New Mexico In Depth won four 1st place awards over the weekend, including top honors for investigative journalism.
The New Mexico Press Women’s Association conferred that honor on Puff of Smoke, a story reported and written by Jeff Proctor and published in collaboration with the Santa Fe Reporter. The issue at heart of the story was the investigative grand jury, a system Santa Fe District Attorneys used for years that resulted in numerous officers being cleared of criminal wrongdoing in fatal police shootings.
NMID also took top honors in the categories of enterprise reporting, special series and website – as well as two second-place awards and one third-place finish.
This weekend’s honors come a week after NMID won two first-place awards for multimedia journalism and general website excellence as well as three third-place awards in the Society of Professional Journalism’s Top of the Rockies regional journalism contest.
1st place for investigative journalism
Puff of Smoke: Through a series of interviews and a review of the grand jury transcript, Jeff Proctor revealed for the first time the inner workings of the investigative grand jury that cleared a New Mexico State Police officer in a 2013 fatal shooting of a 39-year-old Santa Fe woman.
Investigative grand juries are rarely used in New Mexico — judges banned the practice in Albuquerque, citing its lack of impartiality and legally fragile underpinnings — and they differ in several ways from traditional grand juries, which are used in criminal cases involving ordinary citizens. Traditional grand juries consider criminal charges and vote on whether to indict their targets. They nearly always issue indictments, according to numerous prosecutors interviewed for the story.
The grand jury that heard evidence about the police officer who fatally shot Jeanette Anaya in 2013 was powerless to charge the officer, however. Even if the 12 men and women on the panel wanted to issue an indictment, they couldn’t have.
It’s a system that stumped a Columbia University law professor who specializes in police practices and criminal law when Proctor described its inner workings.
And it’s a system that has confused lawyers, families of people shot by police and even grand jurors themselves.
After the publication of Puff of Smoke, candidates running for the office of the Santa Fe District Attorney went on record promising to change how the office investigates fatal police shootings.
1st place for Enterprise Reporting
Davon Lymon and law enforcement: In the months following the fatal shooting of Albuquerque Police officer Daniel Webster allegedly by repeat offender Davon Lymon, Albuquerque’s Mayor Richard Berry and Gov. Susana Martinez used the killing to lobby state lawmakers for mandatory minimum sentences for repeat offenders and other tough-on-crime measures.
But Jeff Proctor’s dogged reporting revealed a muddier narrative than the one promoted by New Mexico’s top politicians – one that revealed law enforcement had crossed paths with Lymon three times in the weeks before Webster’s death in late October 2015 without ever taking him into custody.
Proctor’s digging also raised questions about how well federal and local law enforcement agencies communicate about ongoing activities, especially those involving potentially dangerous repeat offenders such as Lymon.
In addition to reporting on those missed opportunities Proctor created an easy-to-use timeline titled ‘Davon Lymon: 15 Years on Law Enforcement’s Radar’ for readers who could view the many times Lymon’s life intersected with law enforcement authorities.
1st place – Special Series
Follow the Message: New Mexico In Depth covers the intersection of money and elections, as one way to understand the influence wielded by special interests in our political process. But it’s made difficult by New Mexico’s lax disclosure rules that make it all but impossible to determine who is campaigning against whom and who is paying for all the associated campaign literature, including radio ads.
NMID’s data journalist Sandra Fish devised a novel system that enabled our organization to track some of the money in politics in the lead up to the 2016 election that the public normally wouldn’t see. She created a Follow the Message web application. NMID then emailed its more than 4,000 recipients asking them to send in mailers, radio ads and more that they received in the mail or saw and heard on the internet.
Sandra also solicited NMID’s Facebook friends and followers on Twitter to send in political messages.
Once she had the political messages downloaded from people who sent in flyers and radio ads, she created a database in which she described each message, evaluated the allegations made in the ad or flyer and then provided information on who paid for the message.
Sandra then used the database to write a series of stories examining who was paying for political messaging in hotly contested races and the arc of political messaging in the weeks and months leading up to Election Day.
