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Updated 2018-06-25 03:19
Jared Kushner’s Grandmother Bemoaned the “Closed Doors” That Faced Refugees to America
by Allan Sloan Way before Jared Kushner became internationally famous by moving into the White House to work for his father-in-law Donald Trump, those of us who live in New Jersey knew the family was an amazing story of immigrant success.Jared Kushner’s paternal grandparents, Holocaust survivors Joseph and Rae Kushner, came to the United States in 1949 as impoverished Eastern European refugees and begat a family whose office buildings, apartment complexes and philanthropic efforts are important parts of the business and social landscapes in New Jersey and elsewhere.Yes, there are scandals and feuds besetting parts of the family, and Jared’s father Charles racked up some prison time. But the family’s rise from refugees to titans is an example of what can happen when people are admitted into this country, work hard and prosper.I got curious about the Kushner history after Jared invoked his immigrant forbears in his recent speech at the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. “I keep a photo of them on my desk” in the White House, he said.As a grandson of Jewish Eastern European immigrants myself — my late father and Kushner’s late grandmother even had the same birth name, Slonimsky, but spelled it differently — I was impressed that Kushner remembers his roots and discusses his origins publicly.But I wondered how — or if — Kushner could reconcile his father-in-law’s “keep ’em out” immigration philosophy with the story of his paternal grandparents, who spent 3 1/2 years in a displaced persons camp in Italy before being admitted to the U.S. In a 1982 interview given by the late Rae Kushner to a Holocaust research center, Jared’s grandmother talks about how wrong she felt it was for the U.S. to let people like her and her husband languish in displaced persons camps for years awaiting permission to enter the country.I was especially taken by this portion: “The day after we got married [in Budapest, Hungary], we smuggled ourselves over the border into Italy,” Rae Kushner said. “This was our honeymoon. In Italy, we sat in a displaced persons camp. It was like being in the ghetto again. … Nobody wanted to take us in. So for 3 1/2 years we waited until we finally got a visa to come to the United States.”Later on, she says that, “For the Jews, the doors were closed. We never understood that. Even President Roosevelt kept the doors closed. Why?” Read More Behind the Criminal Immigration Law: Eugenics and White Supremacy The history of the statute that can make it a felony to illegally enter the country involves some dark corners of U.S. history. Listen to Children Who’ve Just Been Separated From Their Parents at the Border ProPublica has obtained audio from inside a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility, in which children can be heard wailing as an agent jokes, “We have an orchestra here.” The answer, of course, can be found by looking at some less-than-inspiring U.S. history. The Immigration Act of 1924 set stringent limits on the number of people the U.S. would admit from Poland (where Joseph and Rae Kushner were from) and other Eastern European countries. Franklin Roosevelt didn’t seek to make exceptions to those rules — perhaps because, in addition to the immigration quotas, there was a nasty outfit called the America First Committee. Its prominent members included Charles Lindbergh, the famous aviator, and its supporters included Father Charles Coughlin, the anti-Semite who gained huge popularity as “the Radio Priest from Royal Oak, Michigan.” The committee tried to keep the U.S. out of World War II and blamed American Jews for supposedly pushing Roosevelt to have our country enter the hostilities. The committee folded after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, but its influence lingered.It all added up to huge impediments for Jewish refugees to enter the United States. I wanted to know how Kushner reconciles his family immigration history with his father-in-law’s immigration policies. I also wanted to find out if Kushner knew the history of “America First,” which my children, who are members of Kushner’s generation, said they hadn’t heard about until I mentioned it to them recently.So I sent the White House press office an email outlining some of the major elements in this column, asking for comment or a conversation. I never heard back.Perhaps Kushner opposes large parts of his father-in-law’s immigration program, and has been opposing it privately. But it’s also possible that Kushner has no problem reconciling his family history with Trump’s policies. Rae Kushner was an eloquent, plainspoken critic of U.S. immigration policies. Her grandson Jared’s public silence speaks volumes, too, in its own way.
Medicare to Terminate Funding for St. Luke’s Heart Transplant Program in Houston
by Charles Ornstein, ProPublica, and Mike Hixenbaugh, Houston Chronicle The federal Medicare program informed Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center on Friday that it would cut off funding to its heart transplant program in August, saying the Houston hospital has not done enough to fix shortcomings that endanger patients.The decision by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is a devastating blow to what was once one of the nation’s most renowned heart transplant programs. Losing Medicare’s seal of approval on Aug. 17 would threaten its viability, experts say, depriving it of an essential source of funding. The termination could trigger private insurance companies to follow suit and force all 88 patients on the program’s waiting list to either pay out of pocket or, more likely, transfer to another hospital.Losing Medicare funding is not unprecedented, but it is rare. St. Luke’s can appeal the termination, but that will not freeze the process, according to Medicare rules.CMS’s decision comes just weeks after an investigation by ProPublica and the Houston Chronicle found that the program performed an outsized number of transplants resulting in deaths and has lost several top physicians in recent years. Multiple St. Luke’s doctors raised concerns about errors during operations and serious surgical complications after Dr. Jeffrey Morgan took over as the program’s top surgeon in 2016, and a few cardiologists began referring some of their patients to other hospitals for transplants.Following the report, St. Luke’s temporarily suspended the heart transplant program in order to review the cases of two patients who died in May after receiving transplants earlier in the year. All told, three of the nine patients who received new hearts this year have died; nationally more than 90 percent of heart transplant recipients survive at least a year.A week ago, St. Luke’s said it was reopening the program after finding no “systemic issues related to the quality of the program.” Nonetheless, it said it was reorganizing its transplant surgery team, refining the criteria for which patients it would accept for heart transplants, and making other improvements to strengthen the program.Medicare officials, however, wrote that they are not satisfied that the program has taken steps to ensure the safety of its patients. Get ProPublica’s Major Investigations by Email In a statement, St. Luke’s said it looks forward to discussing CMS’ concerns with agency officials. The hospital said it believes it is eligible to take further corrective steps, including a systems improvement agreement, “which would provide a long-term path forward for our program.”“Our unwavering focus is always to ensure our patients receive the best possible medical care, and in ways that reflect our core values of reverence, integrity, compassion, and excellence,” the hospital said.Systems improvement agreements, when they occur, are usually first offered by CMS, rather than requested by a hospital. No such agreement was offered in the CMS letter.Alexander Aussi, a San Antonio-based consultant who specializes in helping transplant programs satisfy regulatory requirements, said he and other transplant experts were surprised when St. Luke’s announced it was reactivating the heart program after only two weeks. Given its struggles in recent years, he believes leaders should have taken more time to make changes.“They could have dealt with this better in my opinion,” Aussi said. “They should have acknowledged their problems more fully, kept the program inactive longer and fixed it all before restarting. Now it seems they are paying the price for that decision.”Nelly Reed, whose husband, Daniel, is waiting for a heart at St. Luke’s, was relieved last week when a hospital staffer contacted the family to let them know the program was being reactivated. Daniel Reed, 47, is on Medicare by virtue of his disability.“Oh God,” Nelly Reed said upon learning about Medicare’s decision from a reporter. “Here comes that black cloud again.”The Reeds traveled to Houston earlier this month from their home, six hours away in the Rio Grande Valley, to search for a short-term apartment where Nelly can stay once Daniel receives a new heart. Now, she said, they will ask a doctor about transferring to one of the two other Houston hospitals with heart transplant programs.CMS first cited the heart transplant program in January for its significantly worse-than-expected outcomes and threatened to cut off Medicare funds. St. Luke’s responded, saying the problems had been fixed and asking for reconsideration based on mitigating factors.But in a letter sent Friday, Medicare rejected that request.“It could not be confirmed, from the documentation submitted, that the program implemented improvements in surgical processes or implemented procedures to minimize” the amount of time patients spent on heart-lung bypass machines during transplant operations, wrote David Wright, director of the CMS Quality and Safety Oversight Group. “There was no documentation of program oversight to ensure that any improvements were implemented and sustained.”Wright’s letter details, for the first time publicly, what the hospital said was wrong with its program, resulting in twice as many deaths as expected within a year of transplants performed from January 2014 to June 2016. The hospital cited three root causes, including intraoperative surgical processes, essentially what happens during surgery. Read More A Pioneering Heart Surgeon’s Secret History of Research Violations, Conflicts of Interest and Poor Outcomes Over decades, Bud Frazier has played a leading role in the development of mechanical heart pumps and an artificial heart. Out of public view, he’s been accused of putting his quest to make history ahead of the needs of some patients. At St. Luke’s in Houston, Patients Suffer as a Renowned Heart Transplant Program Loses Its Luster The hospital and its legendary surgeon Denton Cooley performed some of the world’s first heart transplants back in the 1960s. In recent years, though, it has had some of the worst heart transplant outcomes in the country. Although those problems were known in 2016, Medicare said as recently as this year, “the program continued to identify the need to improve intraoperative surgical methods” and reduce the amount of time patients spend on the heart-lung bypass machine, which increases the risk of complications such as bleeding.Medicare’s conclusion mirrors findings reported by ProPublica and the Chronicle. Multiple heart transplant recipients have suffered unusual complications since 2016, including two who had major veins stitched closed during surgery, according to numerous sources. Another patient’s heart transplant failed this year after operating-room equipment malfunctioned during a key stage of surgery.St. Luke’s told Medicare that it had improved its process for selecting patients for its transplant waiting list and donor hearts. The documentation it provided, however, “did not explain how the program implemented improvements in this area and how these improvements led to improved outcomes,” Wright wrote.For weeks, officials at St. Luke’s and its affiliated Baylor College of Medicine have defended the program, saying they had made improvements following a string of patient deaths in 2015. Officials said the program’s one-year survival rate after heart transplants had reached 94 percent in 2016 and 2017 under Morgan’s leadership.Even after reactivating the program, St. Luke’s was continuing its efforts to fill several key positions related to heart transplants, including a vice president to oversee all of the hospital’s transplant operations. The hospital also has posted openings for several nursing positions in the heart program, and it recently hired a new administrator to oversee heart and lung transplants.
Video: Separated From Her Mother at the Border, a 6-Year-Old Has to Find Her Own Way
by Nadia Sussman and Ginger Thompson Earlier this week, millions of people were captivated by audiotape of an insistent six-year-old girl from El Salvador demanding that workers at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Facility call her aunt. While other children wept inconsolably, Alison Jimena Valencia Madrid recited the phone number her mother made her memorize on the raft ride across the Rio Grande. Jimena was lucky. As the Trump administration backs away from its unpopular zero tolerance policy of separating migrant families, and orders the reunification of some 2,300 children with their families, the burden will be on those children to help identify their families and where they are.We visited Jimena’s aunt in Houston and captured the moments when Jimena, now in an Arizona shelter, and then her mom, who is in a detention facility in Texas, called the aunt who’d become their lifeline.
HUD Is Failing to Protect Children From Lead Paint Poisoning, Audits Find
by Molly Parker, The Southern Illinoisan The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development failed to protect hundreds of thousands of children living in subsidized housing from potential exposure to lead paint and lead poisoning, according to a pair of recent federal reports.The reports describe a hodgepodge reporting system within HUD, as well as disjointed communication between the federal agency and the local housing authorities it oversees. Cases of children poisoned by lead are not always identified and followed up on in a timely manner. And documentation of lead-based paint inspections and efforts to remove hazards are often missing, incomplete or not routed to the right place, according to the reports by the HUD Office of Inspector General and U.S. Government Accountability Office.Experts say these shortcomings in HUD’s oversight systems have existed for years with little to no consequence to government officials — but potentially devastating ones for vulnerable children.The audits come as housing authorities in Southern Illinois and New York City face federal accusations of failing to inspect for lead-based paint and to remove it or clean it up where it’s found, while falsely telling HUD they had done so.The inspector general, HUD’s internal watchdog, concluded that HUD failed to ensure that the nation’s 3,800 public housing authorities properly identified and eliminated lead hazards, “thus increasing the potential of exposing children to lead poisoning due to unsafe living conditions.” Of the roughly 7,000 public housing developments nationwide, lead paint inspections were submitted for fewer than half of them, or about 2,700, as of February, the report states. A spokesman for the HUD inspector general was unable to account for the status of the other 4,000; complexes built after 1978 are exempt.The other report by GAO, a congressional watchdog, also faulted HUD for failing to hold housing authorities accountable “consistently and in a timely manner” and for relying too heavily on the honor system.The GAO report also takes HUD to task for awarding lead mitigation grants without taking steps to ensure that the money went to the most at-risk communities. Though HUD is required to report annually to Congress on its lead efforts, its last report was submitted in 1997, the GAO found.Lead poisoning, even at low levels, can lead to lifelong physical and developmental delays for young children. The government banned the use of lead paint in residential homes in 1978. Many older homes still contain lead paint, but the risk increases with deterioration of the paint, which can chip off into pieces or dust particles that children can ingest.HUD ensures compliance, in part, by requiring that housing authorities annually self-certify that they are following lead safety rules.In November 2017, HUD filed a fraud complaint against two former directors of the Alexander County Housing Authority, based in Cairo, Illinois, alleging that they did not provide adequate ongoing monitoring and mitigation of lead paint hazards.The pending complaint, which seeks more than $1 million in fines, is the first of its kind for the federal agency.The GAO investigators noted similar inquiries involving two other housing authorities, but does not name them.In 2016, HUD and the East Chicago Housing Authority began moving about 1,000 residents from a housing complex that was built in a neighborhood heavily contaminated by lead and arsenic in that northern Indiana city.Though contaminated soil, and not decades-old paint, caused the alarming rates of lead poisoning among children, the problem should have been caught years earlier, experts say.Then last week, New York City agreed to spend $1.2 billion over five years to settle a federal complaint that alleged the city’s housing authority improperly certified compliance with HUD lead safety regulations, among other failings.New York City itself found last November that the housing authority failed to conduct mandatory lead-based paint inspections for four years. The housing authority’s chairwoman resigned this spring in the wake of those allegations.Emily Benfer, a distinguished visiting scholar and senior fellow at Yale Law School’s Solomon Center for Health Law & Policy, said the reports from the GAO and the inspector general should be a “call to action.” Get ProPublica’s Top Stories by Email “The reports are very consistent with what we’ve seen on the ground between the Alexander County Housing Authority, the East Chicago Housing Authority and the New York City Housing Authority,” she said. “This indicates there could be a number of housing authorities that have falsely certified, and that HUD has not investigated.”Housing authorities also manage voucher rental programs, and the GAO report says more should be done to protect children living in private homes for which a federal subsidy, commonly known as Section 8, helps pay the rent.The GAO report explains that HUD requires inspectors to test samples of paint chips and surface dust using a specialized device in public housing developments known to have lead-based paint. But HUD only requires a visual assessment in private apartments. The report recommended that HUD ask Congress to standardize the inspection protocols to better protect children.In a response to the congressional watchdog’s findings, HUD agreed with many of the recommendations to improve monitoring. Some of those efforts are well underway, the agency noted in the report, while others need to be studied further to determine cost. Overall, HUD wrote that its ongoing efforts to reduce the exposure of lead-based paint in subsidized housing “have contributed significantly to the national reduction in children’s blood lead levels.”Responding to the inspector general’s report, HUD noted that it had revised its rules in January 2017 to require housing authorities to lower the blood-lead level at which a home assessment is required, bringing it in line with recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HUD also said it increased oversight and training.HUD spokesman Jereon Brown declined to comment in further detail, referring a reporter to the agency’s responses in the reports.
Who Are You, Readers? And Do You Trust Us?
by Helga Salinas Helga Salinas is ProPublica Illinois’ new engagement reporting fellow. (Courtesy of Maura Salinas) I often think about these questions: Who are you, readers? And do you trust us? Does our work add value to your lives? Do we help you understand your city and your state better? Are the stories we report presented in ways that show how they affect your day-to-day lives? Are we including your community’s experiences and voices in our reporting?This week, I joined ProPublica Illinois as our first engagement and social media reporting fellow. Before, I worked at The Seattle Times as the paper’s only social media producer. After two years there, I was burned out and went back home to Los Angeles to take a break. (BTW, which news are you burnt out from or wish was shared differently?) I didn’t become a journalist to become a “social media person,” but after journalism school, I realized that news organizations were struggling to define their audiences and connect with and represent them.As I help with social media for ProPublica Illinois, I would like some help. First, I’m new to Illinois. If you’re up to it, let me know which people, organizations, communities or blogs we should be following on Facebook and Twitter. How do you keep in touch about the things that are important to you? I’m excited to work at a news organization that is pursuing thoughtful and important storytelling of this moment and possesses a strong desire to reach communities (including marginalized communities) and an eagerness to work with other news organizations. Those values aren’t pursued as aggressively at every news organization. That, as ProPublica Illinois’ news applications developer David Eads pointed out earlier this week, is a reflection of an industry getting smaller. There are fewer and fewer reporters out there getting to know your communities, though, as you may already know, places like City Bureau and Block Club Chicago are trying to fill some of those gaps here in Chicago.So, back to my original question: Who are you? Feel free to email me and introduce yourself. Reach me at helga.salinas@propublica.org.As a member of the Latinx community in Los Angeles, I sometimes felt the news was about us, not for us. I don’t want to do the same here. ProPublica Illinois wants to involve you in our reporting.Challenge us. It matters that you do.Looking forward to hearing from you,Helga Salinas
What You Need to Know About Wilbur Ross’ Many Conflicts — “Trump, Inc.” Podcast
by ProPublica There’s a chance you missed it amid the other news, but Forbes had a blockbuster story about Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. It turns out, Ross bet against the stock of a company after journalists had contacted him with questions about his connections to the firm. Using inside information in stock trades is illegal. Ross has denied he profited from the bet against the stock.And that’s only one of the revelations from Forbes’ story. “Trump, Inc.” spoke to reporter Dan Alexander about what else he found. Ross transferred many of his assets to a family trust last fall. Among those assets: an auto parts firm owned jointly with a Chinese-government-owned entity, and a stake in a shipping company also owned in part by Russian oligarchs. Listen to the Episode There is no evidence Ross made any policy decisions based on his financial interests. “But the problem is that you have to wonder,” says Alexander. “And usually we don’t allow people to hold interests in which the public is left wondering.”Contact UsYou can contact us via Signal, WhatsApp or voicemail at 347-244-2134. Here’s more about how you can contact us securely.You can always email us at tips@trumpincpodcast.org.And finally, you can use the postal service:Trump Inc at ProPublica
For a 6-Year-Old Snared in the Immigration Maze, a Memorized Phone Number Proves a Lifeline
by Ginger Thompson On a hot and steamy Sunday morning, the man smuggling 6-year-old Alison Jimena Valencia Madrid and her mother, Cindy, across the border into the United States told them to be ready to depart soon. Cindy Madrid, exhausted and excited, called her sisters in Houston — the final leg of their month-long journey from El Salvador was about to begin. The sisters whispered a prayer into the phone, asking God to go with them. Then one sister grew serious: Make sure Jimena memorizes my phone number in case you are separated from one another along the way.“How do you expect me to do that?” Madrid asked in a panic. “There’s not enough time.”The sisters were firm. “We don’t know how. But do it.”One whirlwind week later, that number, drilled into Jimena’s head by rote as she and her mother rafted across the Rio Grande, has become the little girl’s lifeline. Shortly after setting foot in Texas on June 13, they were detained and Border Patrol officials separated mother from daughter as part of the Trump administration’s zero tolerance enforcement policy. But Jimena’s ability to recall her aunt’s phone number through the trauma of that separation has, so far, kept her from becoming lost in a system that has taken more than 2,300 immigrant children from their parents.Jimena’s insistent pleas for a phone call at a Border Patrol detention facility, captured on an audio recording provided to ProPublica, quickly became the searing incarnation of what the Trump administration is doing to children. Almost instantly, Jimena’s voice was everywhere; listened to millions of times in homes, at protests, and even the White House press briefing room. The seven-minute audio crystallized the impact the policy was having on children, stirring outrage.“After all she’s gone through, her reward is that she’s become the voice for all the children in that situation,” said her aunt, a Salvadoran woman who is seeking asylum and asked not to be identified because she worries about how public attention might affect her case. The path ahead for both Jimena and her family remains uncertain. Under withering attack from foes and friends alike, President Donald Trump on Wednesday appeared to retreat from the policy, saying he had instructed authorities to stop separating immigrant families and start reuniting them. And today, administration officials suggested that they might undo their decision to criminally prosecute every immigrant caught illegally crossing the border.But thus far, the president has provided no clear plan for implementing his instructions. And, while it only took the stroke of a pen to both create and, perhaps, scuttle the policy, its effects have wrought havoc on an immigration enforcement system already widely recognized as failing. Now that same system faces the daunting task of putting those families back together. Jimena’s case opens a window into how that process will work.“Whether or not my sister and niece are able to stay in the country, the most important thing is that they are reunified,” said Jimena’s aunt. Speaking of her niece, she added, “What we don’t want is to lose her.”And she worried about the other children stuck in the same predicament. “It’s really hard,” she said. “I can’t imagine the magnitude of these children’s suffering, the psychological and emotional damage that the older and younger kids there have.”Memorizing her aunt’s phone number gave Jimena a huge advantage over many of the immigrant children who are illegally brought across the border by their families, and who are not old enough to speak, count, or even know their parents’ full names. Central American consular workers and child advocates report that, under zero tolerance, once children have been physically separated from their parents, their legal cases have been bureaucratically separated as well. The children have been treated like unaccompanied minors, even as their relatives were shipped to other U.S. detention centers. Now that the policy of separating families appears to have ended, the burden of the reunification will depend in large measure on the children’s abilities to provide information that will help authorities identify who, and where, their parents are.The audio provided to ProPublica last week shows how difficult that will be. In it, nearly a dozen Central American children between the ages of four and 10 wail inconsolably. Consular officials struggle to get the children to stop crying long enough to tell them where they came from, and whether they came with their mothers or their fathers. The children are so distraught, they sound as if they can barely breathe. And they scream “Mami” and “Papá” as if those are the only words they know.Amid the chaos, Jimena is heard, asking in full sentences for authorities to help her call her aunt. When they do not respond, she presses her point: “My mommy says that I’ll go with my aunt, and that she will come to pick me up there as quickly as possible so I can go with her.”Jimena’s aunt said the consular official who eventually helped Jimena call her was struck by the child’s ability to stay composed under that kind of pressure. “Of all the children here, she’s the only one who provided information,” the official told her. “Most children here aren’t able to give names, much less a phone number.’” Get ProPublica’s Major Investigations by Email The aunt said when she first heard Jimena’s voice on the phone “I threw myself out of bed and fell on my knees. I thanked God that she remembered the number. If not, I don’t know what would have happened to her.”Still, even though the authorities know where her mother is, Jimena has not been given a chance to speak to her mother since they were separated. And while authorities have told the family that Jimena will be reunited with her mother, they have not said when.A staff member at the shelter in Phoenix, Arizona, where Jimena is being held couldn’t fully explain why the girl had not been allowed to speak to her mother, or even whether her mother had been consulted about vaccinations Jimena has received. The shelter worker, who would not provide her name, said that at one point, when Jimena’s mother called from an immigration detention facility in Port Isabel, Texas, the little girl was in a mandatory “Know Your Rights” workshop and couldn’t be excused to take the call. The shelter worker said the mother, who has very little money to pay for phone calls and spotty access to a telephone, was told to call back.“I can’t say exactly why we haven’t been able to get Mom to talk to her daughter,” the shelter worker said. “But we are hoping to get Mom on the phone with her soon.”In the meantime, the aunt passes messages between Jimena and her mother. She talked about her niece’s ordeal during an extensive interview in her tiny, rundown apartment on the southwest side of Houston. Her relief at finding her niece was palpable. She shared dozens of family photos, and showed the outpouring of messages on her Facebook page, joking about how she’s had her own “five minutes of fame,” thanks to her niece’s renown.During the interview, both Jimena and her mother called the aunt. Madrid came to the United States from a small town outside her country’s capital, fleeing gang violence. She was cautiously optimistic about the prospect of reuniting with her daughter. She said other detainees had told her they heard Jimena on TV. “I’m so proud. She’s a very smart girl, very brave.”Jimena, now happily connected to her aunt and her mom, sounded almost chirpy when she called, her rapid-fire way of talking making it hard for non-native Spanish speakers to catch everything she said. She organized her thoughts in lists, running through the activities of her day, the meals she likes and doesn’t like, and numbers and locations of vaccinations she’s received. One, she said, playfully pausing as if delivering a punch line, was “right on the very, very bottom of my butt.”What she talked most about was not where she is, but were she wants to be: with her mother, outside of detention. When she gets there, she said she already knows the pets she wants to buy and the kinds of pizzas she wants to eat. She blew kisses through the phone to her favorite cousin and asked whether they can go to the same school. Then she asked her aunt whether she has a bathtub, warning: “You’re going to have to bathe me, because I’m going to be very dirty when I get there.” And then, her silly tone softened and she asked her aunt when she would see her mother again.The aunt had no answer. “We don’t know yet, my love,” the aunt told her. “But she told me to tell you to behave yourself and be strong, until you’re back together.”
