June 17, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP investigation of Louisiana State Police triggers federal probe

fittingly beat the competition with news of the biggest impact yet from their two-year investigation of beatings and cover-ups by the Louisiana State Police: The U.S. Justice Department is launching a sweeping civil rights probe of the agency to see if there is a pattern of excessive force and racial discrimination.Based on their deep sourcing, Mustian and Bleiberg were able to exclusively report the federal “pattern-or-practice” investigation as a news alert about an hour before the official announcement in Baton Rouge. It marked the first such action against a statewide law enforcement agency in more than two decades. All the examples cited by the assistant attorney general as justitification for the probe came from a string of AP scoops that exposed (often with video) beatings of mostly Black men and the Louisiana agency’s instinct to protect troopers rather than investigate them.Read more

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Dec. 16, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP spotlights remarkable rise of federal prison official accused of misconduct

Mike Balsamo in Washington and Mike Sisak in New York trained a lens on a single Bureau of Prisons official, Thomas Ray Hinkle, who received promotions across four decades despite repeated allegations of abuse, misconduct and even admissions by him that he’d beaten inmates in the past as part of a gang of guards called “The Cowboys.”

After being tipped earlier this year to Hinkle’s past, Sisak and Balsamo went about securing and scrutinizing 1,600 pages of documents that provided details of the allegations and developed key sources within the prisons system who corroborated the accusations. Finally, toward the end of the reporting process, they secured comment from Hinkle and the bureau, both of which acknowledged his previous excesses but said he was a changed man.

For a dogged and impactful investigation that caps a year in which their reporting has shaken the hierarchy of the federal prison systems and forced officials to confront abuses long out of public view, Balsamo and Sisak are Best of the Week 1st Winners.

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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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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

Feb. 26, 2021

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Executioners sanitized official reports of federal inmates’ last moments

AP legal affairs reporter Michael Tarm witnessed 10 of the unprecedented 13 federal executions in the final months of the Trump administration, diligently taking notes on what he saw in the chamber, from the inmates’ last words to their last breaths. 

But weeks after the last execution in mid-January, something nagged at him: The executioner’s official account did not jibe with what he had observed during the execution. Tarm went back, looking through hundreds of filings and court transcripts. His reporting resulted in a stunning exclusive on how the executioners all used euphemisms like “snored” and “fell asleep” while Tarm and other witnesses saw inmates’ stomachs dramatically shuddering and jerking in the minutes after lethal injections.

The sanitized accounts, Tarm realized, raised serious questions about whether officials misled courts to ensure the executions would be completed before Joe Biden, a death penalty foe, took office. His story — the latest exclusive in AP’s coverage of the federal executions — received prominent play and reader engagement.

For backing up his own observations with rigorous reporting to hold the federal government accountable for its official accounts of the executions, Tarm earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 13, 2017

Best of the States

AP reporting prompts bill forcing Nevada agencies to reveal federal reviews

Statehouse reporters know to follow the money, that to hold government accountable we need to know where taxpayer money goes and how it is used. Nevada temporary legislative reporter Alison Noon did just that recently and helped bring about a promised change in policy that will make the workings of the state capital more transparent.

Noon first began reporting a story that rural health clinics offering family planning services to low-income women had slashed services and were turning women away for lack of funding after federal grant money dried up.

In the course of her reporting, Noon learned the program’s federal funding had been cut after a scathing federal review that showed widespread mismanagement and poor medical practices at the rural clinics. That highly critical federal report went unmentioned when the program’s administrator sought additional state funds during the legislative session.

Noon set out to learn why. She found Nevada did not require state administrators to share the results of such federal reviews with anyone – not the governor, not department heads, not state auditors. Her reporting led to a recently proposed requirement that such reviews be shared with Nevada auditors.

For her unmatched APNewsBreak, Noon wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 17, 2020

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: US Catholic Church lobbies, gets windfall in federal PPP funds

Based on a tip following AP’s previous reporting on the Paycheck Protection Program, AP anticipated that the Roman Catholic Church might be one of the program’s biggest winners. 

Investigative reporters Reese Dunklin and Michael Rezendes started digging, first showing how the church had successfully lobbied for special treatment under the program, then, when the federal data dropped, the full extent of the church’s windfall. An analysis on deadline revealed $1.4 billion to $3.5 billion in forgivable loans, with many millions going to dioceses that paid huge settlements or sought bankruptcy because of sexual abuse claims.

