the files, Melley worked late into the night to deliver the news, putting AP significantly ahead on a high profile, internationally competitive celebrity court case.Read more

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Aug. 19, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: DEA appeared to intervene after off-duty shooting by agent

investigated a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent’s deadly shooting of a mentally ill neighbor in Mississippi, revealing new details that raise questions about why the agent never faced trial on a murder charge — and the role played by DEA brass to quickly insert themselves into the case, blocking local authorities from talking to the agent.Mustian exclusively obtained hundreds of pages of investigative documents and transcripts, and spent days on the ground interviewing people with knowledge of the case for a story that questions the justification for the shooting, how Agent Harold Duane Poole avoided trial and whether the DEA overreached to protect one of its own amid a flurry of misconduct cases in the agency.Read more

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Sept. 09, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP investigation: Police can track your phone with ‘Fog’ tech tool

delivered an all-formats package revealing a startling truth: U.S. law enforcement agencies have used a smartphone tracking tool called “Fog Reveal” — made by a company that has no website or public information — to track people’s movements going back months, if not years, sometimes without search warrants.A tip to AP early this year launched the in-depth investigation of Fog Data Science, a company whose marketing materials said it drew from data generated by thousands of popular apps. Police have used the company’s Fog Reveal to search hundreds of billions of records from some 250 million mobile devices, according to documents reviewed by AP.The exclusive package, with an engaging presentation of illustrations, video and photos, attracted a global audience online, in broadcast and in print.Read more

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Nov. 20, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP breaks news on Justice Department election investigations

both delivered scoops on the U.S. Department of Justice and election investigations.Balsamo kept hearing rumors of the DOJ looking into election cases, but he knew there were rules prohibiting such investigations during an ongoing election. He kept asking until a source revealed a memo Attorney General William Barr had sent to prosecutors nationwide authorizing federal prosecutors across the U.S. to pursue any “substantial allegations” of voting irregularities before the election is certified, despite the fact there was no evidence of widespread fraud giving prosecutors the ability to go around the longstanding policy. The scoop reverberated nationwide, especially as concerns grew over Trump’s ability to use the levers of government to hang on to power. The story was widely used, with Politico, Axios and NBC citing AP in their coverage of Barr’s memo. AP’s alert and a full story were on the wire more than 40 minutes before other major news organizations obtained a copy of the memo.Meanwhile, Las Vegas reporter Michelle Price was digging into how the DOJ was pursuing allegations from the Trump campaign that voters may have cast improper ballots in Nevada. Price and Balsamo teamed up with voting reporter Anthony Izaguirre to report out two ongoing investigations, and how they may not hold up to scrutiny. Price used her contacts to get exclusive first-person accounts from U.S. military members who thought they’d been wrongly accused of fraud for voting by mail from out of state by Nevada authorities and DOJ officials.https://bit.ly/2Kqu09ehttps://bit.ly/3lOlxKR

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