ProPublica Wins Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Innovation
by ProPublica The Radio Television Digital News Association announced today that ProPublica won an Edward R. Murrow Awards for excellence in innovation for its “Lost Mothers” database, a collaboration with NPR. The national award honors outstanding achievements in electronic journalism.Led by ProPublica reporters Nina Martin and Adriana Gallardo, along with NPR special correspondent Renee Montagne, the first-of-its-kind database was part of a year-long investigation on the maternal mortality crisis in the United States. The gallery was designed by ProPublica’s editorial experience designer, Rob Weychert. Early into their investigation on why the U.S. has the highest rate of maternal mortality and severe morbidity in the affluent world, the reporters learned that, when a woman dies from pregnancy-related complications, she becomes nearly invisible. The usual research tools used by journalists, such as Nexis and Google, turned up surprisingly few news stories in which women were named, and obituaries rarely mention the cause of death.To find the mothers, the reporters scoured crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe and YouCaring, verifying names with obituaries and public posts on Facebook and Twitter. They also published a callout, asking affected families to tell their stories. More than 4,700 people responded, including 4,000 women who said they had almost died themselves. Working with NYU journalism graduate students Emma Cillekens and Alessandra Freita, the team contacted family members multiple times over a six-month period, encouraging them to share personal details, photographs and medical records. These efforts helped the reporters create the “Lost Mothers” database, eventually identifying more than 160 maternal deaths in 2016 alone.The series spurred significant impact. State and local lawmakers around the country, citing the work, have adopted a flurry of bills aimed at reforming how maternal deaths are identified and investigated. Indiana, Oregon, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania passed laws creating maternal mortality review committees to scrutinize deaths and near-deaths among expectant and new mothers, and make policy recommendations to improve maternal health. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which sets standards of care for obstetrician-gynecologists, also released sweeping new recommendations for improving maternal care, including guidelines for doctors to see new mothers sooner and more frequently and for insurers to cover the increased visits.See a list of all winners of the Edward R. Murrow Awards here.
DeVos Has Scuttled More Than 1,200 Civil Rights Probes Inherited From Obama
by Annie Waldman Whether schoolchildren in DeSoto County, Mississippi, are paddled varies by their race. Black students are almost two and a half times more likely than whites to endure the corporal punishment permitted under school district policy for skipping class, insubordination, repeated tardiness, flagrant dress code violations, or other misbehavior: up to three “licks per incident on the buttocks with an appropriate instrument approved by the principal.”Black students in DeSoto — a suburban area just south of Memphis, Tennessee — are also more prone to face other forms of school discipline. While comprising 35 percent of district enrollment, they account for 55 percent of suspensions and expulsions, and more than 60 percent of referrals to law enforcement, federal education data shows. Citing such disparities, a group of families in the county filed a federal complaint in 2015 with the help of the Advancement Project, a national advocacy group. For three years, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights investigated DeSoto, visiting schools and meeting with parents and administrators, according to the complainants. Then, this past April, the department closed the probe without finding any violation, due to “insufficient evidence.”“This is indicative of how they are now evaluating and handling complaints,” said Kaitlin Banner, a senior attorney with the Advancement Project.A ProPublica analysis of data on more than 40,000 civil rights cases, obtained through multiple public records requests, bears out Banner’s point. We found that, under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the department has scuttled more than 1,200 civil rights investigations that were begun under the Obama administration and lasted at least six months. These cases, which investigated complaints of civil rights violations ranging from discriminatory discipline to sexual violence in school districts and colleges around the country, were closed without any findings of wrongdoing or corrective action, often due to insufficient evidence.Elizabeth Hill, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, didn’t dispute ProPublica’s data. She maintained that the Office for Civil Rights is “as committed as ever” to vigorous civil rights enforcement.“Where the evidence is insufficient for OCR to prove a violation of law, or the facts show that dismissal is appropriate on other grounds, OCR closes the case, which provides much-needed closure for both students and institutions,” she said in an emailed response, adding that the Trump administration has “restored the role of OCR investigators as neutral fact-finders.”ProPublica also found that the Office for Civil Rights has become more lenient. Under Obama, 51 percent of cases that took more than 180 days culminated in findings of civil rights violations, or corrective changes. Under the Trump administration, that rate has dropped to 35 percent. (We compared the first 15 months of resolved cases under Trump with the preceding 15 months under Obama, and limited our analysis to cases that took at least 180 days in an attempt to weed out those that were open-and-shut, duplicative, or didn’t require a full probe.) Outcomes on specific topics reflect this pattern. For instance, 70 percent of complaints of discrimination against students with limited proficiency in the English language were upheld under Obama, compared to 52 percent under the current administration. The proportion of complaints substantiated regarding the individualized educational needs of students with disabilities has dropped from 45 percent to 34 percent; regarding sexual harassment and violence, from 41 percent to 31 percent; and regarding racial harassment, from 31 percent to 21 percent.These differences reflect the contrasting approaches of the Obama and Trump administrations to civil rights enforcement, according to people familiar with both. Under Obama, the Office for Civil Rights looked into instances of discrimination against individuals, but also made it a priority to carry out more time-consuming and systemic investigations into disparate treatment of students based on race, disability, or other factors.On the other hand, efficiency is the Trump administration’s priority. It has restricted the time and scope of investigations, concentrating on individual complaints that can be handled quickly, and seeking to clear a backlog of more expansive cases. As a result, it has resolved about 3,250 cases that lasted more than six months, compared to about 1,150 during the last 15 months of the Obama administration. Because of this high volume, the raw number of cases concluded with findings of wrongdoing has increased under DeVos, although the percentage is considerably lower.“The extraordinary backlog of cases inherited by this Administration was greatly concerning to OCR,” said Hill. “Processing the stalled cases has been a priority, as has trying to meet our agency goal of processing new cases within 180 days.”The data documents the Trump administration’s tilt away from systemic issues to complaints by individual students, said Seth Galanter, a former senior official in the Education Department’s civil rights office under Obama. “If all you see when you get a complaint is one kid and one dispute with a school, you will be able to resolve that — and maybe even in the kid’s favor — pretty quickly, but you are focusing on the needles and not the haystacks,” he said. “The way they are approaching it is they are only dealing with the squeaky wheel. They aren’t doing their full job, which means they can move quickly.”Hill said such criticism was “unfounded. Under the current Administration, OCR decides whether to conduct systemic investigations based on the facts of a case, not the ideological biases of OCR’s political appointees as did the prior Administration,” she said. “OCR recognizes that many schools and colleges want to rectify civil rights problems and the end result will be greater equity for more students when OCR is willing to work with schools rather than against them.” Get ProPublica’s Top Stories by Email While the 12 regional bureaus under Obama often needed approval from headquarters to settle or dismiss a case, DeVos is resolving probes faster by decentralizing decision-making and giving the regions more latitude to decide outcomes, Hill said. Perhaps reflecting this policy, the proportion of investigations that found violations or required corrective action has ranged under DeVos from more than half for the New York office to about a quarter for the Philadelphia office. Hill said that OCR’s “legal standards are consistent nationally” and these variances reflect the different mix of cases that each office handles.For our analysis, cases resolved through a settlement, mediation, or other involvement from OCR were counted as having corrective changes or findings of violations. If a single complaint contained multiple allegations, and one or more of the claims was substantiated, we marked the entire case docket as finding violations or resulting in corrective change. Because of gaps in the information provided to ProPublica, about 1.5 percent of OCR cases resolved under the Trump administration — most of them in a two-week period in December 2017 — are not reflected in our analysis.Under federal law, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Office for Civil Rights is responsible for ensuring equal access to education and investigating allegations of discrimination in the country’s schools and colleges. Families and students can file complaints with the office, which then investigates and determines whether a college or school district may have violated federal law. If violations are substantiated, the office typically negotiates a settlement or prescribes corrective changes, which it sometimes oversees. For some complaints, the office may mediate a resolution. It receives more than 10,000 complaints annually, and has a target of resolving 80 percent of them within six months.As the Obama administration tackled more complicated investigations, the cases took longer to resolve. From 2010 to 2015, time spent on the average sexual violence investigation increased from 289 to 963 days; on a school discipline case, from 198 to 451 days; and on a harassment probe, from 200 to 287 days. At the department’s request, Congress boosted the office’s budget. DeVos is rolling back this expansion. In an internal memo last June, Candice Jackson, then the head of the civil rights office, urged investigators to stop looking at complaints through a systemic lens, and dropped the requirement that all discipline and sexual violence investigations had to review three years of district or college data. A case processing manual released this past March broadened the circumstances that allow investigators to close a probe or dismiss a complaint — for example, if it is part of a serial filing (repeated complaints by one person or group about the same situation) or poses an “unreasonable” burden. DeVos also barred complainants from appealing the office’s decisions. The department intends to shrink OCR’s staff from 569 to 529, including nearly two dozen attorneys and equal opportunity specialists, according to its annual budget proposal.Under DeVos, the department has scaled back a proactive type of civil rights investigation known as a compliance review. These reviews may stem from statistics, news reports or other sources, as well as from complaints by parents or students. They often explore systemic issues such as racial disparities. During the last 15 months of the Obama administration, OCR opened 13 compliance reviews, probing a variety of areas from access to rigorous curriculum to services for students with limited English proficiency. In its first 15 months, the Trump administration initiated only two compliance reviews, looking at education for students with disabilities in a juvenile correctional facility in Arizona, and use of isolation and restraints in an alternative education program based in Virginia. OCR may conduct more compliance reviews in the coming months, Hill said.Since DeVos took over the education department, she has been under fire for her approach to civil rights. Earlier this month, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, alongside disability advocates, filed a lawsuit against the education department, alleging that its procedural changes are leading civil rights investigators to unlawfully dismiss complaints without a full investigation. Hill declined comment on the pending litigation.The drop-off in the rate of finding violations could mean that OCR’s investigations are becoming less rigorous, said Catherine Lhamon, the former head of the civil rights office under Obama. “We want speedy justice, but you still have to thoroughly investigate each complaint.” One long investigation terminated by the Trump administration took place in Bryan, Texas.As ProPublica previously reported, the Dallas bureau of the federal civil rights office spent more than four years investigating whether disciplinary practices in Bryan discriminated against students of color. Federal investigators found at least 10 incidents where black students received harsher punishment than their white peers for the same conduct.Weeks before Trump’s inauguration, federal investigators and the district were on the cusp of a settlement that would have required more than a dozen reforms. But after DeVos took over, the case and the pending settlement were scuttled, with no findings of wrongdoing.In late April, OCR also shelved the investigation into school discipline in DeSoto County, where 852 students — more than half of them black — received corporal punishment in 2015.Shelia Riley, the chairperson of DeSoto’s school board, told ProPublica that OCR’s decision was appropriate. “I read the [parents’] claims and I just felt like we were fair in our disciplinary decisions,” she said. She added that she supports corporal punishment for misbehaving students.Renee Wade, a registered nurse in DeSoto County, told ProPublica that her son, who is about to enter ninth grade, has received corporal punishment more than 10 times over the past seven years for conduct such as acting out in class. These behaviors are associated with his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, for which he has an individualized education program that doesn’t include physical beatings.Even though Wade could exempt her son from being paddled under district policy, the alternative is typically suspension, which she felt wasn’t a practical option. Wade and her husband have full-time jobs and can’t care for their son if he’s home during the working day. “If the school can’t use corporal punishment, then they get suspended,” said Wade, who is African-American. “If you work, then this is not a possibility. I feel as a parent I have no other choice.”
Has Your School Been Investigated for Civil Rights Violations?
by Lena Groeger and Annie Waldman Check if your school has been investigated.
Have You Experienced or Witnessed Civil Rights Violations at a School? Share Your Story.
by Adriana Gallardo and Annie Waldman Every year, parents and families file thousands of complaints to the U.S. Department of Education alleging civil rights violations at a school or college, ranging from racial discrimination in school discipline to sexual violence.Under federal law, the department is responsible for ensuring equal access to education and investigating allegations of discrimination in schools. For the first time ever, ProPublica is making available the status of all of the civil rights cases that have been resolved during the past three years as well as pending investigations.Tell us if you have experienced a violation, have been involved in a complaint, or have a tip to share. Fill out our form.
Federal Judge to Consider Independent Monitor for Illinois Child Welfare Agency
by Duaa Eldeib The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois asked a federal judge on Wednesday to take the rare step of appointing a “special master” to resolve disputes and data requests related to statewide child welfare reforms, including providing more appropriate services for children languishing in psychiatric hospitals.The ACLU, which has monitored the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services for decades as part of a federal court consent decree, appeared in front of U.S. District Judge Jorge Alonso after writing in court documents that DCFS had repeatedly “failed to honor promises made during negotiations.”The most recent dispute centers on how the oft-criticized department is carrying out a reform plan. That plan calls for a total overhaul of the agency, as well as the turnover of relevant data to the ACLU and independent experts named in 2015 to aid and oversee the department’s progress.A special master, typically a magistrate judge or a professional with a legal background, would resolve fundamental disagreements between the ACLU, the court-appointed experts and DCFS over how the agency provides services for children who need them most, including children stuck in psychiatric hospitals after they’ve been cleared for release, according to Heidi Dalenberg, general counsel for the ACLU. “We recognize that it’s a difficult problem to solve but it’s a problem that the department owns and they have to figure out a solution to it,” Dalenberg said after the hearing. “We do not think that after three years under this implementation plan we should still be hearing, ‘This is really hard.’”A ProPublica Illinois investigation this month found that hundreds of children were trapped at psychiatric hospitals between 2015 and 2017 after doctors had cleared them for release — known as beyond medical necessity — because DCFS had failed to find them places to go. Many of those children, some as young as 4, were confined to the hospitals for weeks or months on end as they waited for DCFS to move them to more appropriate settings, such as residential treatment centers, specialized foster homes or a relative’s home.The department spent nearly $7 million during that time on the unnecessary hospitalizations.DCFS officials, who acknowledge the problem, resisted the appointment of a special master in court Wednesday. Instead, they asked Alonso to appoint someone with child welfare experience to monitor the situation, saying the agency has been responsive to information requests from the ACLU and court-appointed experts and has collaborated with them on the reform plan.During the hearing, DCFS general counsel Shawn Eddings said the children kept in psychiatric hospitals after they’ve been cleared for release have complex needs that the department is working to address.She said officials have earmarked federal money for children experiencing mental health crises and launched a pilot program to provide short-term services to stabilize children at risk of being held beyond medical necessity. They have also talked to officials at the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, the state agency charged with providing mental health screenings and treatment for children on Medicaid, about offering additional services for children before they need to be hospitalized.“We can use all the help we can get,” Eddings said.But more lawyers won’t solve the problem, said Neil Skene, special assistant to DCFS Acting Director Beverly “B.J.” Walker.“I think trying a facilitator,” Skene said after the hearing, “is a good first step without the larger imposition of a federal magistrate.” Get Email Updates from ProPublica Illinois Dive deeper into our reporting. Our newsletter is written by a ProPublica Illinois journalist every week. ACLU attorney Claire Stewart said the reform plan requires DCFS to develop services and placements for children in psychiatric hospitals, but the department has been unwilling to commit to a plan after previous initiatives failed.“In the meantime, children continue to suffer from lack of sufficient service resources and placements,” ACLU attorneys wrote in court filings, adding that a special master could end the impasse that has damaged the reform process.The judge is expected to rule on the issue in August.Illinois lawmakers, who called for a public hearing following the ProPublica Illinois investigation, plan to hold that hearing in August. State Sen. Julie Morrison, a Democrat from suburban Deerfield, said in an interview that she supports the appointment of a special master.“I know it may be a black eye for the state,” Morrison said, “but I am desperate to move forward and get some consistency and transparency.”
Suppressed Study: The EPA Underestimated Dangers of Widespread Chemicals
by Abrahm Lustgarten, Lisa Song and Talia Buford A major environmental health study that had been suppressed by the Trump administration because of the “public relations nightmare” it might cause the Pentagon and other polluters has been quietly released online.The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published the controversial 852-page review of health dangers from a family of chemicals known as perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS — manmade chemicals used in everything from carpets and frying pan coatings to military firefighting foams — on its website this morning, and will publish a notice in the Federal Register tomorrow.The study upends federally accepted notions for how much of these chemicals are safe for people — recommending an exposure limit for one of the compounds that is 10 times lower than what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has maintained is the safe threshold, and seven times lower for another compound. The stricter exposure thresholds are similar to those established by state health agencies in New Jersey and Michigan. All told, the report offers the most comprehensive gathering of information on the effects of these chemicals today, and suggests they’re far more dangerous than previously thought.PFAS compounds are proving to be pervasive in public water systems and around military bases across the country. The report describes health effects associated with exposure, including cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility, increased risk of asthma and thyroid disease in humans. Notably, it describes how daily consumption of extremely low doses of the chemicals appeared to have an effect on rats and mice tested in labs — including delayed eye opening in newborns and lower body weight, as well as changes to brain activity and skeletal composition. The CDC assumes that humans are more sensitive to the effects of substances than animals in setting limits. The report also expanded the focus of research from the two most well-known PFAS chemicals to include 12 others. Get ProPublica’s Top Stories by Email In 2013, the EPA began temporarily monitoring public drinking water systems across the country for PFAS compounds under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The agency found that the two most common PFAS compounds were present in roughly 1 percent of the nation’s public water supplies, affecting roughly 100 different municipalities. Harvard researchers, in a 2016 study, estimated that, based on that data, some 6 million Americans got their drinking water from sources that exceeded the EPA health guidelines.Lower guidelines — as are suggested in the report released today — would mean many more people are at risk.Addressing these compounds “is one of EPA’s top priorities,” Peter Grevatt, director of the EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water, said in an emailed statement. The agency looks forward to collaborating with “all of our federal partners as we work together to protect public health.”The Department of Defense, which faces extensive contamination risk at more than 600 military sites in the U.S. where the chemicals were used in firefighting foam, reported to Congress earlier this year that at least 126 drinking water systems on or near military bases were also contaminated.As evidence of contamination mounts, the questions of what these chemicals do to people’s health and how much exposure they can tolerate have lingered, which is why the CDC’s report has been so eagerly anticipated. Elsie Sunderland, a professor at Harvard University, said there are more than 4,000 different types of PFAS chemicals, and scientists are just beginning to understand their effects. The CDC report only addresses a tiny fraction of the compounds produced, and the chemical industry uses new compounds to replace the old ones on a regular basis. “People call it chemical whack-a-mole,” she said.Last month, the Union of Concerned Scientists obtained EPA emails — which were first reported in Politico — describing a government effort to withhold the CDC report because it was widely expected to raise a “potential public relations nightmare” about the dangers posed by PFAS chemicals. White House and EPA officials, in the emails, discussed how the release of new information could be particularly inconvenient for the Department of Defense, which already faces significant cleanup costs related to the PFAS compounds, but could see those costs substantially increase if the chemicals turned out to be even more dangerous than previously thought.Several members of Congress have since demanded the release of the report, and the EPA earlier this month held a summit meeting in Washington, D.C., with scientists and officials from federal agencies to consider next steps in addressing the PFAS concerns. That meeting was notable because several news organizations were excluded or forcibly removed from the room.
U.S. Marine to Be Imprisoned Over Involvement With Hate Groups
by A.C. Thompson, ProPublica, Ali Winston, special to ProPublica Vasillios Pistolis, a United States Marine Corps lance corporal who ProPublica and Frontline identified as a neo-Nazi and assailant during last August’s bloody white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, has been convicted at a court martial on charges of disobeying orders and making false statements.Pistolis, 19, will be imprisoned for a month, docked pay and reduced in rank to private first class, and then likely forced from the Corps, according to a USMC spokesman.Pistolis, a water support technician, was treated as low-level offender by military authorities, who tried him at what is known as a summary court martial, which is akin to a misdemeanor trial. The Marine Corps — and every other branch of service — has regulations barring members from participating in racial extremist groups, but military officials offered no specific details about what prompted the court martial. Pistolis is assigned to the 2nd Marine Logistics group, which operates out of Camp Lejeune, a large installation on the North Carolina coast. Public affairs officers with the logistics group issued a brief press release about the court martial, but did not respond to repeated requests for comment from ProPublica and Frontline.Pistolis had been slated to serve with the Marines through 2020, but Maj. Brian Block, a Marine Corps spokesman at the Pentagon, said Pistolis was being “processed for separation” from the Corps.Efforts to contact Pistolis were not successful. It was unclear if he entered any plea or made any statements during his court martial. During earlier interviews with ProPublica and Frontline, Pistolis acknowledged that he had “alt-right” or white supremacist beliefs, but denied that he was in Charlottesville and said he was no longer involved with any white power group. Last month, ProPublica and Frontline revealed Pistolis’ involvement with the Atomwaffen Division and Traditionalist Worker Party, two of the most militant groups in the neo-Fascist movement. In the past 13 months, Atomwaffen Division members and associates have been charged in five murders and a bomb plot.Pistolis’ involvement in both groups was extensively documented in online chat logs and his own social media presence. In multiple posts made during and immediately after the Charlottesville rally, Pistolis bragged about his involvement in the violence over that fatal weekend last August, and posted photographs accompanied by detailed narratives of the assaults he committed. Pistolis in his Marine Corps dress uniform. He posted this selfie to his Facebook page. “Today cracked 3 skulls open with virtually no damage to myself,” Pistolis wrote on Aug. 12, 2017, the day of the event. Other Atomwaffen members warned Pistolis not to boast about his criminal exploits in the group’s private chats. “We don’t post anything that incriminates anyone on here,” a user with the handle of “Jason” reminded him.Photographs taken at the rally show Pistolis clubbing an unidentified counter-protester with a wooden flagpole. Pistolis would later post photos of his bloody custom-made Confederate flag to chat logs, with the addendum, “not my blood.”Pistolis also bragged about assaulting a well-known local activist, Emily Gorcenski, on the night of Aug. 11, 2017. Multiple videos taken that evening show Pistolis, dressed in a black Adidas tracksuit, launch a flying kick in the direction of Gorcenski, although it is unclear if he connected. In Atomwaffen’s chats, Pistolis claimed that “I drop kicked Emily gorcenski.”Gorcenski told ProPublica and Frontline that Pistolis’ court martial was “the first measure of justice any of the anti-racist demonstrators have received for the events of August 11.”“I remain concerned that the U.S. Marines have not yet discharged him, and his access to and training with military weaponry should be a concern to everyone,” said Gorcenski. She remains hopeful that civilian authorities will bring further charges against Pistolis for the violence in Charlottesville. There is a civilian investigation into the mayhem in Charlottesville last summer being conducted by the U.S. Attorney for Virginia’s Western district.University of Virginia police began looking into Pistolis’ actions on Aug. 11, 2017 after being asked about its pursuit of any assailants by ProPublica and Frontline. Sgt. Casey Acord of the UVA police said in an interview Wednesday that after investigating Pistolis’ conduct and interviewing the person named as a victim in the incident, no further action would be taken. “The case will not move forward,” Acord said.Ed Beck, a veteran who filed a report with Marine Corps investigators last October about Pistolis’ participation in a white supremacist rally in Tennessee, told ProPublica and Frontline that Pistolis’ charges were “the lowest level of court martial the Marine Corps could’ve decided to bring against him.”Beck told ProPublica and Frontline earlier this year that he suspected the military had not acted aggressively in response to his information about Pistolis. The eventual disposition of the case, he said this week, left him convinced the Marine Corps isn’t taking the new wave of racial extremists seriously.“In the same way that they ignored my report to them in October, I’m not surprised that this is all they charged him with,” Beck said.