“This is what journalism should be,” one judge wrote of Follow the Message. “Informative, important and interesting. These are the questions most people should be asking and you did a wonderful job. Between the research, the database, the graphics and the storytelling you did what a team of reporters would have likely spent months on and you did it mostly by yourself. All newspapers, of any size, should be reading this story and copying what you’ve done so that the labyrinth of campaign contributions isn’t so twisty and turny, dark and unknown.“
1st place — Web site edited or managed by entrant – Nonprofit, government, or educational
The Openness Project: A joint effort with DataMade, a Chicago-based civic technology company, The Openness Project is an easily searchable campaign finance web portal that NMID updates regularly in collaboration with the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office.
The Openness Project makes it easy for people to search for candidates or political action committees, for those giving the big bucks or getting the big bucks. It gets down to the nitty-gritty of every single transaction. Plus, people can download the data and do their own analysis.
To make this project a reality NMID and Datamade used New Mexico’s public records law to request the state agency’s entire campaign finance database.
Once we received the database, which required several conversations between NMID, Datamade and Secretary of State’s office to ensure we received the data in the proper format with correct coding, DataMade then converted the database into a visually compelling, easily searchable portal that anyone can use.
The Openness Project is based on a simple concept–the often unspoken notion underpinning our democracy that each of us should have the same access to information as those who wield power.
To check it out, click here.
Two second place awards
Relationships make prosecuting police difficult: NMID’s Jeff Proctor and Andrew Oxford of the Santa Fe New Mexican reviewed policies governing police shootings around New Mexico and found a patchwork in how police and prosecutors across the state investigate shootings by police officers. The policies are sometimes unwritten and depend on the discretion of officials. In the end, officers are often left investigating colleagues in their own department and prosecutors find themselves weighing charges against the very people they rely upon in other cases.
Taken together — the examination of policies, the review of court proceedings from a recent trial of two Albuquerque police officers that ended in a hung jury, extensive interviews with legal experts — the reporting revealed a system fraught with conflicts of interest and ultimately ill-equipped to determine whether a police shooting has veered from negligent to criminal.
The story led to swift reaction from the state’s Attorney General Hector Balderas who announced a day after the story was published that he had created a committee to audit how each law enforcement agency around the state reviews the use of deadly force by its officers. A few days later, district attorneys from around New Mexico, announced they were working on a statewide policy on how their offices will investigate and prosecute shootings by law enforcement.
Affidavit: ABQ police have illegally deleted, altered videos of shootings
Jeff Proctor was the first to report allegations by a former APD records supervisor that Albuquerque Police Department officials had altered and, in some cases, deleted videos that showed several controversial incidents, including at least two police shootings. Proctor followed up with another in which the local district attorney said the allegations warranted a federal investigation. Prosecutors use the police videos to determine whether to pursue criminal prosecutions, she explained. Meanwhile, the city of Albuquerque announced it would forego an independent review in favor of an internal one. A day later, the city reversed itself and announced it would hire an outside investigator following criticism by a city councilor who demanded an independent review.
On Dec. 8, Jeff received confirmation from the local U.S. Attorney’s Office that it was investigating the allegations. In that story Proctor reported that departmental records he had reviewed suggested that officers have broad powers to change and delete video — and that they had done so. Other documents he reviewed showed that dozens of APD employees handled videos inside the video management system stored in the cloud from the April 2014 morning when a police officer fatally shot a 19-year-old Albuquerque woman. The employees watched the videos, made copies of them and, in some cases, edited portions of the footage.
Third place – Enterprise Reporting
Bail on NM ballot: Should money determine freedom? Teaming up with Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting last fall, New Mexico In Depth told the story of one man’s journey through New Mexico’s bail system.
Tom Chudzinski, a former architect, spent more than 30 days in the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center because he didn’t have enough money to afford bail.
Through a photo-illustrated longform story published on both outlets’ websites and a 15-minute audio segment on Reveal’s weekly radio podcast, journalists Jeff Proctor of NMID and Andrew Becker of Reveal skillfully told Chudzinski’s story.