The story had an immediate impact with strong play and engagement in digital, print and broadcast outlets.

For being both first and authoritative on this highly competitive story, and for holding a remarkably powerful institution accountable, Dunklin and Rezendes share this week’s Best of the States award.

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March 04, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP first to report federal hate crimes convictions of Arbery killers

teamed up to break the news that three white men had been convicted of federal hate crimes in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man killed two years ago as he ran through a Brunswick, Georgia, neighborhood.With extensive prep in hand for each of the defendants, APmoved news alerts in rapid succession as the verdicts were read, beating local and national competition. Read more

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March 15, 2019

Best of the States

Between the lines of a press release: Gray wolves could lose federal protection

The passing reference in a draft statement on an unrelated topic would have been easy miss. But Billings, Montana, correspondent Matthew Brown instantly recognized its significance – the U.S. was planning to lift protections for gray wolves, an action that would reignite the emotional debate over the predators’ resurgence.

Brown was reporting on sage grouse when he came across the draft Interior Department press release. It mentioned remarks that Acting Secretary David Bernhardt planned to make the next day at a wildlife conference in Denver: Gray wolves had recovered across the Lower 48 states.

Brown recognized the implication of that one sentence, and teamed up with fellow environmental beat team writer John Flesher of Traverse City, Michigan, to begin a race against the clock. Brown and Flesher scrambled to break the news before Bernhardt took the stage the next morning at the closed-press wildlife conference. Finally a source confirmed: Protections for wolves were again in the agency’s crosshairs.

The APNewsAlert moved at 8:45 a.m., a full 15 minutes before Bernhardt was scheduled to speak. Other news outlets were forced to follow in AP’s wake, posting their own stories that relied on a statement put out by Interior.

For seizing on a stray reference and reporting it out into a significant APNewsBreak on wolves, Brown and Flesher win this week’s Best of the States.

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Aug. 07, 2020

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP Exclusive: Portland protests – the view from both sides of the fence

This week’s Best of the Week celebrates the team of AP journalists whose extensive coverage of the Portland protests culminated in an exclusive all-formats look at the conflict from the perspective of both demonstrators and federal officers.

With reporting and visuals from inside the federal courthouse that no other news organization could match, and consistently strong coverage from the crowd massed outside the building, the AP team documented the drama and chaos, as well as the human stories amid the nightly volley of fireworks and tear gas canisters.

The defining feature that moved Sunday night was the most clicked/engaged AP story for much of Monday, sparking discussion and widely cited for its comprehensive, fair reporting.

For balanced and insightful coverage from both sides of the Portland divide, setting AP apart on a highly charged story, the team of Gillian Flaccus, Mike Balsamo, Aron Ranen, Marcio Sanchez, Noah Berger, Sara Cline and Krysta Fauria wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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April 24, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

‘Cartels are scrambling’ as virus disrupts drug trade

revealed how the coronavirus is taking a bite out of the global drug trafficking – everything from severing key supply chains for Chinese precursor drugs to paralyzing the economies upon which drug sales rely. With detailed, on-the-record source work, they reported why drug cartels in Mexico and Colombia are being disrupted and how that is playing out in cities across the U.S., mostly in the form of tight supplies and prices that have risen to crisis-gouging levels. https://bit.ly/355KtWz

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May 28, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP Exclusive: Investigative reporter obtains bodycam video of Ronald Greene’s deadly arrest

When Ronald Greene died in 2019, Louisiana State Police troopers initially blamed the Black man’s death on injuries from a crash at the end of a high-speed chase, then later said Greene became unresponsive in a struggle with troopers and died on his way to the hospital.

For the most part, that was all the public would know about the case, until AP’s Jim Mustian took up the story. Since he began reporting nine months ago, he’s broken a string of stories revealing there was more to the story. But Mustian always knew he needed to get his hands on one crucial piece of evidence: video.

This past week, Mustian did just that. In the most explosive break yet in the case, Mustian obtained body camera footage that showed Greene repeatedly apologizing and pleading for mercy as troopers jolted him with stun guns, put him in a choke hold, punched him and dragged him by his ankle shackles. The story led national newscasts and websites, and fronted newspapers across the country, with credit to AP’s reporting and the video, again and again.

This scoop was the work of one dogged investigative reporter who never stopped believing that the world should know what really happened to Ronald Greene. For that we honor Jim Mustian with AP’s Best of the Week award.

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