Behind the Criminal Immigration Law: Eugenics and White Supremacy
by Ian MacDougall Amid a bipartisan backlash, President Trump has tried repeatedly to shift blame to Democrats for his own administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, which has resulted in more than 2,300 migrant children being taken from their families along the U.S.–Mexico border. “The Democrats have to change their law — that’s their law,” Trump told reporters on Friday.The president didn’t specify which law he was talking about. But the statute at the center of his administration’s policy is the work of Republicans — with origins dating back all the way to World War I — albeit with substantial Democratic support along the way. Known originally as the “Undesirable Aliens Act,” the statute would not exist without support from, respectively, a eugenicist and a white supremacist.The law in question was the foundation of a memo Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued in early April that laid out the administration’s new, zero-tolerance policy. In the memo, Sessions instructed federal prosecutors in the southwestern United States to file criminal charges against any adults caught entering the country illegally. His order stripped officials of discretion over whether to place migrant families seeking asylum into civil proceedings, which allow families to stay together. (Court rulings limit how long the government can detain migrants in civil proceedings. There’s also no guarantee they’ll return for future hearing dates once they’re let out, a phenomenon that has prompted the president’s complaints about “catch and release.”) Get ProPublica’s Major Investigations by Email On Monday, ProPublica published audio recorded at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection detention facility in which a Border Patrol agent mocks the wails of migrant children as young as 4. Liberals and conservatives alike have condemned the policy, calling it “cruel,” an “atrocity,” and “inconsistent with our American values.”Top Trump administration officials have held their ground. “We are enforcing the laws passed by Congress,” Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen asserted Monday. Her message echoed one Sessions had delivered to law enforcement officers in Indiana last week. “If you violate the law, you subject yourself to prosecution,” he said.The federal law they say they are enforcing makes it a crime for foreign citizens to cross (or attempt to cross) the border into the U.S. anywhere other than an official port of entry. A first offense is a misdemeanor; a second unlawful entry is a felony.The law’s ancestry dates back to World War I. Till that point, U.S. immigration laws had tended to be all or nothing: either no limits at all — or blanket bans for certain groups, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act. Others were free to enter provided they weren’t “lunatics,” polygamists, prostitutes, “suffering from a loathsome or a dangerous contagious disease,” or so on.The result was floods of immigrants: Between 1901 and 1910, for example, close to 9 million came to the U.S. As that happened, anti-immigrant attitudes mounted, with mass influxes from parts of Europe associated in the popular imagination with a litany of social problems, like urban poverty and squalor. In May 1918, after the U.S. had entered World War I, Congress passed a statute called the Passport Act that gave the president the power to restrict the comings and goings of foreign citizens during wartime. A few months later, however, the war ended — and with it, the restrictions on border crossings.Federal officials saw potential in the criminal provisions of the Passport Act — a maximum 20-year sentence — as a tool for deterring immigration. So prosecutors ignored the expiration of the law and continued to indict migrants under the Passport Act for unlawful entry into the U.S.Anti-immigration sentiment continued to climb and the rhetoric of the era has resonance today. One anti-immigration group at the time claimed that immigrants tended to be “vicious and criminal” — the “bootleggers, gangsters, and racketeers of large cities.” The war, Columbia University historian Mae Ngai has written, “raised nationalism and anti-foreign sentiment to a high pitch.”In response, Congress began clamping down. With the Immigration Act of 1924, it capped the flow at about 165,000 people a year, a small fraction of previous levels The statute’s quotas curtailed migration from southern and eastern Europe severely. Another 1924 law — the Oriental Exclusion Act — banned most immigration from Asia. At the same time, Congress made it easier to deport non-citizens for immigration violations.In 1925, a federal appeals court put a halt to the practice of indicting migrants under the Passport Act outside wartime. But immigration officials liked what they’d seen, and by 1927, they were working on a replacement.Two men spearheaded the effort that would lead Congress to criminalize unlawful entry into the United States. They were motivated by eugenics and white supremacy.The first was James Davis, who was Secretary of Labor from 1921 to 1930. A Republican originally appointed by President Warren Harding, Davis was himself an immigrant from Wales who went by “Puddler Jim,” a reference to his job as a youthful worker in the steel mills of western Pennsylvania. At the time, the Department of Labor oversaw immigration, and Davis had grown disturbed by what he’d seen.Davis was a committed eugenicist, and he believed principles of eugenics should guide immigration policy, according to The Bully Pulpit and the Melting Pot by the historian Hans Vought. It was necessary to draw a distinction, Davis had written in 1923, between “bad stock and good stock, weak blood and strong blood, sound heredity and sickly human stuff.” James J. Davis, who was secretary of labor from 1921 to 1930 (Paul Thompson/FPG/Archive Photos/Getty Images) In November 1927, Davis proposed a set of immigration reforms in the pages of The New York Times. Among his goals: “the definite lessening and possibly, in time, the complete checking of the degenerate and the bearer of degenerates.” One “phase of the immigration problem,” Davis wrote, was the “surreptitious entry of aliens” into the United States in numbers that “cannot even be approximately estimated.”Deportation alone wasn’t enough to deter illegal immigration, Davis wrote. There was nothing disincentivizing the migrant from turning around and trying again. “Endeavoring to stop this law violation” by deportation only, he wrote, “is like trying to prevent burglary with a penalty no severer than opening the front door of the burglarized residence, should the burglar be found within, escorting him to it, and saying ‘You have no right here; see that you don’t come in again.’”An immigrant who enters the country unlawfully, he concluded, “should be treated as a law violator and punished effectively.”To bring his vision to fruition, Davis teamed up with a senator from South Carolina. Coleman Livingston Blease, a Democrat, was “a proud and unreconstructed white supremacist,” UCLA history professor Kelly Lytle Hernández wrote in her 2017 book City of Inmates.Migrants from Mexico were one group whose numbers the increasingly powerful nativist elements in Congress hadn’t managed to restrict. Mexican workers were key to the booming economy of the southwest. Regional employers, particularly in the agricultural sector, had successfully lobbied Congress to block any bill that would choke off their primary source of inexpensive labor. As a result, migration from Mexico soared, with many Mexicans making illegal border crossings to avoid the cost and inconvenience of customs stations.Blease saw in Davis’s proposal for criminal penalties a way to advance his vision of a white America, and he believed it would bridge the gap between the nativists clamoring for quotas and southwestern congressmen resisting them. Large-scale farmers didn’t mind criminal penalties, Hernández writes, so long as the law was enforced once the harvest was over.The legislation wasn’t without its opponents, as the UCLA law professor Ingrid Eagly documented in a 2010 study of immigration prosecutions. Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union opposed the bill. The ACLU felt it was unfair and unlikely to deter migration. An immigrant “may be quite ignorant of this law before he starts on his journey,” the group told Congress. Coleman Livingston Blease (Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons) Despite the ACLU’s objections, a Republican-controlled Congress passed Davis and Blease’s bill in 1929. A Republican president, Herbert Hoover, signed it into law.The law made it a crime to enter the United States unlawfully and, in so doing, “created the criminalization of the border,” Eagly said.The statute was swiftly put to use. Between July 1929 and June 1930, according to a Department of Labor report, prosecutors brought more than 6,000 unlawful entry cases. “It is believed that it will prove an effective deterrent,” the report’s author wrote. (In his recent memo, Sessions made similar claims about the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy.)But the law didn’t reduce migration. By 1933, the Labor Department concluded that its rosy outlook had been wrong. The 1929 law “does not seem to have the deterrent effect expected,” noted a Labor Department report published that year.It blamed budget limitations and judges wary of meting out serious sentences if a defendant was going to be deported anyway.In the 1930s, the Great Depression achieved what prosecutions and deportations had not. Immigration plunged as the labor market in the United States dried up. Prosecutions for unlawful entry dropped to about 5,000 a year, according to a 2012 examination of the law by Doug Keller in the Loyola University Chicago Law Journal.A shortage of labor during World War II prompted the U.S. to reverse course and encourage migration of temporary workers from Mexico through what it called the Bracero program. (The word refers to manual laborers in Spanish.)Despite the earlier lessons, federal prosecutors began to focus their attention on bringing unlawful entry cases against Mexican migrants to deter workers from going around the Bracero program. By 1951, there were 15,000 illegal entry and re-entry prosecutions a year.At the same time, Congress was working to overhaul American immigration law. The effort was spearheaded by two Democrats: Sen. Patrick McCarran and Rep. Francis Walter. Both were staunch anti-Communists who saw immigration — particularly from Eastern Europe and Asia — as posing a risk that Soviet or Maoist agents would infiltrate the country. Their law is best known for preserving a quota system that meant about 85 percent of immigration visas annually went to people from northern and western Europe. But it also made a crucial change in the unlawful entry law.In a counterintuitive move, Congress decided to reduce the penalties for unlawful entry — to a maximum of six months in prison. (It also added a felony provision for any additional illegal entry convictions.)The change wasn’t driven by compassion or a shift away from criminalizing unlawful immigration. Rather, it anticipated the creation of federal magistrate courts that would handle the cases, according to Eagly, the UCLA law professor. A defendant facing a misdemeanor charge punishable by six months or less generally doesn’t have a right to a grand jury indictment or a jury trial. Once Congress established federal magistrate courts, prosecutors could bring criminal charges against far larger numbers of defendants.A Democratic-controlled Congress passed the law in 1952, but it was vetoed by President Harry Truman. His veto message decried “carrying over into this year of 1952 the isolationist limitations of our 1924 law.” Congress was unmoved and overrode his veto. (In this sense, Trump is correct that Democrats bear some responsibility for the unlawful entry law that underlies his administration’s new immigration policy.)The unlawful entry statute has remained largely unchanged since 1952. In 1968, however, Congress finally passed a law establishing federal magistrate courts, allowing for a major expansion of charges under the unlawful entry law. Without the need to go through the grand jury process or deal with potential jury trials, immigration prosecutions — almost all for unlawful entry — shot up, Eagly found in her 2010 study: from 2,536 cases nationwide in 1968 to 17,858 in 1974.The trend culminated in programs like Operation Streamline during the George W. Bush administration, in which magistrate judges along the border took simultaneous mass guilty pleas for unlawful entry. (An appeals court ended the practice in 2009.)The use of the law hasn’t been a partisan matter. The number of such cases spiked to nearly 50,000 in the last year of the Bush administration, and it stayed in that range for most of the Obama administration, according to federal government data maintained by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. By 2016, the number had fallen to about 35,000 — still higher than all but the last year of the Bush administration.But the number of unlawful entry cases fell, the TRAC data shows, during Trump’s first year in office, to 27,000. (It had begun to rise again in recent months, however, even before Sessions announced the administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy.) Convictions for immigration crimes now account for more than half of all federal criminal convictions.
Video: The Voices Missing From the Immigration Debate
by ProPublica As the Trump administration continues to defend its “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which, since April, has separated more than 2,300 children from their parents at the border, ProPublica obtained an audio recording from inside a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility. The recording captured the voices of kids as young as 4, crying for “Mami” and “Papá” as if those were the only words they knew. The audio intensified the bipartisan outcry to put an end to the policy. But at a White House briefing Monday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen blamed Congress, saying that until the nation’s immigration laws are rewritten, children will remain in detention centers as their parents face criminal charges for entering the country without permission, a move at the discretion of the administration.Most concerning to the families being separated is what appears to be a lack of a plan to reunite the children with their parents. The little girl who can be heard crying in the video, 6-year-old Alison Jimena Valencia Madrid, had not been able to speak to her mother for days after they were separated, according to the girl’s aunt. Authorities at the shelter have warned the girl that her mother could be deported without her. Get ProPublica’s Major Investigations by Email
How the Case for Voter Fraud Was Tested — and Utterly Failed
by Jessica Huseman In the end, the decision seemed inevitable. After a seven-day trial in Kansas City federal court in March, in which Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach needed to be tutored on basic trial procedure by the judge and was found in contempt for his “willful failure” to obey a ruling, even he knew his chances were slim. Kobach told The Kansas City Star at the time that he expected the judge would rule against him (though he expressed optimism in his chances on appeal).Sure enough, yesterday federal Judge Julie Robinson overturned the law that Kobach was defending as lead counsel for the state, dealing him an unalloyed defeat. The statute, championed by Kobach and signed into law in 2013, required Kansans to present proof of citizenship in order to register to vote. The American Civil Liberties Union sued, contending that the law violated the National Voter Registration Act (AKA the “motor voter” law), which was designed to make it easy to register.The trial had a significance that extends far beyond the Jayhawk state. One of the fundamental questions in the debate over alleged voter fraud — whether a substantial number of non-citizens are in fact registering to vote — was one of two issues to be determined in the Kansas proceedings. (The second was whether there was a less burdensome solution than what Kansas had adopted.) That made the trial a telling opportunity to remove the voter fraud claims from the charged, and largely proof-free, realms of political campaigns and cable news shoutfests and examine them under the exacting strictures of the rules of evidence.That’s precisely what occurred and according to Robinson, an appointee of George W. Bush, the proof that voter fraud is widespread was utterly lacking. As the judge put it, “the court finds no credible evidence that a substantial number of noncitizens registered to vote” even under the previous law, which Kobach had claimed was weak. For Kobach, the trial should’ve been a moment of glory. He’s been arguing for a decade that voter fraud is a national calamity. Much of his career has been built on this issue, along with his fervent opposition to illegal immigration. (His claim is that unlawful immigrants are precisely the ones voting illegally.) Kobach, who also co-chaired the Trump administration’s short-lived commission on voter fraud, is perhaps the individual most identified with the cause of sniffing out and eradicating phony voter registration. He’s got a gilded resume, with degrees from Harvard University, Yale Law School and the University of Oxford, and is seen as both the intellect behind the cause and its prime advocate. Kobach has written voter laws in other jurisdictions and defended them in court. If anybody ever had time to marshal facts and arguments before a trial, it was Kobach. But things didn’t go well for him in the Kansas City courtroom, as Robinson’s opinion made clear. Kobach’s strongest evidence of non-citizen registration was anemic at best: Over a 20-year period, fewer than 40 non-citizens had attempted to register in one Kansas county that had 130,000 voters. Most of those 40 improper registrations were the result of mistakes or confusion rather than intentional attempts to mislead, and only five of the 40 managed to cast a vote. One of Kobach’s own experts even rebutted arguments made by both Kobach and President Donald Trump. The expert testified that a handful of improper registrations could not be extrapolated to conclude that 2.8 million fraudulent votes — roughly, the gap between Hillary Clinton and Trump in the popular vote tally — had been cast in the 2016 presidential election. Testimony from a second key expert for Kobach also fizzled.As the judge’s opinion noted, Kobach insisted the meager instances of cheating revealed at trial are just “the tip of the iceberg.” As she explained, “This trial was his opportunity to produce credible evidence of that iceberg, but he failed to do so.” Dismissing the testimony by Kobach’s witnesses as unpersuasive, Robinson drew what she called “the more obvious conclusion that there is no iceberg; only an icicle largely created by confusion and administrative error.”By the time the trial was over, Kobach, a charismatic 52-year-old whose broad shoulders and imposing height make him resemble an aging quarterback, seemed to have shrunk inside his chair at the defense table.But despite his defeat, Kobach’s causes — restricting immigration and tightening voting requirements — seem to be enjoying favorable tides elsewhere. Recent press accounts noted Kobach’s role in restoring a question about citizenship, abandoned since 1950, to U.S. Census forms for 2020. And the Supreme Court ruled on June 11 that the state of Ohio can purge voters from its rolls when they fail to vote even a single time and don’t return a mailing verifying their address, a provision that means more voters will need to re-register and prove their eligibility again.For his own part, Kobach is now a candidate for governor of Kansas, running neck and neck with the incumbent in polls for the Republican primary on Aug. 7. It’s not clear whether the verdict will affect his chances — or whether it will lead him and others to quietly retreat from claims of voter fraud. But the judge’s opinion and expert interviews reveal that Kobach effectively put the concept of mass voter fraud to the test — and the evidence crumbled. An election worker checks voter identification in Centropolis Township, Kansas, on Nov. 4, 2014. (An election worker checks voter identification in Centropolis Township, Kansas, on Nov. 4, 2014.) Perhaps it was an omen. Before Kobach could enter the courtroom inside the Robert J. Dole U.S. Courthouse each day, he had to pass through a hallway whose walls featured a celebratory display entitled “Americans by Choice: The Story of Immigration and Citizenship in Kansas.” Photographs of people who’d been sworn in as citizens in that very courthouse were superimposed on the translucent window shades.Public interest in the trial was high. The seating area quickly filled to capacity on the first day of trial on the frigid morning of March 6. The jury box was opened to spectators; it wouldn’t be needed, as this was a bench trial. Those who couldn’t squeeze in were sent to a lower floor, where a live feed had been prepared in a spillover room.From the moment the trial opened, Kobach and his co-counsels in the Kansas secretary of state’s office, Sue Becker and Garrett Roe, stumbled over the most basic trial procedures. Their mistakes antagonized the judge. “Evidence 101,” Robinson snapped, only minutes into the day, after Kobach’s team attempted to improperly introduce evidence. “I’m not going to do it.”Matters didn’t improve for Kobach from there.Throughout the trial, his team’s repeated mishaps and botched cross examinations cost hours of the court’s time. Robinson was repeatedly forced to step into the role of law professor, guiding Kobach, Becker and Roe through courtroom procedure. “Do you know how to do the next step, if that’s what you’re going to do?” the judge asked Becker at one point, as she helped her through the steps of impeaching a witness. “We’re going to follow the rules of evidence here.”Becker often seemed nervous. She took her bright red glasses off and on. At times she burst into nervous chuckles after a misstep. She laughed at witnesses, skirmished with the judge and even taunted the lawyers for the ACLU. “I can’t wait to ask my questions on Monday!” she shouted at the end of the first week, jabbing a finger in the direction of Dale Ho, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs. Ho rolled his eyes.Roe was gentler — deferential, even. He often admitted he didn’t know what step came next, asking the judge for help. “I don’t — I don’t know if this one is objectionable. I hope it’s not,” he offered at one point, as he prepared to ask a question following a torrent of sustained objections. “I’ll let you know,” an attorney for the plaintiffs responded, to a wave of giggles in the courtroom. On the final day of trial, as Becker engaged in yet another dispute with the judge, Roe slapped a binder to his forehead and audibly whispered, “Stop talking. Stop talking.”Kobach’s cross examinations were smoother and better organized, but he regularly attempted to introduce exhibits — for example, updated state statistics that he had failed to provide the ACLU in advance to vet — that Robinson ruled were inadmissible. As the trial wore on, she became increasingly irritated. She implored Kobach to “please read” the rules on which she based her rulings, saying his team had repeated these errors “ad nauseum.”Kobach seemed unruffled. Instead of heeding her advice, he’d proffer the evidence for the record, a practice that allows the evidence to be preserved for appeal even if the trial judge refuses to admit it. Over the course of the trial, Kobach and his team would do this nearly a dozen times.Eventually, Robinson got fed up. She asked Kobach to justify his use of proffers. Kobach, seemingly alarmed, grabbed a copy of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure — to which he had attached a growing number of Post-it notes — and quickly flipped through it, trying to find the relevant rule.The judge tried to help. “It’s Rule 26, of course, that’s been the basis for my rulings,” she told Kobach. “I think it would be helpful if you would just articulate under what provision of Rule 26 you think this is permissible.” Kobach seemed to play for time, asking clarifying questions rather than articulating a rationale. Finally, the judge offered mercy: a 15-minute break. Kobach’s team rushed from the courtroom. Get ProPublica’s Top Stories by Email It wasn’t enough to save him. In her opinion, Robinson described “a pattern and practice by Defendant [Kobach] of flaunting disclosure and discovery rules.” As she put it, “it is not clear to the Court whether Defendant repeatedly failed to meet his disclosure obligations intentionally or due to his unfamiliarity with the federal rules.” She ordered Kobach to attend the equivalent of after-school tutoring: six hours of extra legal education on the rules of civil procedure or the rules of evidence (and to present the court with a certificate of completion).It’s always a bad idea for a lawyer to try the patience of a judge — and that’s doubly true during a bench trial, when the judge will decide not only the law, but also the facts. Kobach repeatedly annoyed Robinson with his procedural mistakes. But that was nothing next to what the judge viewed as Kobach’s intentional bad faith.This view emerged in writing right after the trial — that’s when Robinson issued her ruling finding Kobach in contempt — but before the verdict. And the conduct that inspired the contempt finding had persisted over several years. Robinson concluded that Kobach had intentionally failed to follow a ruling she issued in 2016 that ordered him to restore the privileges of 17,000 suspended Kansas voters.In her contempt ruling, the judge cited Kobach’s “history of noncompliance” with the order and characterized his explanations for not abiding by it as “nonsensical” and “disingenuous.” She wrote that she was “troubled” by Kobach’s “failure to take responsibility for violating this Court’s orders, and for failing to ensure compliance over an issue that he explicitly represented to the Court had been accomplished.” Robinson ordered Kobach to pay the ACLU’s legal fees for the contempt proceeding.That contempt ruling was actually the second time Kobach was singled out for punishment in the case. Before the trial, a federal magistrate judge deputized to oversee the discovery portion of the suit fined him $1,000 for making “patently misleading representations” about a voting fraud document Kobach had prepared for Trump. Kobach paid the fine with a state credit card.More than any procedural bumbling, the collapse of Kobach’s case traced back to the disintegration of a single witness.The witness was Jesse Richman, a political scientist from Old Dominion University, who has written studies on voter fraud. For this trial, Richman was paid $5,000 by the taxpayers of Kansas to measure non-citizen registration in the state. Richman was the man who had to deliver the goods for Kobach.With his gray-flecked beard and mustache, Richman looked the part of an academic, albeit one who seemed a bit too tall for his suit and who showed his discomfort in a series of awkward, sudden movements on the witness stand. At moments, Richman’s testimony turned combative, devolving into something resembling an episode of The Jerry Springer Show. By the time he left the stand, Richman had testified for more than five punishing hours. He’d bickered with the ACLU’s lawyer, raised his voice as he defended his studies and repeatedly sparred with the judge.“Wait, wait, wait!” shouted Robinson at one point, silencing a verbal free-for-all that had erupted among Richman, the ACLU’s Ho, and Kobach, who were all speaking at the same time. “Especially you,” she said, turning her stare to Richman. “You are not here to be an advocate. You are not here to trash the plaintiff. And you are not here to argue with me.”Richman had played a small but significant part in the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump and others had cited his work to claim that illegal votes had robbed Trump of the popular vote. At an October 2016 rally in Wisconsin, the candidate cited Richman’s work to bolster his predictions that the election would be rigged. “You don’t read about this, right?” Trump told the crowd, before reading from an op-ed Richman had written for The Washington Post: “‘We find that this participation was large enough to plausibly account for Democratic victories in various close elections.’ Okay? All right?”Richman’s 2014 study of non-citizen registration used data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study — an online survey of more than 32,000 people. Of those, fewer than 40 individuals indicated they were non-citizens registered to vote. Based on that sample, Richman concluded that up to 2.8 million illegal votes had been cast in 2008 by non-citizens. In fact, he put the illegal votes at somewhere between 38,000 and 2.8 million — a preposterously large range — and then Trump and others simply used the highest figure.Academics pilloried Richman’s conclusions. Two hundred political scientists signed an open letter criticizing the study, saying it should “not be cited or used in any debate over fraudulent voting.” Harvard’s Stephen Ansolabehere, who administered the CCES, published his own peer-reviewed paper lambasting Richman’s work. Indeed, by the time Trump read Richman’s article onstage in 2016, The Washington Post had already appended a note to the op-ed linking to three rebuttals and a peer-reviewed study debunking the research.None of that discouraged Kobach or Trump from repeating Richman’s conclusions. They then went a few steps further. They took the top end of the range for the 2008 election, assumed that it applied to the 2016 election, too, and further assumed that all of the fraudulent ballots had been cast for Clinton.Some of those statements found their way into the courtroom, when Ho pressed play on a video shot by The Kansas City Star on Nov. 30, 2016. Kobach had met with Trump 10 days earlier and had brought with him a paper decrying non-citizen registration and voter fraud. Two days later, Trump tweeted that he would have won the popular vote if not for “millions of people who voted illegally.” Then-President-elect Donald Trump and Kris Kobach meet at the Trump International Golf Club in Bedminster Township, New Jersey, on Nov. 20, 2016. (Then-President-elect Donald Trump and Kris Kobach meet at the Trump International Golf Club in Bedminster Township, New Jersey, on Nov. 20, 2016.) On the courtroom’s televisions, Kobach appeared, saying Trump’s tweet was “absolutely correct.” Without naming Richman, Kobach referred to his study: The number of non-citizens who said they’d voted in 2008 was far larger than the popular vote margin, Kobach said on the video. The same number likely voted again in 2016.In the courtroom, Ho asked Richman if he believed his research supported such a claim. Richman stammered. He repeatedly looked at Kobach, seemingly searching for a way out. Ho persisted and finally, Richman gave his answer: “I do not believe my study provides strong support for that notion.”To estimate the number of non-citizens voting in Kansas, Richman had used the same methodology he employed in his much-criticized 2014 study. Using samples as small as a single voter, he’d produced surveys with wildly different estimates of non-citizen registration in the state. The multiple iterations confused everyone in the courtroom.“For the record, how many different data sources have you provided?” Robinson interjected in the middle of one Richman answer. “You provide a range of, like, zero to 18,000 or more.”“I sense the frustration,” Richman responded, before offering a winding explanation of the multiple data sources and surveys he’d used to arrive at a half-dozen different estimates. Robinson cut him off. “Maybe we need to stop here,” she said.“Your honor, let me finish answering your question,” he said.“No, no. I’m done,” she responded, as he continued to protest. “No. Dr. Richman, I’m done.”To refute Richman’s numbers, the ACLU called on Harvard’s Ansolabehere, whose data Richman had relied on in the past. Ansolabehere testified that Richman’s sample sizes were so small that it was just as possible that there were no non-citizens registered to vote in Kansas as 18,000. “There’s just a great deal of uncertainty with these estimates,” he said.Ho asked if it would be accurate to say that Richman’s data “shows a rate of non-citizen registration in Kansas that is not statistically distinct from zero?” “Correct.”The judge was harsher than Ansolabehere in her description of Richman’s testimony. In her opinion, Robinson unloaded a fusillade of dismissive adjectives, calling Richman’s conclusions “confusing, inconsistent and methodologically flawed,” and adding that they were “credibly dismantled” by Ansolabehere. She labeled elements of Richman’s testimony “disingenuous” and “misleading,” and stated that she gave his research “no weight” in her decision.One of the paradoxes of Kobach is that he has become a star in circles that focus on illegal immigration and voting fraud despite poor results in the courtroom. By ProPublica’s count, Kobach chalked up a 2–6 won-lost record in federal cases in which he was played a major role, and which reached a final disposition before the Kansas case.Those results occurred when Kobach was an attorney for the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform from 2004 to 2011, when he became secretary of state in Kansas. In his FAIR role (in which he continued to moonlight till about 2014), Kobach traveled to places like Fremont, Nebraska, Hazleton, Pennsylvania, Farmers Branch, Texas, and Valley Park, Missouri, to help local governments write laws that attempted to hamper illegal immigration, and then defend them in court. Kobach won in Nebraska, but lost in Texas and Pennsylvania, and only a watered down version of the law remains in Missouri. The best-known law that Kobach helped shape before joining the Kansas government in 2011 was Arizona’s “show me your papers” law. That statute allowed police to demand citizenship documents for any reason from anyone they thought might be in the country illegally. After it passed, the state paid Kobach $300 an hour to train law enforcement on how to legally arrest suspected illegal immigrants. The Supreme Court gutted key provisions of the law in 2012.Kobach also struggled in two forays into political campaigning. In 2004, he lost a race for Congress. He also drew criticism for his stint as an informal adviser to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. Kobach was the man responsible for Romney’s much-maligned proposal that illegal immigrants “self-deport,” one reason Romney attracted little support among Latinos. Romney disavowed Kobach even before the campaign was over, telling media outlets that he was a “supporter,” not an adviser.Trump’s election meant Kobach’s positions on immigration would be welcome in the White House. Kobach lobbied for, but didn’t receive, an appointment as Secretary of Homeland Security. He was, however, placed in charge of the voter fraud commission, a pet project of Trump’s. Facing a raft of lawsuits and bad publicity, the commission was disbanded little more than six months after it formally launched. Back at home, Kobach expanded his power as secretary of state. Boasting of his experience as a law professor and scholar, Kobach convinced the state legislature to give him the authority to prosecute election crimes himself, a power wielded by no other secretary of state. In that role, he has obtained nine guilty pleas against individuals for election-related misdemeanors. Only one of those who pleaded guilty, as it happens, was a non-citizen. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signs a bill granting prosecuting power to the secretary of state for cases of voter fraud in Topeka, Kansas, on June 8, 2015, as Kris Kobach, back center, looks on. (Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signs a bill granting prosecuting power to the secretary of state for cases of voter fraud in Topeka, Kansas, on June 8, 2015, as Kris Kobach, back center, looks on.) He also persuaded Kansas’ attorney general to allow Kobach to represent the state in the trial of Kansas’ voting law. Kobach argued it was a bargain. As he told The Wichita Eagle at the time, “The advantage is the state gets an experienced appellate litigator who is a specialist in this field and in constitutional law for the cost the state is already paying, which is my salary.”Kobach fared no better in the second main area of the Kansas City trial than he had in the first. This part explored whether there is a less burdensome way of identifying non-citizens than forcing everyone to show proof of citizenship upon registration. Judge Robinson would conclude that there were many alternatives that were less intrusive.In his opening, Ho of the ACLU spotlighted a potentially less intrusive approach. Why not use the Department of Homeland Security’s Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements System list, and compare the names on it to the Kansas voter rolls? That, Ho argued, could efficiently suss out illegal registrations.Kobach told the judge that simply wasn’t feasible. The list, he explained, doesn’t contain all non-citizens in the country illegally — it contains only non-citizens legally present and those here illegally who register in some way with the federal government. Plus, he told Robinson, in order to really match the SAVE list against a voter roll, both datasets would have to contain alien registration numbers, the identifier given to non-citizens living in the U.S. “Those are things that a voter registration system doesn’t have,” he said. “So, the SAVE system does not work.”But Kobach had made the opposite argument when he headed the voter fraud commission. There, he’d repeatedly advocated the use of the SAVE database. Appearing on Fox News in May 2017, shortly after the commission was established, Kobach said, “The Department of Homeland Security knows of the millions of aliens who are in the United States legally and that data that’s never been bounced against the state’s voter rolls to see whether these people are registered.” He said the federal databases “can be very valuable.”A month later, as chief of the voting fraud commission, Kobach took steps to compare state information to the SAVE database. He sent a letter to all 50 secretaries of state requesting their voter rolls. Bipartisan outrage ensued. Democrats feared he would use the rolls to encourage states to purge legitimately registered voters. Republicans labelled the request federal overreach.At trial, Kobach’s main expert on this point was Hans von Spakovsky, another member of the voter fraud commission. He, too, had been eager in commission meetings to match state voter rolls to the SAVE database.But like Kobach, von Spakovsky took a different tack at trial. He testified that this database was unusable by elections offices. “In your experience and expertise as an election administrator and one who studies elections,” Kobach asked, “is [the alien registration number] a practical or even possible thing for a state to do in its voter registration database?” Von Spakovsky answered, “No, it is not.”Von Spakovsky and Kobach have been friends for more than a decade. They worked together at the Department of Justice under George W. Bush. Kobach focused on immigration issues — helping create a database to register visitors to the U.S. from countries associated with terrorism — while von Spakovsky specialized in voting issues; he had opposed the renewal of the Voting Rights Act. Hans von Spakovsky, a member of the voter fraud commission (Hans von Spakovsky, a member of the voter fraud commission) Von Spakovsky’s history as a local elections administrator in Fairfax County, Va., qualified him as an expert on voting fraud. Between 2010 and 2012, while serving as vice chairman of the county’s three-member electoral board, he’d examined the voter rolls and found what he said were 300 registered non-citizens. He’d pressed for action against them, but none came. Von Spakovsky later joined the Heritage Foundation, where he remains today, generating research that underpins the arguments of those who claim mass voter fraud.Like Richman, von Spakovsky seemed nervous on the stand, albeit not combative. He wore wire-rimmed glasses and a severe, immovable expression. Immigration is a not-so-distant feature of his family history: His parents — Russian and German immigrants — met in a refugee camp in American-occupied Germany after World War II before moving to the U.S.Von Spakovsky had the task of testifying about what was intended to be a key piece of evidence for Kobach’s case: a spreadsheet of 38 non-citizens who had registered to vote, or attempted to register, in a 20-year period in Sedgwick County, Kansas.But the 38 non-citizens turned out to be something less than an electoral crime wave. For starters, some of the 38 had informed Sedgwick County that they were non-citizens. One woman had sent her registration postcard back to the county with an explanation that it was a “mistake” and that she was not a citizen. Another listed an alien registration number — which tellingly begins with an “A” — instead of a Social Security number on the voter registration form. The county registered her anyway.When von Spakovsky took the stand, he had to contend with questions that suggested he had cherry-picked his data. (The judge would find he had.) In his expert report, von Spakovsky had referenced a 2005 report by the Government Accountability Office that polled federal courts to see how many non-citizens had been excused from jury duty for being non-citizens — a sign of fraud, because jurors are selected from voter rolls. The GAO report mentioned eight courts. Only one said it had a meaningful number of jury candidates who claimed to be non-citizens: “between 1 and 3 percent” had been dismissed on these grounds. This was the only court von Spakovsky mentioned in his expert report.His report also cited a 2012 TV news segment from an NBC station in Fort Myers, Fla. Reporters claimed to have discovered more than 100 non-citizens on the local voter roll.“Now, you know, Mr. von Spakovsky, don’t you, that after this NBC report there was a follow-up by the same NBC station that determined that at least 35 of those 100 individuals had documentation to prove they were, in fact, United States citizens. Correct?” Ho asked. “I am aware of that now, yes,” von Spakovsky replied.That correction had been online since 2012 and Ho had asked von Spakovsky the same question almost two years before in a deposition before the trial. But von Spakovsky never corrected his expert report.Under Ho’s questioning, von Spakovsky also acknowledged a false assertion he made in 2011. In a nationally syndicated column for McClatchy, von Spakovsky claimed a tight race in Missouri had been decided by the illegal votes of 50 Somali nationals. A month before the column was published, a Missouri state judge ruled that no such thing had happened.On the stand, von Spakovsky claimed he had no knowledge of the ruling when he published the piece. He conceded that he never retracted the assertion.Kobach, who watched the exchange without objection, had repeatedly made the same claim — even after the judge ruled it was false. In 2011, Kobach wrote a series of columns using the example as proof of the need for voter ID, publishing them in outlets ranging from the Topeka Capital-Journal to the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. In 2012, he made the claim in an article published in the Syracuse Law Review. In 2013, he wrote an op-ed for the Kansas City Star with the same example: “The election was stolen when Rizzo received about 50 votes illegally cast by citizens of Somalia.” None of those articles have ever been corrected.Ultimately, Robinson would lacerate von Spakovsky’s testimony, much as she had Richman’s. Von Spakovsky’s statements, the judge wrote, were “premised on several misleading and unsupported examples” and included “false assertions.” As she put it, “His generalized opinions about the rates of noncitizen registration were likewise based on misleading evidence, and largely based on his preconceived beliefs about this issue, which has led to his aggressive public advocacy of stricter proof of citizenship laws.”There was one other wobbly leg holding up the argument that voter fraud is rampant: the very meaning of the word “fraud.”Kobach’s case, and the broader claim, rely on an extremely generous definition. Legal definitions of fraud require a person to knowingly be deceptive. But both Kobach and von Spakovsky characterized illegal ballots as “fraud” regardless of the intention of the voter.Indeed, the nine convictions Kobach has obtained in Kansas are almost entirely made up of individuals who didn’t realize they were doing something wrong. For example, there were older voters who didn’t understand the restrictions and voted in multiple places they owned property. There was also a college student who’d forgotten she’d filled out an absentee ballot in her home state before voting months later in Kansas. (She voted for Trump both times.)Late in the trial, the ACLU presented Lorraine Minnite, a professor at Rutgers who has written extensively about voter fraud, as a rebuttal witness. Her book, “The Myth of Voter Fraud,” concluded that almost all instances of illegal votes can be chalked up to misunderstandings and administrative error.Kobach sent his co-counsel, Garrett Roe, to cross-examine her. “It’s your view that what matters is the voter’s knowledge that his or her action is unlawful?” Roe asked. “In a definition of fraud, yes,” said Minnite. Roe pressed her about this for several questions, seemingly surprised that she wouldn’t refer to all illegal voting as fraud.Minnite stopped him. “The word ‘fraud’ has meaning, and that meaning is that there’s intent behind it. And that’s actually what Kansas laws are with respect to illegal voting,” she said. “You keep saying my definition” she said, putting finger quotes around “my.” “But, you know, it’s not like it’s a freak definition.” Kobach had explored a similar line of inquiry with von Spakovsky, asking him if the list of 38 non-citizens he’d reviewed could be absolved of “fraud” because they may have lacked intent.“No,” von Spakovsky replied, “I think any time a non-citizen registers, any time a non-citizen votes, they are — whether intentionally or by accident, I mean — they are defrauding legitimate citizens from a fair election.”After Kobach concluded his questions, the judge began her own examination of von Spakovsky.“I think it’s fair to say there’s a pretty good distinction in terms of how the two of you define fraud,” the judge said, explaining that Minnite focused on intent, while she understood von Spakovsky’s definition to include any time someone who wasn’t supposed to vote did so, regardless of reason. “Would that be a fair characterization?” she asked.“Yes ma’am,” von Spakovsky replied.The judge asked whether a greater number of legitimate voters would be barred from casting ballots under the law than fraudulent votes prevented. In that scenario, she asked, “Would that not also be defrauding the electoral process?” Von Spakovsky danced around the answer, asserting that one would need to answer that question in the context of the registration requirements, which he deemed reasonable.The judge cut him off. “Well that doesn’t really answer my question,” she said, saying that she found it contradictory that he wanted to consider context when examining the burden of registration requirements, but not when examining the circumstances in which fraud was committed.“When you’re talking about … non-citizen voting, you don’t want to consider that in context of whether that person made a mistake, whether a DMV person convinced them they should vote,” she said. Von Spakovsky allowed that not every improper voter should be prosecuted, but insisted that “each ballot they cast takes away the vote of and dilutes the vote of actual citizens who are voting. And that’s —”The judge interrupted again. “So, the thousands of actual citizens that should be able to vote but who are not because of the system, because of this law, that’s not diluting the vote and that’s not impairing the integrity of the electoral process, I take it?” she said.Von Spakovsky didn’t engage with the hypothetical. He simply didn’t believe it was happening. “I don’t believe that this requirement prevents individuals who are eligible to register and vote from doing so.” Later, on the stand, he’d tell Ho he couldn’t think of a single law in the country that he felt negatively impacted anyone’s ability to register or vote.Robinson, in the end, strongly disagreed. As she wrote in her opinion, “the Court finds that the burden imposed on Kansans by this law outweighs the state’s interest in preventing noncitizen voter fraud, keeping accurate voter rolls, and maintaining confidence in elections. The burden is not just on a ‘few voters,’ but on tens of thousands of voters, many of whom were disenfranchised” by Kobach’s law. The law, she concluded, was a bigger problem than the one it set out to solve, acting as a “deterrent to registration and voting for substantially more eligible Kansans than it has prevented ineligible voters from registering to vote.”
When Do Reporters Collaborate, and When Do They Compete?
by David Eads At the beginning of the year, we asked ProPublica Illinois readers what they wanted to know about how we do our work. Thoughtful, challenging questions have been rolling in ever since, and we’ve been answering them in an occasional series of columns. In this dispatch, ProPublica Illinois news applications developer David Eads answers a question about whether news organizations share their reporting.To what extent do journalists from various newsgathering organizations share their efforts BEFORE PUBLISHING? I know all media outlets are “friendly competitors” but the “media” are our eyes and ears and if they are chasing the same leads, they are duplicating efforts that would be better spent chasing different leads. —Mel MillerThinking about competition and collaboration in journalism conjures up images of the great newspaper rivalries. The Washington Post and The New York Times competed during the 1970s covering the Pentagon Papers, and the Post, Times and others battled over the Monica Lewinsky scandal during the Clinton administration.Now, the Post and Times are at it again with story after story on the administration of President Donald Trump. In fact, in over a week-and-a-half in May 2017, the Times and the Post published a series of investigative stories that magazines called the “last great newspaper war” and the “10 best days in journalism.”Among the scoops: the Times reporting that, before he was fired, FBI Director James Comey had asked for more prosecutors and other personnel for the Russia investigation, and the Post revealing that Trump had disclosed highly classified information to top Russian officials in a meeting at the White House.Journalism juggernauts vying to beat each other by writing smart stories, digging up scoops and cultivating important, inside sources hasn’t abated. It’s good for journalism and it can serve readers.Over the past decade or so, however, the need for collaboration has grown as well. Staffs at many legacy publications have shrunk, forcing news organizations to decide what’s essential to their mission. Not that newsrooms agree formally or informally to cede stories to competitors, but they increasingly make choices about how to allocate limited resources.Some stories are so complex, or involve datasets and coverage beyond what even the largest newsrooms can reasonably tackle, that collaboration is key. In other cases, small newsrooms find that by working together they bring different strengths, skills and audiences to a story that ultimately allows it to be told in a richer way and reach different groups of people.Projects like the Pulitzer Prize-winning Panama Papers, ProPublica’s own Electionland and Documenting Hate, and regional initiatives like the Ohio Valley ReSource are just a few examples of this kind of collaboration. For the Panama Papers, close to 400 reporters from roughly 100 media outlets in some 80 countries sifted through an enormous body of data to show how the rich and powerful avoid taxes and hide their financial activities without breaking the law. (Full disclosure: My wife worked on this project.) Get Email Updates from ProPublica Illinois Dive deeper into our reporting. Our newsletter is written by a ProPublica Illinois journalist every week. Partnerships are central to the ProPublica model. Some develop intentionally, when we seek out a publishing partner. Others are more serendipitous. ProPublica and This American Life joined with The Marshall Project on 2015’s “An Unbelievable Story of Rape” after reporters discovered they were working on the same story. Instead of rushing competing stories into publication, they decided to combine their efforts.The result: a Pulitzer Prize.The rise of technology and open source culture — the practice of freely sharing and collaborating on software development — also has fostered collaboration across organizations and industries. Elex, a project to ease working with election data that I helped develop, started as a partnership between The New York Times and NPR and includes contributions from the Los Angeles Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune and more. It’s used by dozens of media organizations to deliver election results to their audiences.Competition remains in many markets, though it can shift from day to day. In Chicago, for instance, many news outlets, including the two major newspapers, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, vie for your attention. At the same time, they also work together. At ProPublica Illinois, we’ve collaborated with both papers, as well as other local outlets, and other media organizations have also worked together. Some recent examples: WBEZ and the Better Government Association collaborated to investigate broken elevators in public housing, City Bureau and Curious City have worked together to tackle topics like segregation in Chicago, and the Chicago Data Collaborative brings together multiple organizations from media and beyond to go deeper on criminal justice data. Both competition and collaboration are important parts of the journalism ecosystem. The most important question is whether a story and its audience will benefit from competition or collaboration.In the case of the great rivalry between the Post and the Times, competition can spur deeper reporting. Audiences win. In the case of giant leaks or fundamental data like election results, collaboration may create broader accountability and best serves audiences.
DHS Chief is Confronted With ProPublica Tape of Wailing Children Separated from Parents
by Stephen Engelberg Minutes after ProPublica posted a recording of crying children begging for their parents, Kirstjen Nielsen stepped up to the podium in the White House briefing room to answer questions from reporters, as well as a growing chorus of criticism from Democrats and Republicans.Nielsen, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, blamed Congress for the Trump administration’s policy of separating children detained at the border from their parents. Nielsen said the administration would continue to send the children to temporary detention centers in warehouses and big box stores until Congress rewrites the nation’s immigration laws.At one point, a reporter from New York magazine, Olivia Nuzzi, played the tape ProPublica obtained from inside a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility, according to tweets she posted. I played the audio of children separated from their parents at a US Customs and Border Protection facility that was published by @ProPublica today at the White House briefing. Officials failed to adequately and truthfully answer questions about the policy. I would have waited until I was called on to play it, but I was not being called on. After another reporter’s phone began loudly ringing with a melodic jingle, I figured the briefing room could probably deal with a more important disturbance. It’s unclear if Nielsen heard the recording, which consists mostly of the sounds of weeping children calling for their mothers and fathers. Reporters attempted to ask her questions about the material in the recording — including “How is this not child abuse?” — but she did not respond directly. Asked if the recordings, along with pictures and more that have emerged in recent days, are an unintended consequence of the administration’s approach, she said, “I think that they reflect the focus of those who post such pictures and narratives.”Richard Tofel, ProPublica’s president, said the decision to post the recording and accompanying story reflected a focus on providing a fuller accounting of what’s happening in facilities that are closed to public view. Get ProPublica’s Major Investigations by Email “Our agenda is to bring the American people facts for their consideration,” he said.The separation of these Central American children from their parents was triggered by the administration’s decision to bring criminal charges against adults who enter the country without permission. That move, which is discretionary, brings into play regulations that prevent parents facing criminal prosecution from being imprisoned with their children.Nielsen denied that the policy change was intended to pressure Congress.“The children are not being used as a pawn,” she said. “We’re trying to protect the children, which is why I’m asking Congress to act.”
Escucha a los niños que acaban de ser separados de sus padres en la frontera
par Ginger Thompson Read in English.El desesperado llanto de diez niños centroamericanos, separados de sus padres un día de la semana pasada por las autoridades de inmigración en la frontera, es una escucha atroz. Muchos de ellos suenan como si estuvieran llorando tan fuerte que apenas pueden respirar. Gritan “mami” y “papá” una y otra vez, como si esas fueran las únicas palabras que conocen.La voz de barítono de un agente de la Patrulla Fronteriza retumba por encima del llanto. “Bueno, aquí tenemos una orquesta,” bromea. “Faltaba el maestro”.Entonces, una angustiada niña salvadoreña de seis años suplica repetidamente que alguien llame a su tía. Solo una llamada, ruega a cualquiera que la escuche. Dice que ha memorizado el número de teléfono y, en un momento dado, se lo recita de un tirón a un representante consular. “Y mi mami después que me venga a traer mi tía va a venir lo más pronto posible para irme con ella”, gimotea. Una grabación en audio obtenida por ProPublica pone sonido al sufrimiento real de un polémico debate político en el que hasta ahora no han participado quienes tienen más en juego: los niños inmigrantes. Más de 2,300 de ellos han sido separados de sus padres desde abril, cuando la administración Trump lanzó su política migratoria de tolerancia cero, que exige procesar a todas las personas que intenten ingresar de forma ilegal en el país y llevarse a los niños que trajeron consigo. Más de 100 de esos niños son menores de cuatro años. Los niños se encuentran inicialmente en almacenes, tiendas de campaña o grandes almacenes que se han convertido en centros de detención de la Patrulla Fronteriza.Las condenas a esta política han sido rápidas y agudas, incluso por parte de algunos de los partidarios más fiables de la administración. Ha unido conservadores religiosos y a activistas por los derechos de los inmigrantes, que han dicho que la tolerancia cero equivale a “cero humanidad”. Miembros demócratas y republicanos del Congreso se pronunciaron contra los esfuerzos de la administración durante el fin de semana. La ex primera dama Laura Bush describió las prácticas de la administración como “crueles” e “inmorales” y comparó las imágenes de los niños inmigrantes detenidos en perreras con las de los campos de internamiento japoneses durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial. Y la American Academy of Pediatrics (Academia Estadounidense de Pediatría, en español) ha dicho que la práctica de separar a los niños de sus padres puede causarles un “daño irreparable”.Aún así, la administración ha respaldado su política. El presidente Trump culpa a los demócratas y dice que su gobierno solo está aplicando leyes ya existentes, aunque eso no es verdad. No hay ninguna ley que obligue a separar a los niños de sus padres, o que exija el enjuiciamiento criminal de todos los individuos que cruzan la frontera sin documentos. Esas prácticas fueron establecidas por la administración Trump. Get ProPublica’s Major Investigations by Email El Fiscal General Jeff Sessions ha citado pasajes de la Biblia en un intento de establecer una justificación religiosa de esta política. El lunes la defendió de nuevo diciendo que era una cuestión de estado de derecho. “No podemos y no incitaremos a la gente a traer niños dándoles inmunidad general de nuestras leyes”. Un portavoz de la Patrulla Fronteriza se hizo eco de ese razonamiento en una declaración escrita.En los últimos días, las autoridades en la frontera han comenzado a permitir recorridos estrechamente controlados por las instalaciones con el objetivo de poner un rostro humano a esta política, pero las cámaras están fuertemente restringidas. Y los niños retenidos no pueden hablar con periodistas.El audio obtenido por ProPublica rompe ese silencio. Fue grabado la semana pasada dentro de un centro de detención de la Patrulla Fronteriza. La persona que realizó la grabación solicitó no ser identificada por temor a represalias. Esa persona proporcionó el audio a Jennifer Harbury, una conocida abogada de derechos civiles que ha vivido y trabajado durante cuatro décadas en el Valle del Río Grande, a lo largo de la frontera de Texas con México. A su vez, Harbury facilitó el audio a ProPublica. Dijo que la persona que lo grabó era una clienta que “escuchó los llantos y los lloros de los niños y que quedó devastada”.Esta persona estimó que los niños de la grabación tienen entre cuatro y diez años. Parecía que habían estado en el centro de detención menos de 24 horas, por lo que su angustia por haber sido separados de sus padres todavía estaba a flor de piel. Los funcionarios del consulado trataron de tranquilizarlos con bocadillos y juguetes, pero los niños eran inconsolables.La niña que más destacó fue la salvadoreña de seis años que tenía un número de teléfono metido en la cabeza. Al final del audio, un funcionario consular ofrece llamar a la tía de la niña. ProPublica marcó el número que la menor recitó en el audio y habló con la tía sobre la llamada.“Fue el momento más difícil de mi vida”, dijo. “Imagínese recibir una llamada de su sobrina de seis años. Está llorando y me ruega que vaya a buscarla. Ella dice: ‘Prometo que me comportaré, pero por favor sácame de aquí. Estoy completamente sola’”. Read More He Was About To Pick Up His Newborn Son After Surgery When He Was Arrested By ICE The case of Oscar Millan shows ICE’s renewed focus on strict immigration enforcement. Under the Obama administration, agents had discretion in cases of immigrants with gravely sick children. La tía dijo que lo que hizo que la llamada fuera aún más dolorosa es que no había nada que ella pudiera hacer. Ella y su hija de nueve años buscan asilo en los Estados Unidos después de emigrar hace dos años por los mismos motivos y siguiendo la misma ruta que su hermana y su sobrina. Son procedentes de un pequeño pueblo llamado Armenia, a una hora en coche al noroeste de San Salvador, pero al alcance de sus olas de crímenes paralizantes de la capital salvadoreña. La tía dijo que las pandillas estaban en todas partes en El Salvador: “Están en los autobuses. Están en los bancos. Están en las escuelas. Están en la policía. No hay ningún lugar donde la gente normal se sienta segura”.Dijo que su sobrina y su hermana partieron hacia Estados Unidos hace más de un mes. Pagaron a un traficante de personas 7,000 dólares para que las guiara a través de Guatemala y México y cruzaron la frontera hacia los Estados Unidos. Ahora, añadió, todo el riesgo y la inversión parecen perdidos.La tía dijo que le preocupaba que cualquier intento de intervenir en la situación de su sobrina pusiera en riesgo la suya y el asilo de su hija, sobre todo después de que la administración Trump haya anulado las protecciones de asilo para las víctimas de las pandillas y de la violencia doméstica. Ella dijo que logró hablar con su hermana, que fue trasladada a un centro de detención de inmigrantes cerca de Port Isabel, en Texas. Y se mantiene en contacto con su sobrina, Alison Jimena Valencia Madrid, por teléfono. Madre e hija, sin embargo, no han podido comunicarse.La tía dijo que Alison había sido trasladada de las instalaciones de la Patrulla Fronteriza a un refugio donde tiene una cama real. Pero dijo que las autoridades del refugio advirtieron a la niña de que su madre, Cindy Madrid, de 29 años, podría ser deportada sin ella.“Sé que no es ciudadana estadounidense”, dijo la tía sobre su sobrina. “Pero es un ser humano. Es una niña. ¿Cómo pueden tratarla de esta manera?”Puedes contactar con Ginger Thompson por teléfono 917-512-0229 o por e-mail: ginger.thompson@propublica.org.
Listen to Children Who’ve Just Been Separated From Their Parents at the Border
by Ginger Thompson Leer en Español. The desperate sobbing of 10 Central American children, separated from their parents one day last week by immigration authorities at the border, makes for excruciating listening. Many of them sound like they’re crying so hard, they can barely breathe. They scream “Mami” and “Papá” over and over again, as if those are the only words they know. The baritone voice of a Border Patrol agent booms above the crying. “Well, we have an orchestra here,” he jokes. “What’s missing is a conductor.”Then a distraught but determined 6-year-old Salvadoran girl pleads repeatedly for someone to call her aunt. Just one call, she begs anyone who will listen. She says she’s memorized the phone number, and at one point, rattles it off to a consular representative. “My mommy says that I’ll go with my aunt,” she whimpers, “and that she’ll come to pick me up there as quickly as possible.”An audio recording obtained by ProPublica adds real-life sounds of suffering to a contentious policy debate that has so far been short on input from those with the most at stake: immigrant children. More than 2,300 of them have been separated from their parents since April, when the Trump administration launched its “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which calls for prosecuting all people who attempt to illegally enter the country and taking away the children they brought with them. More than 100 of those children are under the age of 4. The children are initially held in warehouses, tents or big box stores that have been converted into Border Patrol detention facilities. Get ProPublica’s Major Investigations by Email Condemnations of the policy have been swift and sharp, including from some of the administration’s most reliable supporters. It has united religious conservatives and immigrant rights activists, who have said that “zero tolerance” amounts to “zero humanity.” Democratic and Republican members of Congress spoke out against the administration’s enforcement efforts over the weekend. Former first lady Laura Bush called the administration’s practices “cruel” and “immoral,” and likened images of immigrant children being held in kennels to those that came out of Japanese internment camps during World War II. And the American Academy of Pediatrics has said the practice of separating children from their parents can cause the children “irreparable harm.”Still, the administration had stood by it. President Donald Trump blames Democrats and says his administration is only enforcing laws already on the books, although that’s not true. There are no laws that require children to be separated from their parents, or that call for criminal prosecutions of all undocumented border crossers. Those practices were established by the Trump administration.Attorney General Jeff Sessions has cited passages from the Bible in an attempt to establish religious justification. On Monday, he defended it again saying it was a matter of rule of law, “We cannot and will not encourage people to bring children by giving them blanket immunity from our laws.” A Border Patrol spokesman echoed that thought in a written statement.In recent days, authorities on the border have begun allowing tightly controlled tours of the facilities that are meant to put a humane face on the policy. But cameras are heavily restricted. And the children being held are not allowed to speak to journalists.The audio obtained by ProPublica breaks that silence. It was recorded last week inside a U.S. Customs and Border Protection detention facility. The person who made the recording asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation. That person gave the audio to Jennifer Harbury, a well-known civil rights attorney who has lived and worked for four decades in the Rio Grande Valley along the Texas border with Mexico. Harbury provided it to ProPublica. She said the person who recorded it was a client who “heard the children’s weeping and crying, and was devastated by it.”The person estimated that the children on the recording are between 4 and 10 years old. It appeared that they had been at the detention center for less than 24 hours, so their distress at having been separated from their parents was still raw. Consulate officials tried to comfort them with snacks and toys. But the children were inconsolable. The child who stood out the most was the 6-year-old Salvadoran girl with a phone number stuck in her head. At the end of the audio, a consular official offers to call the girl’s aunt. ProPublica dialed the number she recited in the audio, and spoke with the aunt about the call.“It was the hardest moment in my life,” she said. “Imagine getting a call from your 6-year-old niece. She’s crying and begging me to go get her. She says, ‘I promise I’ll behave, but please get me out of here. I’m all alone.’”The aunt said what made the call even more painful was that there was nothing she could do. She and her 9-year-old daughter are seeking asylum in the United States after immigrating here two years ago for the exact same reasons and on the exact same route as her sister and her niece. They are from a small town called Armenia, about an hour’s drive northwest of the Salvadoran capital, but well within reach of its crippling crime waves. She said gangs were everywhere in El Salvador: “They’re on the buses. They’re in the banks. They’re in schools. They’re in the police. There’s nowhere for normal people to feel safe.”She said her niece and sister set out for the United States over a month ago. They paid a smuggler $7,000 to guide them through Guatemala, and Mexico and across the border into the United States. Now, she said, all the risk and investment seem lost.The aunt said she worried that any attempt to intervene in her niece’s situation would put hers and her daughter’s asylum case at risk, particularly since the Trump administration overturned asylum protections for victims of gang and domestic violence. She said she’s managed to speak to her sister, who has been moved to an immigration detention facility near Port Isabel, Texas. And she keeps in touch with her niece, Alison Jimena Valencia Madrid, by telephone. Mother and daughter, however, have not been able to speak to one another.The aunt said that Alison has been moved out of the Border Patrol facility to a shelter where she has a real bed. But she said that authorities at the shelter have warned the girl that her mother, 29-year-old Cindy Madrid, might be deported without her.“I know she’s not an American citizen,” the aunt said of her niece. “But she’s a human being. She’s a child. How can they treat her this way?”
Behind the Headline: Christopher Copolillo
by Cynthia Gordy Giwa Christopher Copolillo was a grad student at the University of Southern California in 2017, when the Trump administration announced plans to cut $3.9 billion from the Pell Grant program for low-income college students. “It felt so wrong, and I wondered how it would play out in our local context,” said Copolillo, a former public school teacher who was majoring in public policy analysis. Get ProPublica’s Major Investigations by Email A columnist for USC’s student newspaper The Daily Trojan, Copolillo set out to write an article ringing the alarm about the White House’s proposed Pell Grant cuts. “Living in L.A. can sometimes feel like you’re far away from the federal government and the ways these policies can affect real people. I wanted to give people some context and an access point.”He turned to ProPublica’s Debt By Degrees database, which lets users see how much U.S. colleges and universities financially support (or financially burden) their poorest students. Launched in 2015 by news applications developer Sisi Wei (now deputy editor, news applications) and reporter Annie Waldman, Debt By Degrees came with a “reporting recipe” of journalistic insights and techniques to help student reporters investigate debt at their own schools. Using Debt By Degrees, Copolillo found that USC was in the top one-fourth of colleges in the amount of aid it provides for students. But a closer examination of the data showed that the university ranked in the middle of the pack when it came to the number of low-income students it brings to its campus in the first place. “I was encouraged by the fact that USC was doing better than some,” said Copolillo, who now works for an education nonprofit in Los Angeles. “But the tool makes it really clear that there’s still so far to go. Debt By Degrees was invaluable to my reporting. I could not have contextualized USC, or talked about it with folks on campus, without it.”
Behind the Headline: Marie McCausland
by Cynthia Gordy Giwa Four days after Marie McCausland gave birth to her first child, the hospital sent her and her husband home with their new baby boy. Hours later, she felt awful: severe chest pain, a splitting headache and spiking blood pressure. When she laid down to rest, the symptoms got worse. “I just had this feeling like, ‘If I go to sleep, I’m not going to wake up,’” says McCausland. Get ProPublica’s Major Investigations by Email The hospital’s discharge materials said nothing about her symptoms, but McCausland remembered the ProPublica/NPR story she’d read one week earlier about Lauren Bloomstein, who died soon after childbirth from preeclampsia, a type of high blood pressure that only occurs in pregnancy or postpartum. Recognizing Bloomstein’s symptoms in herself, McCausland and her husband packed up their four-day-old baby and rushed to the closest emergency room in Cleveland.The first ER doctor she saw tried sending her back home with blood pressure meds, even as her face had become so bloated she barely recognized herself. But McCausland stood her ground. “I said, ‘I’m not leaving here with this high blood pressure. I really think it’s preeclampsia.’” McCausand waited in the ER for another seven hours before the doctor consulted with an obstetrician at another hospital — who immediately registered her symptoms as severe preeclampsia and directed proper treatment. “ProPublica’s reporting literally saved my life, and it’s changed the course of my life,” said McCausland, who had spent the better part of her graduate career working to become an HIV researcher. “Now I’m trying to figure out how to get into maternal health advocacy as a career.”She’s off to a good start: A few months after her near-death experience, she contacted the hospital’s Chief of System Quality for Obstetrics, pushing them to improve its protocol. The hospital updated its discharge papers to include a list of potentially dangerous postpartum symptoms, so new mothers now know what conditions to look out for.
Behind the Headline: Noemi Martinez
by Cynthia Gordy Giwa Noemi Martinez of Jacksonville, Fla., was in a desperate hurry last July, as she ran to catch the bus from one job interview to the next. Along the way, she veered off the sidewalk to avoid a showering sprinkler. She was stopped by a police officer who issued a $62.50 citation for “walking in roadway where sidewalks provided.”“I couldn’t believe it,” said Martinez, who was unemployed at the time. “I was really overwhelmed.” Get ProPublica’s Major Investigations by Email Having missed her bus, Martinez headed to the courthouse, where she planned to contest the ticket. Unsure where to go, she stopped Whitney Lonker, a defense attorney who happened to be nearby; Lonker explained the protocol and tried reassuring her that it would be dropped. After all, Lonker (who is white) had been stopped for jaywalking before and there was no ticket. The two parted ways.Shortly after the women met, Lonker received a call from two reporters, Topher Sanders of ProPublica and Benjamin Conarck of the Florida Times-Union. They were starting a joint investigation on the phenomenon of “Walking While Black,” looking at racial disparities in who gets stopped and penalized for Jacksonville’s pedestrian violations. They asked if she’d ever heard of anybody who experienced it. Lonker told the reporters about the distressed woman she’d just met at the courthouse, who ultimately agreed to talk with them for the story. After their story was published, revealing that African Americans receive 55 percent of all pedestrian tickets in Jacksonville, while only accounting for 29 percent of the population, Lonker reached out to Martinez and offered to represent her pro bono in contesting the ticket. Martinez was still ruled in violation of the statute, but the judge reduced her fine from $62.50 to $25. Martinez saw no justice in the reduction. “The amount of the ticket is not the issue; the issue is the ticket itself, “ she said. “I shouldn’t have had to pay a penny because I didn’t do anything wrong.”The reporting, however, made a difference for Martinez in another way. “When Topher and Ben first reached out to me, I was in such an angry space,” she said. “But when they actually listened to me, and advocated for me, they helped me heal a little bit. There are so many people defending the police department, and, until ProPublica, my voice was not being heard. I thank ProPublica for shining light on a dark place for me. The story gave me hope.”The investigation also prompted Jacksonville’s sheriff to retrain his officers on the pedestrian laws and void several tickets that the reporting showed had been written erroneously. Amid those changes local lawmakers called for the suspension of pedestrian ticket writing.
Why Are Millions Paying Online Tax Preparation Fees When They Don’t Need To?
by Tik Root for ProPublica As internet use took off at the turn of the millennium, the Office of Management and Budget asked the Internal Revenue Service to create no-cost electronic tax-filing options for low- and moderate-income taxpayers. The tech-challenged agency turned to the online tax-preparation industry for help and soon struck a deal with companies such as Intuit (the maker of TurboTax) and H&R Block, which had organized as a 12-member consortium called the Free File Alliance.The Free File Alliance agreed to offer tax-prep service to millions of Americans at no charge. In exchange, the IRS pledged to “not compete with the Consortium in providing free, online tax return preparation and filing services to taxpayers.”The arrangement went into effect in 2003 and the IRS and the alliance have kept the framework in place ever since. Today the Free File system appears on track to become permanent. In April, the House voted unanimously to enshrine the provision in law, and the Senate is now considering whether to follow suit. Get ProPublica’s Top Stories by Email It’s hard to argue with the goal of the program. Free File theoretically allows 70 percent of American taxpayers to prepare and file their taxes at no cost. More than 50 million no-cost returns have been filed using the program over the past 16 years, according to the IRS, saving users about $1.5 billion in fees. Intuit lauds the program as “an example of a public/private partnership that works.” And Tim Hugo, executive director of the Free File Alliance, called Free File “a great product,” adding, “Free File has changed the market.”But 50 million returns over 16 years represents only about 3 percent of eligible tax returns. By ProPublica’s estimate, that suggests U.S. taxpayers eligible for Free File are spending about $1 billion a year in unnecessary filing fees.A key reason for the anemic usage, according to experts, is that many taxpayers are unaware of the program. “I don’t have an advertising budget,” said Hugo, who acknowledged the lack of awareness. He argued that it’s the IRS’ responsibility to publicize the program. “The companies are already donating the services. It’s a philanthropic endeavor.”Critics say low usage is exactly what Intuit, H&R Block and others are seeking. The tax-preparation companies “want the status quo,” said Nina Olson, the national taxpayer advocate, whose role is to be the voice of taxpayers inside the IRS. The agreement with the companies not only keeps the federal agency from developing a direct filling option, but also an automated “return-free” option in which the IRS would calculate most individuals’ taxes. A 2013 ProPublica investigation found that the industry has successfully lobbied against such a system.Another reason few taxpayers use Free File is that finding and understanding the options can be confounding. “Trying to navigate the Free File sites,” Olson once said in congressional testimony, is “a bit like living in the Wild, Wild West.”Tax-preparation companies sometimes complicate the matter by using confusingly named products. Intuit, for instance, has a “Free Edition” of TurboTax, which handles federal 1040EZ or 1040A forms gratis — but charges for state forms. It also offers a “Freedom Edition,” which is the Free File version and handles both federal and state forms at no cost. Intuit acknowledges the discrepancy in its support pages: “don’t confuse Freedom Edition with Free Edition at TurboTax.com. These similarly-named products are completely different.” Moreover, the Freedom Edition isn’t visible on TurboTax’s homepage. Indeed, only one of the 12 Alliance members, Free Tax Returns.com, prominently displays the Free File option on its homepage. If you know to look for those pages, you can find them via a web search. You can also discover the options via IRS.gov. Otherwise, Free File is extremely difficult to find.Adding to the confusion is an array of eligibility requirements that differ among providers. This year, for example, TurboTax makes Free File available to anyone who earns less than $33,000 or qualifies for the earned income tax credit. H&R Block’s version covers incomes of $66,000 or less, but only for people 50 or younger. Other companies have other requirements, which generally vary by income, age and state of residence. (The alliance coordinates the requirements among providers in such a way that, in theory, 70 percent of taxpayers will be eligible for at least one offering.)The tax-prep companies insist their Free File offerings are easy to find and understand. “It’s not hidden,” said Timur Taluy, CEO of FileYourTaxes.com. “There’s a link on our landing page to Free File.” But when I asked Taluy to locate the link on my phone’s browser, he couldn’t. He ended up finding the page using a Google search. Still, Taluy asserted that “a lot of people know that Free File exists and they make conscious choices to use another free service or a paid service.”Amanda Werner, a cheesemaker from Vermont, said she discovered Free File this year when she happened to receive an email from her local United Way that mentioned it. She said she immediately switched and was pleased with the program. Her only regret is that she didn’t know about it earlier, which meant she was previously paying H&R Block between $20 and $60 per year for tax prep. “[It] left me mildly annoyed that I’d had to pay for the same service in the past,” she said. Other taxpayers interviewed for this article also paid fees to online tax preparers, only to learn that they would have been eligible for Free File. (One of those taxpayers was then able to persuade TurboTax to refund the $89.98 in fees they had spent on this year’s return.)Determining exactly how many taxpayers are eligible for — but not using — Free File is almost impossible. The IRS said it does not have data on filing fees paid by taxpayers and none of the Free File Alliance companies would provide it. “It’s not totally advantageous for us to share all of that information,” said a representative for TaxAct.Still, a very rough approximation is possible. About 53 million returns were filed using do-it-yourself online or downloadable software last year, according to IRS data. Free File is meant to cover 70 percent of taxpayers, or about 37 million among the DIY returns. But only about 2.5 million people actually utilized Free File, leaving some 34.5 million eligible taxpayers that potentially incurred fees. Using what the IRS calls a “conservative $30-fee estimate” for each return, that would translate to around a billion dollars in avoidable preparation and filing costs. (That estimate doesn’t include fees to file state returns. It also doesn’t capture taxpayers who paid an offline preparer, though about 3.5 million of those people used other no-cost government programs, such as Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly).An Intuit spokesperson contended in an email that it’s “irresponsible” to estimate the avoidable costs. He said that some customers could be choosing to use a paid product instead of Free File. He added that many customers also get no-cost returns via products such as TurboTax’s now-discontinued AbsoluteZero product, Credit Karma (which says it handled more than a million returns this year) or similar offerings from other companies. Any accurate calculation, the spokesperson argued, depends on knowing exactly what products consumers choose to use and how much they end up paying. When ProPublica asked for such information on TurboTax customers, he cited “competitive reasons” for not sharing data. “I implore you to do the due diligence to be factual rather than estimate for effect … or people with the data may pop up after the fact,” he wrote. “You could be left holding the bag.”For its part, the IRS believes it’s doing everything it can to make Free File successful. “We feel like we do promote Free File fairly heavily,” said Ken Corbin, the IRS’ commissioner for wage and investment, which oversees the program. Terry Lemons, the IRS’ chief of communication and liaison, adds that the agency has its own budget woes to contend with. “There’s a lot of demands, and we’ve got fewer resources.”The IRS says it once had $1.5 million a year to promote Free File, but that funding was eliminated in 2015. The agency also claims that budgetary constraints kept it from implementing a 2007 inspector general recommendation that the IRS better evaluate Free File, including more closely surveying taxpayers who aren’t using it.Some critics argue for drastic change. “The program has to be radically reconceived” if not eliminated altogether, said Dennis Ventry, a tax-law professor at the University of California Davis and chair of the IRS Advisor Council. He says the council is currently looking into Free File and will present its recommendations in November. Ventry expressed concern about companies up-selling products and obfuscating Free File user agreements, among other issues.The Free File rules are laid out in a memorandum of understanding between the IRS and the Free File Alliance. The memorandum, which is renegotiated every few years (the current version runs through 2020), is “incredibly favorable to the industry,” according to Ventry. “The IRS let it be that way.” Clauses prevent the IRS from collecting certain data and limit the agency’s ability to disclose any “deficiencies” they might find in the Free File system. The agreement also gives the tax-prep companies an opportunity to “intervene” in relevant Freedom of Information Act requests posed to the IRS.“It’s amazing how much the companies dictate the rules,” said one industry insider, who asked for anonymity given the sensitivity of the subject. Free File Alliance members acknowledge the threat of government entrance into the marketplace in recent SEC filings, calling the possibility “a continued competitive threat to our business” that “could potentially have material and adverse revenue implications.”Dozens of other countries, from the United Kingdom to Japan, have ways for at least some taxpayers to electronically file directly with the government. But according to Olson, the National Taxpayer Advocate, the U.S. has never really explored what such a system might look like. She argued that current programs such as Free File should be re-examined. “What I believe Congress needs to do is to have a conversation about why taxpayers aren’t using it,” Olson said. “What do taxpayers want?”Congress has overwhelmingly supported Free File. “It’s a great program that helps save the government money and do free tax filings for people who can’t afford it,” said a spokesperson for Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill. Roskam introduced bills to make Free File permanent in both 2013 and 2017. Records show that H&R Block and Intuit lobbied in favor of the latter effort.) When asked about potential issues with, or improvements to, the Free File program, Roskam’s spokesperson replied, “we don’t have anything to contribute to your article.”Free File bills never made it very far on their own in the past. This spring, though, the idea was rolled into a broader IRS reform package known as the “Taxpayer First Act,” which includes a variety of provisions aimed at improving customer service, beefing up cybersecurity and assuring proper notice before asset seizures. That bill passed the House in April 414-0.Now it’s the Senate’s turn to debate its approach to IRS reform and, consequently, the merits of Free File. Although the provision has generally seen support, it does have at least one outspoken detractor. “Doing your taxes shouldn’t be this hard — or this expensive,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who has introduced legislation calling for a “return free” filing option.Intuit is sticking by Free File, as is H&R Block. The latter provided a statement, asserting that taxpayer feedback on Free File “is overwhelmingly positive,” and adding, “we are proud to have helped millions of Americans file their returns under this program.” Intuit said it began providing no-cost tax preparation service to low-income taxpayers in 1998 and that it has spent millions of dollars to support and promote no-cost services such as Free File and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance. Most recently, the company says it put $1.5 million into a new campaign to promote no-cost filing known as Tax Time Allies. Still, Intuit acknowledged “there’s room to do more.”
West Virginia Paid for a CEO to Go on a Trade Delegation to China. Turns Out, He Was Promoting His Company’s Interests, Too.
by Ken Ward Jr., The Charleston Gazette-Mail Last November, President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping looked on in Beijing as officials from the state of West Virginia and a Chinese energy company signed what was hailed as a landmark deal for the state.Under the deal, China Energy Investment Corporation would invest more than $80 billion over the next 20 years in West Virginia’s natural gas industry.West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and other state leaders have been banking on the China deal, predicting it would create tens of thousands of additional jobs in the state. It was also described as a victory for Trump, the largest in a series of Chinese investments in the U.S. that totaled $250 billion.But on Friday, Justice revealed that an ethical cloud has appeared over the China deal: At least one member of the state’s trade delegation — a gas industry executive — was also working to help his private company on the trip.Brian Abraham, the governor’s general counsel, said the state was “using someone who probably shouldn’t have been involved in the negotiations” as part of its trade delegation.“People that were there in China maybe representing their own special interests, we didn’t think was right,” the governor added. Get ProPublica’s Top Stories by Email West Virginia officials are eager to see the fruits of the China Energy investment, as a cornerstone to the natural gas industry’s continued growth in the state. But along the way, some lawmakers and watchdogs are questioning whether the state is putting the industry’s interests ahead of public concerns in attempting to broaden the state’s economic base. This year, ProPublica is partnering with The Charleston Gazette-Mail to examine those issues.During a press conference Friday, neither Justice nor Abraham would name the individual or his company. In an interview, Abraham later confirmed that the individual was Steven B. Hedrick, who is CEO of Appalachia Development Group LLC. and also CEO of the Mid-Atlantic Technology, Research and Innovation Center, or MATRIC, a non-profit that partners with various industries on research and development efforts.Appalachia Development Group has been seeking a loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy as part of an effort to build a natural gas “storage hub” for various natural gas liquid byproducts that can be used in manufacturing.Abraham said the state Commerce Department paid for Hedrick’s travel for the China negotiations because it considered him, effectively, an acting state official, part of a special Commerce Department program in which certain executives are “loaned” to the state.The governor’s office, though, discovered later that Hedrick had not joined the program and when asked to do so after the trip, he declined, Abraham said. Had he joined the program, Hedrick would have been required to sign an agreement to abide by the state ethics law’s prohibition on using public office for private gain.“Why is this person behind the curtain at Commerce if they’re an individual on the outside?” Abraham said. “That created an ethical dilemma.”Also, Abraham cited one incident in which state officials were later told Hedrick asked China Energy officials to specifically target some of their investment toward his company’s natural gas storage hub. Abraham said that, during one trip, Hedrick stayed behind an extra day and pitched his project to China Energy after others from the state had left.Abraham said that Hedrick was asked to repay the state $23,000 in travel expenses, and that the repayment had been made. Read More One West Virginia County Tried to Break Its Dependence on the Energy Industry. It Was Overruled. After seeing the scars of coal, Fayette County banned the disposal of natural gas drilling waste. Industry fought back, arguing the community doesn’t get a say. A spokeswoman for Hedrick said he was not available for comment, but she issued a short statement via email that said Hedrick was “grateful to respond to the request of the state of West Virginia to support the Commerce Department’s mission to attract business to the state.”The statement said that MATRIC “promptly paid any expenses invoiced by the state.”Though officials signed a memorandum of understanding in China, the state has refused to release the text of the agreement and few details have been made public. Both the China deal and the natural gas storage hub are considered by many state officials as key and related economic development projects for West Virginia’s future.The state’s natural gas industry has already greatly expanded, and backers of the China deal say it will provide huge amounts of capital that could fund processing plants, pipelines and other facilities that will turn natural gas byproducts into crucial ingredients for a wide variety of plastics manufacturers. These kinds of “downstream” developments will allow West Virginia to capture far more jobs and economic growth than just drilling for gas and shipping it out of state.The revelations about the China deal came just one day after Justice asked for and received the resignation of state Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher, whose agency bungled the state’s implementation of a federally funded flood-relief program.Thrasher was the top state official who traveled to China last November as part of the trade delegation.Justice said Friday that discussions toward realizing the Chinese natural gas investments are ongoing, and repeated his earlier statements that the deal “came into being” because of his personal friendship with Trump.
After Two-Week Review, St. Luke’s in Houston Reopens Its Heart Transplant Program
by Charles Ornstein, ProPublica, and Mike Hixenbaugh, Houston Chronicle Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center said Friday it has reopened its storied heart transplant program, two weeks after suspending it to conduct an internal review of two recent deaths.In a written statement, the hospital said its review “did not identify systemic issues related to the quality of the program” but that it had nonetheless reorganized its transplant surgery team, refined the criteria for which patients it would accept for heart transplants, and made other improvements to strengthen the program.Among the changes: The hospital’s top lung transplant surgeon, Dr. Gabriel Loor, will now perform or participate in every heart transplant going forward, working alongside the heart program’s surgical director, Dr. Jeffrey Morgan. Loor, a 42-year-old cardiothoracic surgeon who was recruited to St. Luke’s last year based on his experience with lung surgery, has performed what the hospital described as “more than 20” heart transplants in his career. The heart program is also recruiting two additional cardiac surgeons.“After reviewing two recent cases and taking steps to strengthen the heart transplant team, we are confident that the program is ready to move forward and serve the critically ill patients and their families who have placed their trust in us,” Doug Lawson, CEO of Catholic Health Initiatives Texas Division, which owns St. Luke’s, said in the statement. “Our unwavering focus is always to ensure our patients receive the best possible medical care, and in ways that reflect our core values of reverence, integrity, compassion, and excellence.”The decision to temporarily halt the program came after an investigation by ProPublica and the Houston Chronicle found that it had performed an outsized number of transplants resulting in deaths and had lost several top physicians in recent years.Friday’s decision means that the program will once again be in a position to accept hearts donated for the 88 patients on its waiting list. As of Thursday, a half dozen were listed as Status 1A, meaning they were in urgent need of a new organ and could receive an offer any day. Twenty-five of the patients on the list are currently inactive, meaning that they are not eligible to receive donor hearts due to illness or other factors.Although the program is reopening, St. Luke’s is continuing its efforts to fill several key positions related to the heart transplant program, including a vice president to oversee all of the hospital’s transplant operations. The hospital has posted openings for several nursing positions in the heart program. In recent weeks, the hospital has hired an administrator to oversee heart and lung transplants. Get ProPublica’s Major Investigations by Email The hospital also has changed some aspects of its patient care. It added new “parameters and benchmarks” by which it will select patients to add to its heart transplant waiting list, and it “streamlined” its daily rounds in which physicians, nurses and other health professionals assess patients’ progress and develop care plans for each, the hospital said in a written response to questions.Finally, a special committee of the hospital’s board of directors is exploring “additional processes and changes that could further improve the heart transplant program,” the hospital said in its statement. The panel’s work is expected to continue into next year.In the meantime, Loor’s role will expand as co-chief of adult cardiac surgery. The hospital said Morgan, who started in 2016 as surgical director of its heart transplant and mechanical heart pump program, will remain in his position. Although Loor has performed a relatively small number of heart transplants, he has performed more than 1,000 adult cardiac operations and inserted 30 mechanical heart pumps in his career, the hospital noted.The investigation by ProPublica and the Chronicle revealed that multiple St. Luke’s physicians raised concerns about errors during operations and serious surgical complications after Morgan’s arrival, and a few cardiologists began referring some of their patients to other hospitals for transplants.Initially, Morgan performed both heart and lung transplants, but he stopped performing lung transplants not long after his arrival after some of his initial patients experienced complications. Earlier this year, Morgan said in response to written questions that “it is rare for a surgeon to focus on both heart and lung transplants.” Under the hospital’s current plan, Loor will have a central role in both.In response to a question, the hospital said: “Dr. Loor is experienced in both heart and lung transplants. In fact, we are interviewing candidates with dual credentials in heart and lung transplant, which is not uncommon.” Morgan has defended his performance and that of the program under his leadership. He did not reply to a message seeking comment after the hospital released its plan to restart the program.Dr. Paul Klotman, president and CEO of Baylor College of Medicine, said in a written statement that the effort to improve the program won’t stop with its reactivation.“Baylor St. Luke’s believes strongly that improvement is a never-ending process,” Klotman said. “Although this voluntary pause in the program is complete, we will continue to recruit additional surgical and clinical expertise, refine procedures and practices, and implement improvements as soon as we identify opportunities.”Alexander Aussi, a San Antonio-based transplant consultant, had predicted the program would extend its deactivation beyond 14 days and make sweeping changes to improve care. Based on his past experience helping programs meet regulatory requirements, he believes St. Luke’s has more work to do.“I still believe they have an organic issue that is multifactorial,” Aussi said. “It’s not one surgeon or one physician. It’s multiple issues that stemmed from a myriad of problems that culminated in these outcomes we’ve seen at St. Luke’s.”In 2015, St. Luke’s had some of the worst survival rates in the country for patients in the first year after heart transplants. Six of the 21 patients who received heart transplants that year died. In the following two years, the hospital says it rebounded with a one-year survival rate of 94 percent among patients who received new hearts in 2016 and 2017.The program ran into more trouble this year: The pace of transplants slowed dramatically starting in January, and three of nine patients to receive a heart this year have died, prompting the voluntary suspension two weeks ago.The family of Guadalupe Cantu, the most recent patient to die, said they did not know about the program’s recent track record until they read media reports.Cantu, a 69-year-old retired oilfield worker from the Rio Grande Valley, received a heart transplant on March 15. He died on May 18, two days after ProPublica and the Chronicle published their findings on the program. Right after the transplant, doctors told his family that there had been complications with his lungs and he was on a life-support machine for his heart and lungs, said Monica Aleman, his daughter. Cantu began to improve, communicating with his family and participating in physical therapy.But then, a few weeks after the transplant, he was diagnosed with pneumonia and influenza, she said. “They took him into critical care and a day later, everything started going downhill.” He was reconnected to the life-support machine and it was never removed. “He lasted about two months, more or less, until he passed,” she said.During that time, he suffered from edema, a swelling caused by excess fluid in the body’s tissues, and his skin began to fall off. “All this time my mom was told that he was going to be fine, to have faith, you know stuff like that, but we started seeing everything get worse and worse and worse and worse,” Aleman said. “It was just horrible.”Two other patients who had heart transplants this year had died before Cantu.James “Lee” Lewis, a 52-year-old pipefitter from Bay City, Texas, received a transplant on Jan. 2. Operating room equipment malfunctioned during a key stage of the surgery, and the donor heart failed. Lewis died nearly three months later, on March 23, after undergoing more than a dozen operations and suffering numerous complications, including strokes, serious infections and organ failure. His wife, Jennifer, chronicled her husband’s transplant and drawn-out death on Facebook and shared it with reporters.Another patient, a 67-year-old bankruptcy lawyer named Robert Barron, received a heart transplant on February 27, said his son, Craig Barron. The transplant seemed to go well, Craig Barron said, but a couple of days later, the donor heart stopped twice, requiring emergency follow-up surgeries and leaving Robert Barron in critical condition. Barron spent weeks connected to life-support machines and seemed to be recovering gradually, before suffering from serious infections and other complications. He died on May 5. If St. Luke’s had decided to keep its transplant program closed beyond 14 days, it would have had to meet additional regulatory requirements before it could reopen. That process, intended to protect patients and ensure the most efficient use of limited donor organs, can sometimes take several months, according to experts.Cardiologists and transplant surgeons across the country have paid close attention to the situation at St. Luke’s, given its legacy as a leader in heart surgery in collaboration with its research partner, the Texas Heart Institute. It was at St. Luke’s that famed surgeon Denton Cooley performed some of the world’s first heart transplants back in the 1960s, and where his protégé, Dr. O.H. “Bud” Frazier, has pursued a lifelong quest to develop a complete mechanical replacement for the human heart.Aleman said it was traumatic for her family to learn about the program’s problems from news reports after her dad died.“It was a shock hearing the stories of the other people and how apparently the surgery had gone not right and all of the sudden they started having complications,” she said. “That’s exactly what happened to my dad, too,”Friday would have been Cantu’s 70th birthday.
Facebook’s Screening for Political Ads Nabs News Sites Instead of Politicians
by Jeremy B. Merrill and Ariana Tobin One ad couldn’t have been more obviously political. Targeted to people aged 18 and older, it urged them to “vote YES” on June 5 on a ballot proposition to issue bonds for schools in a district near San Francisco. Yet it showed up in users’ news feeds without the “paid for by” disclaimer required for political ads under Facebook’s new policy designed to prevent a repeat of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Nor does it appear, as it should, in Facebook’s new archive of political ads.The other ad was from The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit news outlet, promoting one of its articles about financial aid for college students. Yet Facebook’s screening system flagged it as political. For the ad to run, The Hechinger Report would have to undergo the multi-step authorization and authentication process of submitting Social Security numbers and identification that Facebook now requires for anyone running “electoral ads” or “issue ads.” Help Us Monitor Political AdsProPublica needs your help holding Facebook’s political ad system accountable. Please download our tool to catch ads Facebook is missing. When The Hechinger Report appealed, Facebook acknowledged that its system should have allowed the ad to run. But Facebook then blocked another ad from The Hechinger Report, about an article headlined, “DACA students persevere, enrolling at, remaining in, and graduating from college.” This time, Facebook rejected The Hechinger Report’s appeal, maintaining that the text or imagery was political.As these examples suggest, Facebook’s new screening policies to deter manipulation of political ads are creating their own problems. The company’s human reviewers and software algorithms are catching paid posts from legitimate news organizations that mention issues or candidates, while overlooking straightforwardly political posts from candidates and advocacy groups. Participants in ProPublica’s Facebook Political Ad Collector project have submitted 40 ads that should have carried disclaimers under the social network’s policy, but didn’t. Facebook may have underestimated the difficulty of distinguishing between political messages and political news coverage — and the consternation that failing to do so would stir among news organizations.The rules require anyone running ads that mention candidates for public office, are about elections, or that discuss any of 20 “national issues of public importance” to verify their personal Facebook accounts and add a “paid for by” disclosure to their ads, which are to be preserved in a public archive for seven years. Advertisers who don’t comply will have their ads taken down until they undergo an “authorization” process, submitting a Social Security number, driver’s license photo, and home address, to which Facebook sends a letter with a code to confirm that anyone running ads about American political issues has an American home address. The complication is that the 20 hot-button issues — environment, guns, immigration, values foreign policy, civil rights and the like — are likely to pop up in posts from news organizations as well.“This could be really confusing to consumers because it’s labelling news content as political ad content,” said Stefanie Murray, director of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University. An ad from The Hechinger Report to promote an article about financial aid for college students was flagged as political by Facebook and prevented from running. The Hechinger Report joined trade organizations representing thousands of publishers this week in protesting this policy, arguing that the filter lumps their stories in with the very organizations and issues they are covering, thus confusing readers already wary of “fake news.” Some publishers — including larger outlets like New York Media, which owns New York Magazine — have stopped buying ads on political content they expect would be subject to Facebook’s ad archive disclosure requirement.“When it comes to news, Facebook still doesn’t get it. In its efforts to clear up one bad mess, it seems set on joining those who want blur the line between reality-based journalism and propaganda,” Mark Thompson, chief executive officer of The New York Times, said in prepared remarks at the Open Markets Institute on Tuesday.In a statement Wednesday, Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of global news partnerships, said the company recognized “that news content was different from political and issue advertising,” and promised to create a “differentiated space within our archive to separate news content from political and issue ads.” But Brown rejected the publishers’ request for a “whitelist” of legitimate news organizations whose ads would not be considered political.“Removing an entire group of advertisers, in this case publishers, would go against our transparency efforts and the work we’re doing to shore up election integrity on Facebook,” she wrote. “We don’t want to be in a position where a bad actor obfuscates its identity by claiming to be a news publisher.” Many of the foreign agents that bought ads to sway the 2016 presidential election, the company has said, posed as journalistic outlets.Her response didn’t satisfy news organizations. Facebook “continues to characterize professional news and opinion as ‘advertising’ — which is both misguided and dangerous,” said David Chavern, chief executive of the News Media Alliance — a trade association representing 2,000 news organizations in the U.S. and Canada —and co-author of an open letter to Facebook on June 11.ProPublica asked Facebook to explain its decision to block 14 advertisements shared with us by news outlets. Of those, 12 were ultimately rejected as political content, one was overturned on appeal, and one Facebook could not locate in its records. Most of these publications, including The Hechinger Report, are affiliated with the Institute for Nonprofit News, a consortium of mostly small nonprofit newsrooms that produce primarily investigative journalism (ProPublica is a member).Here are a few examples of news organization ads that were rejected as political:
Oregon Court System Shields Evaluation of Alleged Killer
by Les Zaitz, The Malheur Enterprise VALE, Ore. — Oregon officials last year fought to keep the public away from records about a man accused of two murders following his early release from state mental treatment.They lost, and those public records raised troubling questions about the state’s handling of Anthony W. Montwheeler, who asserted he had been faking a mental illness for 20 years to avoid prison.Montwheeler, now 50, had told officials he was tired of living off the dole and in state institutions and wanted to be freed. When doctors said they could find no signs of mental illness, Montwheeler won his bid.Three weeks later, he stabbed to death an ex-wife and killed an Oregon man in a violent crash during a police pursuit.Now, the state is once again trying to shield crucial records regarding Montwheeler. This time, the court system is refusing to release a key document assessing whether Montwheeler is competent to stand trial for the murders. Get ProPublica’s Top Stories by Email Court administrators acted to keep the document secret despite internal warnings that such records weren’t “legally confidential.”When the secrecy was challenged by the Malheur Enterprise, agency officials privately approached a state judge and obtained a court order blocking the report from public view.The move was the latest instance of Oregon officials citing Montwheeler’s privacy to justify keeping government documents confidential.Last year, the Oregon State Hospital and the state Psychiatric Security Review Board attempted to block public access to records on Montwheeler’s treatment and their decision to release him. The security review board ultimately was forced to release the records it held from both agencies after the state attorney general intervened.Then, last month, state court administrators treated another document as confidential — a deputy’s request to place Montwheeler in restraints for a court appearance. The state subsequently disclosed the request after the Enterprise questioned the secrecy, but has yet to explain why the one-page document was confidential in the first place.The Enterprise has teamed up with ProPublica to investigate Oregon’s system for handling the criminally insane as part of ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network. The Oregonian/OregonLive of Portland recently joined the project.Montwheeler’s case has drawn intense interest because he had been judged guilty except for insanity in a 1996 kidnapping. State officials released him in December 2016 after agreeing that he had been faking his mental illness.The current effort to prosecute him for the January 2017 murders has been stalled because of questions about his mental state. Despite being under indictment for more than a year, he has yet to enter a plea. A hearing scheduled for June to consider his fitness for trial recently was pushed to September, meaning Montwheeler remains in a county jail.His attorney, David Falls of West Linn, has said Montwheeler may assert an insanity defense against the new charges. A state judge during a hearing last fall said she was disturbed by Montwheeler’s conduct while in jail and ordered him evaluated. The Oregon State Hospital, where he had spent years in his earlier case, was tasked with determining whether he was mentally fit for trial.On Jan. 11, the Malheur County Circuit Court received the 37-page evaluation. Such case files typically are open to the public. In this instance, officials with the Oregon Judicial Department said that while they weren’t prohibited by law from releasing the report, their concerns about privacy and federal law led them to keep the report off limits. Staffers in the office of State Court Administrator Nancy Cozine had previously questioned the secrecy applied to reports about fitness to stand trial, according to documents obtained by the Enterprise through a public records request.“We have reflexively treated these documents as confidential without any sort of reasoned analysis and that very well may be in error,” Josh Nasbe, counsel in the state court administrator’s office, wrote in a June 14, 2016, email. He wrote in a second email that “I understand the consensus to be that these documents are not legally confidential.”When releasing those records, an agency lawyer acknowledged in an email that those documents “do not necessarily clearly articulate the full reason of how psychological reports became confidential.”After Marilee Aldred, administrator of the Malheur County Circuit Court, declined the newspaper’s request to release the evaluation, the Enterprise petitioned Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum to order that it be disclosed to the public.Officials didn’t wait to see how Rosenblum would rule on whether the public was entitled to see the report. Instead, Aldred asked the state judge handling Montwheeler’s criminal case to consider the newspaper’s request.On Feb. 6, Judge Thomas Ryan said in an order that the evaluation should be held confidential. The judge said releasing the report “would constitute an unreasonable invasion of privacy” and “nothing before the court establishes that the public interest requires disclosure.”It remains confidential to this date.
ProPublica Hires Jeremy Kutner as Deputy General Counsel
by ProPublica ProPublica announced today that Jeremy Kutner is joining its staff as deputy general counsel. He starts on July 30 and will provide day-to-day legal support for the organization’s full range of activities, with emphasis on legal services to its newsroom.Kutner comes to ProPublica from the Ballard Spahr firm, where he litigated cases involving libel, freedom of information laws, subpoenas seeking testimony from reporters about sources, and access to sealed documents. Recently, while at Ballard Spahr, he worked on secondment to NBCUniversal.Previously, Kutner was a First Amendment Fellow at The New York Times and earlier participated in Yale Law School’s Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic. Kutner has also worked as a freelance journalist, with his writing appearing in outlets including the Times, HuffPost and the Christian Science Monitor.“Jeremy’s strong litigation experience, along with his deep commitment to the value of a free and inquisitive press in democratic governance, will be tremendous assets to the ProPublica team,” said ProPublica President Richard Tofel, to whom Kutner will report. “We’re delighted to welcome him.”“ProPublica's commitment to passionate storytelling and the highest ideals of journalism is more important now than ever before,” said Kutner. “I am thrilled to be joining such a talented and dedicated team.”
Understand “Variety.” Listen to Young People. Pay Attention to Changing Community Reputations.
by Logan Jaffe Last week, we visited Rock Island and Toulon in western Illinois as part of our ongoing collaboration with Free Street Theater and Illinois Humanities to learn about issues affecting communities throughout the state.These were our fourth and fifth workshops as part of this project, and we’ve been learning a lot about what different communities see as their biggest challenges and about divisions among residents on how to address them.Three distinct takeaways stand out. Each offers insight into these communities, our process with Free Street and what journalists can learn from them. Here we go.“Variety” means very different things to people, and it affects local economies. Logan Jaffe/ProPublica Illinois Our Rock Island workshop drew about 40 people to the Hauberg Civic Center. Ald. Dylan Parker of Rock Island’s 5th ward had seen our callout and invited us to town — a city of about 38,000 people and also the county seat — back in January. In one of the first exercises, Free Street facilitator Coya Paz assigned four corners of the room to represent the four towns that make up the Quad Cities: Rock Island and Moline/East Moline in Illinois, and Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa. She asked people to stand in the corners of the places they felt had the best of different things, such as shopping, housing and schools. When she asked where the best housing in the Quad Cities was, most people stood in the corner representing Rock Island. When she asked where the best shopping was, most people then shifted to the corner representing Davenport, though some were in Moline. This shift signaled that people who live in Rock Island tend to spend their money outside their own community — and later proved to be a point of contention. A map one group in Rock Island made of their ideal version of their community. Note the inclusion of both big box stores and “boutiquey” shops. Disagreements started in a later exercise that asked small groups to map out their ideal version of Rock Island. One issue that emerged was the role of independent, local businesses vs. big box stores and chain restaurants, and how to attract development without losing uniqueness. One person said he’d likely spend more money in Rock Island if it had a Walmart, Target or Outback Steakhouse. But someone else pushed back, reminding others that Rock Island does have a local steakhouse: DJ’s. This opened a broader discussion about the kinds of options for shopping and services people wanted. While there was consensus that Rock Islanders wanted more variety in where and how to spend money locally, variety meant different things to different people. For some, it meant choosing from 10 different underwear options at a big box store, while for others it meant more places for people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds to get their hair done.Our conclusion: Understanding the nuances of how different people in the same community define “variety,” or any other idea, is important. For residents and journalists.Journalists should talk to young people, especially in shrinking rural communities. Louise Kiernan/ProPublica Illinois Our Toulon host, James Nowlan, publisher of the Stark County News, calls Toulon a typical, Midwestern small town. It’s struggling to retain population — the school district has lost 17.6 percent of its enrollment over the past decade. Housing prices are sinking and there aren’t many jobs.Our workshop — which drew about 40 people to the Newsroom Bistro, an event and community space in the Stark County News building — revealed a consensus that one of the county’s most pressing issues is people — particularly young people — moving away. Nowlan made it a point to invite younger people to the workshop, and it was clear that older community leaders welcomed their presence. One young woman at the event who had grown up in Toulon recently moved back to the town with her husband. It seemed everyone there knew them. When this couple spoke, everyone stopped to listen.After Paz asked people to envision Toulon in 20 years, many participants were unsure how hopeful to be, expressing a shared concern the town will die if nothing changes. A few people suggested that overcoming this would require new, fresh leadership — a sensitive statement, considering many of the community’s current leaders were in the room.Pay attention to how different communities try to change perceptions. There was a lot of discussion in both Rock Island and Toulon about changing the perceptions of their communities. Many people said that if you learned about their community only from reading the news, you probably wouldn’t want to visit, much less live there. It’s a sentiment we hear a lot in Chicago, too: Many communities with high crime and gun violence say larger news outlets only cover the negative stories, which perpetuates an unfair and inaccurate image of where they live.But different places address this in different ways. In Toulon, we heard a lot of people talking about marketing and rebranding. But questions remained: What are we marketing? What do we have to offer people? What are our strengths? Some participants felt Toulon’s survival was directly connected to the survival of the county and its other small towns. Figuring out how to work together was essential. Logan Jaffe/ProPublica Illinois That wasn’t the case in Rock Island. While many people said negative perceptions of the community were one of its biggest challenges, Rock Islanders talked specifically about addressing the community’s reputation as unsafe, and how that reputation may be wrongly tied to its racial and ethnic diversity. Many participants agreed Rock Island’s diversity is a strength, and a few people said a reputation for being racist holds it back. But rather than shy away from that conversation, I noticed small groups addressing the issue head on. It was clear that, in these workshops, there was work being done.
Pennsylvania State Police Adding Oversight to Troopers’ Interactions With ICE
by Kavitha Surana By the end of this month, Pennsylvania State Police officers will be required to file a report any time they call immigration authorities to the scene of a traffic stop, detailing the circumstances behind the call, the agency said Wednesday.This change comes two months after ProPublica and the Philadelphia Inquirer published an investigation about state and local police officers in Pennsylvania helping Immigration and Customs Enforcement round up immigrants for deportation, using tactics that raise questions about racial profiling and unlawful arrest.The story focused on Pennsylvania state Trooper Luke C. Macke as an extreme example. In 2017, Macke turned over at least 19 undocumented immigrants to ICE after interrogating them about their legal status and detaining them for up to four hours without a warrant.In response to the April investigation, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf released a statement calling for “a need for stronger uniform procedures addressing state police requests for assistance from outside agencies, including ICE, especially given the new pressure on state and local agencies from the federal government.”Across the U.S., cities and states have wrestled with their relationship with ICE. Some jurisdictions have explicit partnerships with the federal agency to train and deputize their officers to enforce immigration laws. Many others — including the cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh — have implemented restrictions against officers questioning people about their immigration status and cooperating with ICE, worried that their agencies may come under civil rights scrutiny and alienate immigrant communities.Lawyers have warned that police departments could run into legal trouble by detaining people for ICE. The Supreme Court has ruled that it is unconstitutional to prolong traffic stops beyond the time it takes to address the traffic violation. In addition, the court has written that “detaining individuals solely to verify their immigration status would raise constitutional concerns.” The Fourth Amendment protects non-citizens as well as citizens from illegal searches and seizure.The Pennsylvania State Police has given wide discretion to its officers in the past and did not have specific policies for handling immigration checks. Ryan Tarkowski, a spokesman for the department, previously said that the state police considers each traffic stop unique and places a special responsibility on its highway patrol officers to be on the alert for drug, gun, and human traffickers and to reach out as necessary to federal agencies.The department now says it plans to release an updated policy to guide troopers on their interactions with outside agencies later this summer. Lawyers and advocates say it is so far unclear whether the new mandates will result in fewer immigration calls, even if officers are required to file extra reports.“It is disturbing that the Pennsylvania State Police is aware that their troopers are detaining individuals or prolonging stops solely to enforce immigration law, yet they have created a so-called ‘update’ to their management system that does little to stop this illegal practice,” said Ricky Palladino, an immigration lawyer who has represented two people detained by Macke.Questions remain about the new reporting requirement, including whether the information will be entered in a way that can be tracked and counted, and how the department plans to use it.The state police announced the change Wednesday as ProPublica and the Inquirer prepared to publish a story saying that Macke had turned over more immigrants to ICE after detaining them for hours.On the morning of May 10, a month after the first story ran, Rebecca Castro and her fiancé Carlos Amaya-Castellanos were stuck in traffic near the rural town of Dillsburg when Macke waved down their Chevy Silverado pickup truck.Castro, who runs a business installing carports, said she told her fiance and their 19-year-old employee to stay calm. Neither of the men had legal status. Amaya-Castellanos had come from Honduras on a temporary visa to work for a tree-spraying company, but after the business started withholding his paychecks and didn’t renew his visa, he joined Castro in launching their own venture. He and Castro planned to take care of his paperwork once she settled a divorce and they married. He was a hard worker, Castro said, who never drank or partied. And she, a U.S. citizen born and raised in Idaho, was always behind the wheel.Castro had been pulled over in Pennsylvania a few times before with the two men, but it had never caused a problem. In each case, officers always directed their questions to Castro, checking her license, insurance and registration, and issuing any tickets.But Macke quickly focused on her passengers.After Castro passed Macke her license, “the first thing he asked me is whether the people in my car had legal documentation, or whether they were aliens in the United States,” Castro said. She protested, arguing that it was “none of his business,” and he should stick to questioning her, the driver.“That’s when he told me that my vehicle was suspicious, and then he also told me there was human trafficking in the area,” she said. Get ProPublica’s Major Investigations by Email Macke held her two passengers for almost three hours until ICE officers showed up. Both men are now fighting deportation.“It exactly follows the pattern we’ve seen before of this trooper and the Pennsylvania State Police,” said Brennan Gian-Grasso, Amaya-Castellanos’ lawyer. “It’s a clearly pretextual stop.”The state police spokesman said Macke had observed “visible equipment violations” when pulling over Castro, and wrote her three tickets, the most serious one for driving a commercial vehicle that had been put out of service.“During the course of the investigation, one of the vehicle occupants presented a questionable, possibly fraudulent, foreign ID. ICE was contacted to assist with identification and ultimately made the decision to take custody of the individuals,” Tarkowski said. “Troopers are permitted to identify people with whom they come into contact. This is done in the interest of safety for all parties involved.”The previous story, which included a review of 30 traffic stops by Macke, noted that the trooper asked all Hispanic passengers for identification, yet only once questioned a non-Hispanic passenger, and only after the driver notified Macke that he had a gun in the car.Saying they don’t disclose personnel matters to the public, a spokesman for the agency refused to say whether Macke was disciplined for the cases detailed in the April report, including an instance in which he allegedly questioned and detained a man who was using a soda machine in his police barracks after hearing him speak Spanish.Macke did not reply to a message left on his personal cellphone this week.Lawyers said that without transparency about consequences for officers, or what is considered acceptable behavior, it will be difficult to know whether the new requirement will make a difference.“Is it going to be used to discipline and train officers like Officer Macke, who might be abusing their authority?” said Gian-Grasso. “It’s not clear that is the idea behind this.”
Illinois Lawmakers Demand Explanation on Children Stuck in Psychiatric Hospitals
by Duaa Eldeib Illinois lawmakers have asked state child welfare officials to explain why they routinely fail to find better homes for hundreds of children in psychiatric hospitals, leaving them trapped for weeks and sometimes months.State Sen. Julie Morrison, a Democrat from Deerfield, called for a public hearing after a ProPublica Illinois investigation last week revealed that children in the care of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services are confined to psychiatric hospitals after physicians have cleared them for release.The investigation found that, between 2015 and 2017, children and teens collectively spent more than 27,000 days stuck in psychiatric hospitals instead of in more appropriate placements, including residential treatment centers or foster homes. And the number of psychiatric admissions that went beyond medical necessity has surged, jumping from 88 in 2014 to 301 last year, an increase the department said it cannot explain.“I think they’re going to come out more damaged and more difficult to treat by leaving them in for extended periods of time beyond medical necessity,” Morrison said in an interview. “We’re hurting these children.” Get Email Updates from ProPublica Illinois Our newsletter is written by a ProPublica Illinois journalist every week. The ProPublica Illinois investigation found that DCFS spent nearly $7 million over the past three years on unnecessary psychiatric hospitalizations of children as young as 4. During that time, nearly 30 percent of all hospitalized children in DCFS care were held beyond medical necessity.Those children spent an average of 64 days in psychiatric hospitals — about six times the national average. The prolonged hospitalizations, doctors said, often caused children to deteriorate emotionally and behaviorally, miss critical developmental milestones and fall drastically behind in school.“It’s absolutely atrocious,” state Sen. Heather Steans, a Chicago Democrat, said of the findings. “These are locked-in facilities. These kids don’t even get to go outside. They should be getting placed without having to reach beyond medical necessity.”Steans, who joined Morrison in calling for the hearing, said DCFS officials in the past did not have satisfactory answers or solutions when asked about moving children who were languishing in psychiatric hospitals. Illinois law requires that DCFS place children in “the least restrictive (most family-like) setting” available that is in the child’s best interest.Morrison said she plans to schedule the hearing in the coming months in front of the Senate Human Services Committee. She said she expects DCFS to provide lawmakers with detailed information and statistics on the children being held beyond necessity as well as what the department is doing to address the problem.That may prove difficult, however, given the errors and incomplete information in the data the department provided to ProPublica Illinois in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.“I know this is a heavy lift,” Morrison said. “I know this can be costly. But you’re losing children in the system that we’re supposed to be protecting. I do think we’re causing more harm rather than putting them on the right path.” Beverly “B.J.” Walker was named acting director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services last year. She said addressing the problem of children languishing in psychiatric hospitals is a priority but the agency needs time to implement solutions. (Courtesy of Illinois Department of Children and Family Services) Neil Skene, special assistant to DCFS Acting Director Beverly “B.J.” Walker, said the hearing “will be an opportunity to increase legislators’ understanding of this challenge and to describe what we at DCFS are doing to develop the services young people need to avoid or shorten psychiatric hospitalization.”Charles Golbert, the Cook County acting public guardian, said he welcomed news of the public hearing as a way to “call attention and get answers to this problem that has been festering now for years.”The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which monitors DCFS as part of a federal consent decree, criticized the department’s approach in a statement that underscored DCFS’ “legal obligation to address this problem, not to excuse the harm it is inflicting on these youth because it is hard to care for them.”The ACLU will discuss the issue at an upcoming court hearing, spokesman Ed Yohnka said.DCFS officials for years have struggled to find homes for children ready to leave psychiatric hospitals, saying their complex diagnoses often make them the most challenging to place and that the state has far too few beds for children with severe mental illnesses. Following the story’s publication, DCFS issued a four-page primer, called “The Challenge of Youth in Psychiatric Hospitals,” to child welfare organizations and legislators across the state.“The narratives surrounding the lives of these children and youth are many and tragic,” Walker wrote in the document. “The reality is that, as a society, we have missed multiple opportunities to intervene before these children reach the DCFS ‘emergency room’ and then become (beyond medical necessity) at a hospital.”
Announcing ProPublica’s 21 Diversity Scholarship Recipients!
by Lena Groeger We’re excited to announce the 21 recipients of the 2018 ProPublica Diversity Scholarship. Each of these talented journalists will receive a $700 scholarship to attend one of the annual conferences put on by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the National Association of Black Journalists, the Asian American Journalists Association, the Native American Journalists Association and the Association of LGBTQ Journalists. This year’s recipients were chosen from among more than 275 applicants.We’ve written about what ProPublica is doing to increase the diversity of our newsroom and of the broader journalism community. This scholarship is part of our ongoing efforts and will help make it easier for journalists from underrepresented communities to take advantage of everything these conferences offer.Here are this year’s recipients:Ethan Bakuli Ethan Bakuli is a rising senior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, currently double majoring in Afro-American Studies and Journalism. This past year, he has been conducting research on systemic issues within the food system of Western Massachusetts. This summer he will be working with New England Public Radio as an intern for Media Lab, a program designed to mentor local high school students in producing their own audio narratives. As he moves forward in his career, he plans to focus his reporting on issues of race and public health. Ethan will be attending NABJ.Marita Pérez Díaz Marita Pérez Díaz recently received her MA in Magazine, Newspaper and Online Journalism at Newhouse in Syracuse University. She was awarded with a Syracuse University Graduate Fellowship for the 2017-2018 academic year. She has worked in Cuba as a reporter and editor since 2014 for the American publication OnCuba Magazine, based in Havana and Miami. Marita wants to use technology, multimedia and digital skills to tell the stories of people without a voice. Her dream is to keep building bridges of communication for Cubans inside and outside the island. Marita will be attending NAHJ.Isabel Dieppa Isabel Dieppa is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. She began her journalism career at Indiana University, working for the Indiana Daily Student. She is currently the communications coordinator at the National Immigrant Justice Center, and a contributor to Bust.com. Most recently, she worked on a seven-month investigation on sexual harassment at music festivals for MarieClaire.com. She has also contributed to the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo and Marie Claire Magazine. Isabel will be attending NAHJ.AJ Earl AJ Earl (Comanche Nation) graduated from the University of Washington - Tacoma with a degree in politics, philosophy and economics, and Portland State University with a degree in history. They will begin their Master’s in Public History at American University this fall. Their journalistic interests include covering Indigenous issues, Capitol Hill, and state and local politics. Most recently, they won first place in headline writing from the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association collegiate awards. AJ will be attending NAJA.Miacel Spotted Elk Miacel Spotted Elk is rising sophomore at the University of Utah, studying political science with a deep interest in tribal policy. They are an inspiring journalist aiming to amplify voices and issues in the indigenous community, particularly in investigative or radio journalism. They have worked at KCPW and KUER, two public radio stations in Utah, and are looking forward to building their skills at the NAJA conference this summer. They are Navajo and Northern Cheyenne, and identify within the LGBT community. Miacel will be attending NAJA.Andy Tsubasa Field Andy Field is a rising senior at the University of Oregon. During the AAJA conference in Houston, he will be interning as a Chips Quinn Scholar at The Tennessean in Nashville. Andy was a senior news reporter for The Emerald, a student newspaper, and wrote for Ethos Magazine, a student-run magazine. He has interned at Oregon Public Broadcasting, Eugene Weekly, The News Review and Woodlands Online and other publications. In 2017, he wrote a story about tea harvesters during a university-sponsored reporting trip to Sri Lanka. Andy will be attending AAJA.Mirian Fuentes Mirian Fuentes is a rising senior studying broadcast and digital journalism at the University of Southern California. She has interned at #EmergingUS and Define American, and is interested in telling and redefining how journalists tell diversity stories, especially around immigration. This fall, she will be co-managing USC’s Latinx outlet Dímelo. Her goal is to pursue a graduate degree in American Studies and be able to combine both disciplines to tell impactful stories. Mirian will be attending NAHJ.Lynda M. Gonzalez Lynda M. Gonzalez is a bilingual documentary multimedia journalist located in Austin, Texas, with primary interests in immigration, education, and public health. Before moving to Austin, she taught high school journalism in the Rio Grande Valley as a Teach For America 2012 Corps Member. She is currently pursuing a dual master’s degree in journalism and Latin American studies at The University of Texas at Austin and works as a photography intern at the Austin American-Statesman. Her published work has appeared in The Atlantic, the Austin American-Statesman, ¡Ahora Si!, KUT News Radio, KUTX Music Radio, Reporting Texas, and other publications. Lynda will be attending NAHJ.Andrew Jones Andrew “Drew” Jones is a rising senior majoring in print journalism at the University of Houston. He has worked as the campus editor of the student-run newspaper, The Daily Cougar, and was a copy desk intern for the Houston Chronicle. His reporting interests include technology, the internet and space. He will start a magazine fellowship this fall at Houstonia. Drew will be attending NABJ.Nicole Ki Nicole Ki is a rising senior, studying journalism and pursuing a certificate in Asian American Studies at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. Since breaking her first big story about a black student activist and his controversial clothing line that highlights racism, Nicole has been reporting for various local news outlets, including a UW student newspaper, the Badger Herald. She has also written for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. Nicole hopes to pursue investigative journalism and multimedia journalism and work for VICE or the New York Times on issues regarding marginalized communities or general news. Nicole will be attending AAJA.K. Dominic McKenzie K. Dominic McKenzie is a Hearst scholar at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Originally from Jamaica, he graduated from the historically black Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama, last May. He was an Obama White House HBCU Ambassador and CEO of a student-run production company, Three Oaks Studios. Dominic’s aspirations include anchoring and reporting on African-American and Afro-Caribbean communities in the U.S. He spent the last year focused on developing interactive journalism and coding skills to ensure his stories are supported by strong data and design. He will spend the summer as a Political Intern at NY1. Dominic will be attending NABJ.Isabeth Mendoza Isabeth Mendoza is a recent Masters graduate from Rollins School of Public Health at Emory. She plans to continue her learning by bridging multimedia journalism, health and storytelling. She has interned for StoryCorps Atlanta and All Things Considered at GPB News. Isabeth will be moving back to her hometown of Los Angeles to report on the intersectionality of public health in communities of color before returning to academia to pursue her Ph.D. Isabeth will be attending NAHJ.Julia Munslow Julia Munslow is a recent graduate of Emory University, where she studied English and creative writing. She served as editor-in-chief and executive editor of Emory’s independent award-winning student newspaper, The Emory Wheel. Originally from Rhode Island, she worked last summer as a news and politics intern for Yahoo News, where she’s returned to join the mobile editorial team. In 2019, she will serve as an English teaching assistant in Malaysia on a Fulbright grant. Julia will be attending AAJA.Anh Nguyen Anh Nguyen is an almost-graduate from Temple University in Philadelphia. She was born and raised in Vietnam where she developed a passion for storytelling and creative writing. She has produced stories for the Philadelphia Inquirer, PhiladelphiaNeighborhoods.com and the Temple News, her college newspaper. She is currently an intern at the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to support sustainable business models for local journalism. Anh’s reporting niche includes data-driven local stories and diversity advocacy. Anh will be attending AAJA.Rebecca Oh Rebecca Oh recently graduated from New York University with a degree in journalism. As one of the founders of NYU’s Coalition of Minority Journalists, they are passionate about coalition-building between Black, Latinx, Asian, Indigenous and LGBTQ journalists. Oh’s reporting interests include protests, LGBTQ-related policy and queer artistry. In the past, they have worked at PBS NewsHour, NBC OUT and MSNBC. Post-graduation, they will work as a news assistant at PBS NewsHour’s Arlington office. Rebecca will be attending NLGJA.Gabriel Pacheco Santa Gabriel Pacheco Santa is a rising senior studying chemical engineering and writing and communication at the University of Puerto Rico. He covers the news for the campus press office and on his personal blog, he reports on issues following Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis and the aftermath of hurricane María. This summer, Gabriel will be the audiences intern at El Nuevo Día, Puerto Rico’s newspaper of record. Gabriel loves to incorporate data visualizations and photography in his reporting and hopes to become an investigative journalist after completing a master’s degree in Spanish language journalism. Gabriel will be attending NAHJ.Lianza Reyes Lianza Reyes is a rising junior studying broadcast and digital journalism at Syracuse University. She is a recipient of the school’s 1870 Scholarship and has produced news in three languages. Most recently, she was the producer and director of Central New York’s only Spanish newscast, CitrusTV Noticias. This fall, she will be an executive producer for an evening newscast and work as the Editor-in-Chief of The International magazine. She hopes to someday run a newsroom of her own or to work on investigative news projects. Lianza will be attending NLGJA.Iman Saleh Iman Saleh is a rising senior at Wayne State University where she is a member of the Journalism Institute for Media Diversity. She’s contributed to campus newspapers, such as the Mirror News and The South End. She has also written for TechTown Detroit, BLAC Magazine and the Arab American National Museum. Saleh’s main career objective is to write about people of color and bring diverse voices into all sectors of the media. Iman will be attending NABJ.Jeanine Santucci Jeanine Santucci is a rising senior at Georgetown University studying justice and peace studies, journalism, and women’s and gender studies. Originally from Southern California, she is an aspiring journalist who has written for Washington City Paper, USA TODAY’s College network, and Street Sense Media about social inequalities, student activism, and D.C. news and culture. Jeanine is currently interning at NPR with the Office of the Ombudsman, where she is engaging with issues of journalistic ethics and the concerns of NPR’s audience. Jeanine will be attending NLGJA.Tallie Spencer Tallie Spencer recently graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a degree in communication studies and a minor in journalism. She is an intern at E! News as part of the social media team and has interned with FOX Broadcasting. This fall, she will attend the University of Southern California to pursue a master’s degree in journalism. Tallie strives to promote diversity and inclusion within journalism by highlighting stories that are typically underrepresented in mainstream media. Tallie will be attending NABJ.Heaven Taylor-Wynn Heaven Taylor-Wynn is a student at the University of Florida. She has reported for WUFT-TV, the Independent Florida Alligator and WUFT-FM. She was selected as an Emma Bowen Fellow and this summer she will intern with Politifact in St. Petersburg, Florida. Ultimately she aspires to tell stories that will merge her journalistic abilities and passion to solve the world’s most pressing social issues. Heaven will be attending NABJ.
Patients Wait in Limbo as St. Luke’s Heart Transplant Program Reviews Its Problems
by Charles Ornstein, ProPublica, and Mike Hixenbaugh, Houston Chronicle Earlier this month, when Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center in Houston announced it was temporarily suspending its renowned heart transplant program, it threw the care of dozens of patients into limbo, including some who have yet to hear directly from the hospital.Now those patients are left waiting to learn if the troubled program will restart Friday, at the end of a two-week internal review, or if it is in store for a much longer overhaul.Daniel Reed is among them. He and his wife, Nelly, traveled to Houston last weekend from their home, six hours away in the Rio Grande Valley, to search for a short-term apartment where she can stay after he receives a new heart. They were surprised to learn from a reporter that the hospital had put the transplant program on hold after three of the nine patients to receive a heart transplant in 2018 died.“I sort of feel like we’ve been left in the dark,” Nelly Reed said.The voluntary suspension, announced on June 1, came after an investigation by ProPublica and the Houston Chronicle revealed persistent problems with the program, which in recent years has experienced an exodus of top doctors and a higher-than-expected death rate among patients within a year of transplants.Reed is among 89 people awaiting a heart transplant at St. Luke’s, though only a half dozen are high on the waiting list and at risk of missing opportunities for a new heart during the two-week suspension. But if the program doesn’t reopen by Friday, that will trigger additional regulatory requirements that could force it to remain suspended for weeks or months longer, potentially affecting the fate of every patient awaiting a heart at St. Luke’s. Get ProPublica’s Top Stories by Email In a written response to questions, a St. Luke’s spokeswoman said the hospital directly contacted the most critically ill patients on its waiting list “and others as available” to make them aware of the suspension. Meanwhile, she said, the hospital is continuing its internal review and “will determine next steps for the program at the end of the 14-day period this Friday.”The investigation last month by ProPublica and the Chronicle revealed that multiple heart transplant recipients have suffered unusual complications since 2016, including two who had major veins stitched closed during surgery, according to numerous sources. Another patient’s heart transplant failed this year after operating-room equipment malfunctioned during a key stage of surgery.The problems led a few St. Luke’s cardiologists, starting two years ago, to begin referring some of their sickest patients to other hospitals, and in January, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services cited the program for its poor outcomes.In response to the news reports, the hospital launched a marketing website, HeartTransplantFacts.org, boasting above-average outcomes following one bad year, 2015. Two weeks later, on June 1, the site was stripped of most of its promotional content and replaced with a video of a St. Luke’s official announcing the decision to suspend the program for 14 days following the two most recent patient deaths.Given the scope of the problems, some experts question whether St. Luke’s can make all the necessary changes so quickly.“I seriously doubt, being in transplantation the last 25 years, they are going to be able to do it in 14 days,” said Alexander Aussi, a San Antonio-based consultant who specializes in helping transplant programs satisfy regulatory requirements. A decade ago, Aussi was a top administrator over a California heart transplant program that suspended operations for more than three years in order to make improvements. He noted that St. Luke’s has recently advertised openings in several key positions related to the heart transplant program, including for a surgeon to replace one who left last month, an administrator to direct heart and lung transplantation and a vice president to oversee all of the hospital’s transplant operations. The hospital also has posted openings for several nursing positions in the heart program.The wave of openings leads Aussi to believe that St. Luke’s is heading for a major overhaul.“That’s why I think they are going to extend that inactivation period,” said Aussi, now the chief operating officer of the consulting firm Guidry & East. “Because what they have is symptomatic of a much larger problem that is multifactorial and systemic in nature. It’s not one thing.”When a transplant program is inactivated for more than two weeks, the United Network for Organ Sharing — or UNOS, the federal contractor that oversees the nation’s organ wait list — imposes additional requirements before allowing a program to restart. That regulatory process, intended to protect patients and ensure the most efficient use of limited donor organs, can sometimes take several months, according to experts.A program that is inactive for more than 14 days is also required to send written notice to every patient on its waiting list and to assist those who wish to transfer to other programs. In Houston, two other hospitals perform heart transplants. Houston Methodist and Memorial Hermann are each a short walk from St. Luke’s and have posted better patient survival rates in recent years.As patients await word on the transplant program’s future, St. Luke’s has warned staff members against posting on social media or talking to reporters. Last week, St. Luke’s CEO Gay Nord sent a note to all staff members reminding them not to release “ANY information whatsoever to members of the news media regarding patient care or business operations” without permission from the hospital’s marketing staff, lest they run afoul of patient privacy laws and risk losing their jobs. A staff member promptly forwarded the memo to reporters.A hospital spokeswoman said the note from Nord came in response to “complaints we received from patients and concerns that personal information was being disclosed inappropriately.”After the ProPublica and Chronicle reports last month, the hospital released a statement characterizing the news organizations’ findings as “inaccurate” and “incomplete,” although it has cited no errors. St. Luke’s “Heart Transplant Facts” website touted better-than-expected outcomes in 2016 and 2017, but at least two — and perhaps all three — of the patient deaths this year occurred before the website was launched. A hospital spokeswoman said the website did not include 2018 outcomes because “we do not yet have year-end figures for this year.”St. Luke’s legacy as a leader in heart care has drawn patients from across Texas and around the country. Famed surgeon Denton Cooley performed some of the world’s first heart transplants at St. Luke’s five decades ago, and the program has performed more than 1,400 since then, among the most in the nation.That history gave Reed, 47, and his wife confidence after he suffered a major heart attack three years ago, and it is why they have continued to travel more than 300 miles to the hospital from their home in Harlingen, near the U.S.-Mexico border. In 2015, a St. Luke’s surgeon implanted a left ventricular assist device in Reed to keep his weakened heart going long enough for a transplant.He’s worked to lose weight, exercise and stay healthy since then, hoping to make himself a stronger candidate for a new heart. Nelly Reed quit her job to help take care of her husband and, in anticipation of his transplant, has been trying to find a job near the hospital so she can earn money while he recovers from the surgery.When the Reeds visited St. Luke’s for their monthly appointment only days before the hospital announced it was halting heart transplant operations, nobody mentioned any of the recent problems. The visit filled them with hope: Five of the six patients in the clinic that day had already received transplants and were thriving — one for 25 years, another for a decade.“I was really optimistic and really in awe,” Nelly Reed said. “I was under the assumption that they were the best. The treatment there has always been wonderful.”The couple connected 20 years ago in an online chatroom and, soon after meeting in person, fell in love. Daniel’s heart troubles have been stressful, but Nelly said she has tried to allow him to focus on his health. She handles all of the medical and insurance paperwork and stays on top of his appointments.“I tell him don’t worry,” she said. “Don’t worry.”They spent Saturday and Sunday in Houston, filling out applications for work and short-term apartments. It’s hard to be so far from home, Nelly Reed said, but it’s worth it if it means her husband receives the best care possible.Now, after learning about the program’s voluntary suspension, she’s not sure what to think.“Do we need to change providers? Doctors?” she said. “I don’t know where to go.”
The Administration of Mayor Rahm Emanuel Keeps Monitoring Protesters
by Mick Dumke Even before thousands of demonstrators gathered in downtown Chicago to speak out against President Donald Trump’s inauguration last year, city police were watching.Recently released police and city records show that officers combed through social media posts and opened a formal information-gathering investigation into the protesters.Then, throughout that day — Jan. 20, 2017 — police and top aides to Mayor Rahm Emanuel closely tracked the movements of protesters, from when they boarded trains and buses in their neighborhoods and continuing through hours of rallies and marches in the Loop.It was another example of how the Emanuel administration routinely tracks protesters and activist groups, according to records I’ve acquired over the last several years through the Freedom of Information Act.Now the mayor and police department may soon be able to use drones to monitor demonstrations and other public events.This spring, mayoral allies in the Illinois General Assembly helped pass a measure that would allow law enforcement agencies statewide to use drones for “legitimate public safety purposes” at public gatherings, including to keep tabs on crowd movements. Each department would have to submit an annual report to the state on its drone usage, but otherwise would largely be able to create its own policies. The bill hasn’t been sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner yet.Chicago’s police and political leaders have a long, troubled history of snooping on groups exercising their First Amendment rights. Police investigated demonstrators and activists under Emanuel’s predecessor, Richard M. Daley. And for decades before that, including the 20-year reign of Daley’s father, Richard J. Daley, the department’s Red Squad infiltrated dissident groups, civil rights organizations, and others seen as opponents of City Hall. The unit was dismantled in the 1970s and the department adopted new rules that were supposed to safeguard civil rights.Still, the police department has opened investigations to monitor, infiltrate or conduct surveillance on protest groups at least five times since Emanuel became mayor in 2011, records show. Its previous targets included Occupy Chicago protesters, opponents of the 2012 NATO summit, Black Lives Matter activists, and Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation, a network of churches and neighborhood groups.As events on Inauguration Day show, the Chicago Police Department and other city agencies already maintain an extensive camera, data-collection and communications network to keep tabs on protests and other public gatherings. Scores of protesters gathered in front of Trump Tower in Chicago during a demonstration on Inauguration Day 2017. (Dakota Sillyman/NurPhoto via Getty Images) In late 2016, two activists created a Facebook page to announce plans for an Inauguration Day protest outside Trump International Hotel and Tower in downtown Chicago. Eventually 23,000 people indicated they were interested. Hundreds commented on the event’s Facebook page.From the beginning, organizers stressed that they wanted the event to be peaceful and focused on speaking out against hate. But dozens of the comments on the Facebook page came from Trump supporters who mocked supporters of Hillary Clinton and other “liberals,” often with crude language.On Jan. 19, 2017, a suburban man named Jeffrey Jacobs weighed in.“Good place for a bomb downstairs Wacker,” Jacobs wrote, referring to the lower level of Wacker Drive, below the spot where protesters planned to gather across the river from Trump Tower. “In one of those homeless persons tents [sic].”Even a cursory look at Jacobs showed he wasn’t an anti-Trump protester. On Facebook he had “liked” pages such as the Tea Party Patriots, “Ban liberals not guns,” “Not voting for Monica Lewinsky’s ex boyfriend’s wife,” and Occupy Democrats. His post about bombing Lower Wacker also prompted reprimands from other commenters.When I reached Jacobs by phone recently, he volunteered that he voted for Trump. He also told me his Facebook comment was meant to be “sarcastic” — his way of saying that demonstrations can be dangerous when they take over the streets.“I consider that a riot when they come down and protest,” Jacobs said.Police analysts highlighted the comment last year as they were conducting “reviews” of social media about the planned protests, according to department records. The next morning, police Commander Leo Panepinto cited it in paperwork requesting approval to open an investigation. He also wrote that other commenters, including some he described as “Black Bloc” members, discussed “civil disobedience.”That, he said, raised the possibility of violence. He didn’t name these commenters.Panepinto is the commanding officer at the department’s Crime Prevention and Information Center, or CPIC, where police analyze information on crimes and public events alongside officials from the FBI and the federal Department of Homeland Security.“To allow for lawful demonstrations to take place and to investigate the threat and possible criminal acts that are associated with these postings,” he wrote, “analysts will review the main sites that call for gatherings and then drill down on individuals that are associated with the threats.”That seemed to indicate that, as part of the investigation, police would look into the Facebook post about violence. Get Email Updates from ProPublica Illinois Panepinto then asked for legal approval to “monitor” the protest event page and other social media — even though his analysts had already been doing so, as he wrote in his investigation request.Under the department’s rules, Chicago police are allowed to monitor, infiltrate or conduct surveillance on protesters and political groups — in what they call “Investigations Directed at First Amendment-Related Information” — if they can establish a “reasonable law enforcement purpose” for doing so. But the approval doesn’t come from anyone on the outside; the department’s lawyers make the call.In this case, the lawyers signed off on the investigation, and police continued to go through protesters’ social media.Meanwhile, both the department and the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications tracked protesters in real time. The information was then shared with top mayoral aides.Shortly after 11 a.m. on Inauguration Day, for example, Anthony Pascente, the city’s deputy chief operating officer, emailed a protest update to then-Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp, chief of staff Joe Deal, mayoral spokesman Adam Collins and other city officials. Pascente informed the group that students from Juarez High School in Pilsen were planning to attend a protest in the Loop that afternoon. He and police officials also sent updates about groups headed downtown from Pilsen and the Near North Side.Two hours later, a dispatch from CPIC informed Emanuel aides and other police officials that the Juarez students were on their way.Just before 3 p.m., CPIC issued another bulletin noting that students and other protesters had assembled in the Loop, and more were coming: “Approximately 35 people have boarded the Red Line and are heading to Daley Plaza.”Over the next eight hours, police and other city officials kept tabs on crowds that grew to thousands of protesters as they took trains and buses downtown, gathered near Trump Tower and eventually split off into several marches. One group shut down sections of Lake Shore Drive.Along the way, police arrested 16 people for misdemeanor offenses such as waving flares, obstructing traffic and running into police officers on bikes. None resulted in a conviction, though one case is pending.Early the next morning, Panepinto filled out paperwork to close his inquiry into the protests. He noted the arrests but offered no additional details of what investigators had done.But Jacobs — whose bomb comment was used as a reason for the investigation — told me he was never contacted by the police or any other law enforcement agency. That’s because police concluded the comment wasn’t “credible,” department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi wrote me in an email. Guglielmi said police received a tip about Jacobs’ post and then opened their investigation — which is a different account than the one Panepinto offered in his paperwork.“The Department reviewed the tip and vetted the information,” Guglielmi wrote. “It was determined that it was not credible and there was no further need to question the poster.”Both Guglielmi and a statement from the mayor’s office said city departments team up to ensure public safety while protecting citizens’ First Amendment rights.Drones would simply enhance those efforts, they said, by adding to their camera network while costing less than using helicopters, which police are already able to do.“The proposed changes to the Drone Act strengthen the transparency requirements set forth under current law,” Guglielmi wrote, pointing to its annual reporting mandate.But many questions remain.Officials in Chicago and beyond are expanding their abilities to watch people in the name of public safety, but the public has little ability to watch them back.
Welcome to Our Second Decade
by Stephen Engelberg, Richard Tofel, and Robin Fields Dear Readers,A decade ago, we announced the publication of ProPublica’s first stories with a brief note that said: “Welcome to the Starting Line.”Our lead item summed up a Wall Street Journal report on a Justice Department investigation into “what officials suspect are efforts by Russian-backed firms to gain influence or gather information in Washington,” focusing on an aide to former Pennsylvania Rep. Curt Weldon. Amazingly, last week it came out that the Senate Judiciary Committee is poking into Weldon’s connections as part of its investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow during the 2016 presidential election.It’s like no time has passed at all! Get ProPublica’s Major Investigations by Email Seriously, though, our work from that first day reminds us how little we knew then about where we were headed or whether our theories for how ProPublica might work would pan out.Our model for distributing stories — partnerships with major news outlets like NPR, 60 Minutes, The Washington Post or The Atlantic — was untested. None of us were sure we would be able to overcome such news organizations’ historic skepticism toward investigative reporting done by outsiders. Given that our web traffic at the time consisted, basically, of our families and friends, the question of what we would do if no one wanted to partner with us was not trivial.We did have in hand the Sandler Foundation’s pledge of $10 million a year to underwrite three years of operations as well as a few other donations, financial security that allowed us to recruit top talent. But there was no clear sense of where the money would come from when we attempted to attract a broader group of backers.A surprisingly large number of people applied for jobs — more than 1,100 — and 20 brave souls agreed to join us in search of stories with “moral force” that would expose betrayals of the public trust and abuses of power.In our June 10, 2008 note, which was signed by founding editor Paul Steiger and managing editor Stephen Engelberg, we acknowledged that ProPublica was something of an “experiment.” Frankly, we were making the whole thing up on the fly.One of our very first editorial collaborations, with another brash startup called Politico, was arranged in a conference call that lasted all of seven minutes. Some of the features we launched that first day were soon abandoned as it became clear they served neither readers nor our larger goals. (Remember “Scandal Watch,” in which editors ranked the top 5 investigations of the moment by their sense of the “intensity” of coverage they generated? Yep, we thought not.)Still, it is striking how many of the core values have persisted. We remain committed to taking on investigations that otherwise wouldn’t get done, that demand change, and that shine a light on subjects that get little attention elsewhere. We’re still eager to engage with readers and people affected by our work.To be sure, the past 10 years have been a period of intense, disorienting change for both the business of journalism and the nation as a whole.The decline of America’s newspapers was well under way when we opened our doors, but the severity of the crisis was only beginning to become evident. In the years that followed, newspaper after newspaper would slash their reporting and editing staffs, with many cut by as much as 75 percent. As we began our fundraising efforts in earnest in 2010, more than one donor said they were willing to give to ProPublica on a limited basis, until we and other nonprofits came up with a new business model that would be self-sustaining. We saw no such model on the horizon and argued that much of muckraking would soon be funded like the ballet or symphony orchestra, paid for by philanthropists large and small who saw investigative reporting as an essential element in a democracy.Today, it is clear that an increasing number of people find these arguments persuasive. More than 34,000 people contributed to ProPublica last year. Our budget has grown to nearly $24 million, which supports about 120 employees working at our national operation and at ProPublica Illinois, a regional unit that began publishing late last year.We’ve been thrilled and humbled to make a lot of friends in our decade of existence. Thousands of people now give us a few dollars every month, a flow of smaller donations that added up to $4.7 million last year.We’ve also made the subjects of more than a few investigations see red.ProPublica reporters have covered three administrations — two led by Republican presidents and one by a Democrat. We’ve had a testy relationship with every one of them, and that’s no surprise. Investigative reporting sets out to reveal what those in power most want to hide, their mistakes, misjudgments, and, sometimes, their corruption. We do so without regard to party affiliation or political outlook.Our first major piece, a look at the Bush Administration’s Arabic language news service, revealed that the government was spending taxpayer money on a pro-Iranian, anti-American channel that had given air time to a militant who called for the death of American soldiers in Iraq. A few months later, President Obama was in the White House and the country was gripped by a financial meltdown. We published story after story about the failings of the Obama Administration to help cash-strapped homeowners avoid foreclosure. We pointed out that the administration hadn’t done much to prosecute bank executives whose decisions cost tens of millions of Americans their jobs. And we pointed out federal officials’ striking reluctance to enforce the nation’s fair housing laws or to correct racial bias in presidential pardons.Over the past two years, our work on the Trump Administration has put us among the journalists the president has termed “enemies of the people.” A seemingly uncontroversial story that accurately reported on President Trump’s ability to access money in his trust prompted the White House press secretary to dismiss ProPublica as a “left wing blog.”If these somewhat adversarial relationships have been a constant, some things have clearly shifted or evolved. Some of the biggest changes have come in how we distribute our journalism and build communities that feed it. Twitter was less than 2 years old when we launched in 2008. We didn’t see a lot of relevance to investigative reporting in a “micro-blogging” site that limited posts to 140 characters. Boy were we wrong. Today, ProPublica has more than 730,000 Twitter followers and this platform, along with others, helps us find sources and readers for our stories whether we have a publishing partner or not.Our use of data analysis and visual storytelling has expanded substantially. The initial staff of ProPublica included just two people who knew how to write computer code and could put our stories on the web and create, when needed, a graphic or two. In the years that followed, we’ve added a team of data journalists and news application developers, as well as web designers and producers. We’ve taken on some of the most sophisticated statistical work ever attempted by journalists, exposing the racial biases in an algorithm meant to help judges forecast future criminality and comparing individual surgeons’ complication rates. We’ve harnessed large data sets to empower consumers, creating features like Dollars for Docs, which has been used nearly 20 million times to look up payments doctors received from pharmaceutical companies. (Our latest update to it is coming this week.) We’ve built immersive interactives like “Hell and High Water,” a collaboration with the Texas Tribune, which presciently showed the perils Houston, America’s fourth-largest city, could face from a major hurricane — almost a year and a half before Hurricane Harvey hit. Perhaps the achievement we’re most proud of at ProPublica is the impact of our work. In a cynical age when many believe that the outcomes are “rigged” and unchangeable, we have shown that powerful, fact-based journalism has the potential to change minds and laws.Two examples from the early days: California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tossed out most of the state’s nursing board less than 48 hours after we published a story with the Los Angeles Times in mid-2009 showing how the board’s woeful oversight allowed dangerous nurses to keep working. That same year, we were among the first to focus on the possible downsides to fracking, a then little-known approach to gas drilling. Our stories spurred the state of New York to impose a ban on the practice that remains in place 10 years later.More recently, after a series we did with the New York Daily News on abuses of the city’s nuisance abatement law, the New York City Council passed a sweeping reform package to protect people from being unjustly forced from their homes or businesses. One of the inaugural projects from ProPublica Illinois, which we continued in partnership with the Chicago Tribune after it originally launched there, exposed devastating inequities in property tax assessments done by the Cook County Assessor. In the wake of this reporting, the assessor, who also served as the chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party, was defeated for reelection.Just two weeks ago, we focused national attention on the dubious forensic science of bloodstain pattern analysis.Change is a constant. We have little doubt that the 2028 “Dear Readers” note will look back with a mix of whimsy and nostalgia at the way we do things in 2018. But we have every reason to believe that the value of fact-based, meticulously documented journalism will remain. Thank you for making all of this possible.And keep in touch.Stephen Engelberg, Dick Tofel and Robin Fields
Five First Responders to the Pulse Massacre. One Diagnosis: PTSD.
by Abe Aboraya, WMFE On the morning of June 12, 2016, police officer Omar Delgado pulled his cruiser up to his two-story townhome in Sanford, Florida, and sat in silence for 15 minutes, trying to process what he had seen during 3 1/2 hours inside the Pulse nightclub.He stripped his bloody uniform and gear off, put them in a trash bag, and took a shower. Then, he shut the door to his bedroom, locked it and tried to sleep.That same morning, firefighter EMT Brian Stilwell walked back to Orlando Fire Department Station 5. Working at the station just 300 feet from Pulse nightclub, Stilwell was one of the first on scene hours earlier.In the dawn’s light, he saw a pool of coagulated blood in front of the station. It was from a Pulse patron who had been shot in the stomach and dragged to that spot. Stilwell wondered if the man survived the night. Then, with a bucket of bleach and water, he helped clean the blood off the concrete.Down Orange Avenue, Alison Clarke and a fellow Orlando Police officer walked into a McDonald’s to use the bathroom. The restaurant had a TV with the news on, streaming live video of the scene she had just come from. People looked up from their coffee and breakfast, glanced at her and her partner, then back to the food. She used the restroom, washed up and bought two coffees. No one said anything. It was surreal.Josh Granada and his partner drove their ambulance back across town to their Orlando Fire station. They spent the night ferrying 13 people who had been shot at Pulse to the hospital. Before showering, they threw away their uniforms.“We were covered in just sticky, nasty — just covered in blood,” Granada said. “I’m not gonna put that much blood in the washer.” Get ProPublica’s Weekly Email Roundup Orlando Police officer Gerry Realin was called in from vacation on June 12 to work a 16-hour shift the morning after the shooting. He spent four or five hours of that inside the nightclub, preparing bodies to be taken to the morgue, and it wasn’t until 2:30 a.m. the following day that he came back to his home in New Smyrna Beach, an hour northeast of Orlando. He looked in on his two sleeping children. In the shower, he started wailing. Outside the bathroom, his wife heard him saying, over and over again, how sorry he was for the victims.“I never saw myself in this position,” he would later say. “I’ve never been the same since, and I can’t go back.”Pulse was one of the nation’s largest mass shootings, where 49 people died and at least 53 others were wounded. The invisible injuries to first responders represent another toll of the catastrophe.For these five first responders — and many others — June 12 was the first day of their new lives, one in which they would confront post-traumatic stress disorder. Even though most had responded to gruesome scenes of murder, suicide and car accidents, that didn’t prepare them for the psychological injury of PTSD. Going forward, they would relive that day in flashbacks and nightmares, see danger behind every closed door, and become irritable and impatient with spouses and coworkers.“There are just some events that are so horrific that no human being should be able to just process that and put it away,” said Deborah Beidel, a University of Central Florida professor who runs a clinic called UCF Restores that treats first responders with PTSD.Some of the five also would face indifference, resistance and harassment from the departments they served. One said he was fired because of PTSD, another was fired for a mistake on the job, and a third was never cleared to return to work. They said they were subjected to retaliation for speaking up. Those three have each filed lawsuits asserting they’ve been mistreated.The other two were offered work reassignments to seek treatment and reduce stress, and said they were satisfied with their agencies’ responses.Orlando Police Department Chief John Mina said he’s been through counseling himself, and that officers dealing with PTSD can come forward to get treatment and request a change of assignment without affecting future promotions and transfers. Orlando Fire Department Chief Roderick Williams likewise said his department provides resources to help firefighters confronting PTSD.But if employees disclose that they’re dealing with PTSD or mental health issues, they can be given a “fit for duty” test, both Mina and Williams said.“We wouldn’t want someone out on the street who was having issues,” Mina said. “We may be held liable because of that, because we knew about that. But again, I’ll go back to the fact that they don’t have to come forward. They can receive treatment anonymously.” People visit the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, where a memorial has been set up, in May. (Cassi Alexandra, special to ProPublica) The Nightmares Began ImmediatelyIn his bedroom alone the morning after the shooting, Eatonville Police Officer Omar Delgado had his first nightmare: He’s back inside Pulse, bodies stacked on each other on the dance floor. He’s dragging one of the victims out when the rapid gunfire starts again.“And I’m yelling, get down, get down, get down!” Delgado said. “Not knowing if he’s shooting at us because we’re pulling bodies out, he’s maybe upset or whatever. Not knowing where the bullets were making their way. When you’re trying to pull somebody and you slip and fall and now you’re on the ground, trying to take cover because you don’t know where the shooting is coming from.”Even though two years have passed, Delgado says he often has that same nightmare. Delgado stayed inside Pulse for more than three hours while the shooter was barricaded in a bathroom. When the smell of gunpowder, blood, death and liquor got to be too much, he tried to breathe through his mouth. Then he tasted it.He now has flashbacks. One of his triggers: The default iPhone marimba ringtone. While Delgado was inside Pulse, phones rang and rang and rang. Sometimes he could see the caller ID. Mom, sister, friend. He saw one phone vibrate and slide away in a pool of blood.“I hear an iPhone ring and I freeze. I pause. I’m back there a quick second,” Delgado said. “Then I realize, OK, I’m not there, I’m here, I’m OK.”In August of 2016, Delgado told his department that he couldn’t keep working as a patrol officer. His bosses ordered him to report to the University of Central Florida’s Restores clinic.The clinic was originally funded by the U.S. Department of Defense for post-9/11 combat veterans with PTSD. It uses virtual reality, sounds and smells to recreate the scenes of war — exposure therapy in which participants relive the events that caused their PTSD and the triggers that provoke flashbacks and nightmares. Such therapy has been shown to reduce symptoms for some, and is combined with group therapy for anger, depression, guilt and social isolation.After Pulse, UCF Restores opened its doors to first responders. So for three weeks, Delgado sat and recounted, in vivid detail, everything that happened inside Pulse.Near the end of the third week, his counselor took him on a field trip back to Pulse. They pulled into the Einstein Bros. Bagels parking lot across the street from the nightclub, which was used as a triage site the night of the shooting. Delgado didn’t want to get out of the car.“I got angry,” Delgado said. “Where you’re standing, there were nothing but bodies laying around here.”The counselor wanted him to start at the intersection of Orange Avenue and Kaley Street, where he first pulled up to the scene, and recount what happened. To walk across the street and get close to the club. “It was just way, way too much for me.” Hear Omar Delgado describe returning to Pulse as part of UCF Restores’ therapy for PTSD. Play the audioCassi Alexandra, special to ProPublica “The icing on the cake was when I heard an ambulance or a fire truck with their sirens going off, and I couldn’t take it anymore,” Delgado said. “I dropped to my knees and started crying like a little 5-year-old on the corner of Orange and Kaley. A hundred plus degrees outside, I didn’t care. I just got overtaken. It was just way, way too much for me.”The UCF Restores program typically lasts three weeks. Delgado spent 10 weeks going through the program. He said it was hell repeatedly reliving Pulse.“Did it help? I don’t know. Did it make it worse? I don’t know,” Delgado said. “But I’m not well. And when you’re not well, is something working?”In total, 26 Pulse first responders have been evaluated by or treated at the UCF Restores clinic, including the five interviewed for this story. Another 96 first responders have gone through the program for events not related to Pulse.The clinic says that 60 to 70 percent of the people who complete the program no longer meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD, meaning their symptoms are no longer disabling. Police and fire departments like the clinic because it’s nearby, effective and free — funded by state and federal governments. Many first responders say they like the program because it’s a neutral place to get treatment without tipping off their departments.But some first responders like Delgado worry the clinic isn’t enough. Until this year, the UCF Restores clinic didn’t have a psychiatrist available to see patients and write prescriptions. In the first year after the shooting, the therapy was provided by a psychologist leading a team of doctoral students. With more state funding, the therapy is now done entirely by licensed, full-time clinicians.Moreover, exposure therapy can worsen symptoms if it’s done too soon, said Beidel, who runs the clinic.“We don’t want to do treatment in the first couple months,” Beidel said. “That can make people worse in some cases. Three to six months is the sweet spot. We want to get people into treatment before patterns of avoidance set in, before patterns of using too much alcohol to sleep set in.” After Delgado’s 10 weeks in the UCF Restores program, the Eatonville Police Department gave him a “fit for duty” test and put him back on the road. Afterward, a citizen complained that when Delgado and his partner arrested her, Delgado told her, “I’m emotionally disturbed right now.”In December 2017, Eatonville terminated Delgado. During a press conference that month, city officials said Delgado was terminated because of his behavior during the arrest. But in his personnel file, obtained by WMFE under Florida’s public records laws, officials cite medical reasons. Delgado says department leaders told him it was because of his PTSD. Eatonville’s mayor, chief administrative officer and the police chief at the time declined to comment for this story through the town clerk.“I believe they [the city of Eatonville] should have stepped up and found more therapy for me,” Delgado said. “There are so many programs out there now. They looked at one and that was the end of it and they thought it was gonna be the cure for all, and it wasn’t.”Struggling at Home, and on the JobAs the first anniversary of the nightclub shooting approached, Amber Granada woke up at 5 a.m. to her husband Josh searching, angrily, for a bloodstone bracelet.He was slamming drawers. He asked if the dogs took it. He asked if Amber took it.Then, Josh walked out of the bedroom and kicked the couch. It slid into the coffee table, knocking the glass coasters to the ground and shattering them. The couple’s two dogs scattered. Amber started crying. She handed Josh a different bracelet and told him to leave the house.His face was red. His eyes were bulging. He screamed: “It’s not the bloodstone!”“And I’m looking at him like, I have no idea who this is,” Amber said. “He ends up just leaving, slams the door. He leaves and I’m sitting there on my hands and knees like mopping up this shattered glass that’s all over the floor in tears because I have no idea what that was.”This was the first time Amber realized something was wrong. Right after Pulse, Josh Granada had trouble sleeping and nightmares. His coworkers at the Orlando Fire Department also noticed his temper flare in ways they hadn’t seen before. That didn’t stop him from putting in for a promotion and being elevated to an engineer. Granada and his partner Carlos Tavares were among Florida’s firefighters of the year in 2017 for their response to Pulse.But as the first anniversary approached, journalists sought out Granada and Tavares to ask about what they saw that night. The anxiousness he had right after the shooting returned, along with the nightmares.Around the same time, Granada drove his ambulance by Pulse for the first time since the shooting. He looked over at the nightclub, which had become a makeshift memorial of flowers and mementos to the dead. Then he looked across the street, at the Einstein Bros. Bagels.In his mind, he saw blood running down the driveway and into the storm drain. “And I knew it wasn’t there, but I saw it plain as day,” Granada said. “And that’s what it was that night. The night we were there, that’s exactly what it looked like. There were so many people dying and bleeding behind Einstein that it was literally a pool that was coming down the driveway … and running into the gutters … and I just remember that image. And it still sticks with me. I can still see it.”That night, survivors grabbed Granada, begging for help, and slapped the windshield of his ambulance when it was full. There were so many patients, Granada used a penlight and gauze to make tourniquets when the supplies ran out. Two patients died at the triage site and had to be placed off to the side with a makeshift curtain around them.“I saw a guy crawling and take his last breath,” Granada said. “It was horrible.”Granada’s home life and professional life suffered as his PTSD symptoms grew worse. The other responders interviewed for this story described similar problems.Granada’s wife Amber told him to ask the department for help. Granada decided his family life was worth more than his pride. In June 2017, he told his lieutenant at the fire department about the flashback when he drove by Pulse.On July 19, 2017, Lt. Gregg McLay wrote an email to the district chief in charge of health and safety at the Orlando Fire Department, recommending that Granada be given an excused absence with pay to go into the UCF Restores program.Then, Granada waited. And waited.Finally, in August, McLay told Granada that he had been told that a top Fire Department official had said, “PTSD is bullshit. These pussies need to man up,” Granada said.“And the second I [was] told that, I got really depressed and stressed. I didn’t really tell anybody… but that’s when I started having suicidal thoughts.”On August 17, Granada broke the chain of command and wrote an email directly to deputy fire chief Gary Fussell, the man he believed was blocking his access to care.“It has been well over 2 months since I reached out to the department for help,” Granada wrote. “Two long months of waiting for something to happen while our administration has no sense of urgency or care.”Three hours after Granada sent the email, McLay sent another email to the district chief in charge of health and safety, copying Granada. McLay seemed frustrated — both that Granada broke chain of command and at the administration’s slow response to Granada’s request.“I will be totally honest with both of you,” McLay wrote. “Our department [takes people off shift] all the time. If a person was to ask [for] help for a substance abuse problem, he is immediately taken off shift and offered help. In this case, Josh is seeking help and the licensed mental health professional that he is seeing is recommending a beautiful opportunity for him to be with fellow workers and military to share stories and coping skills.”But Granada wasn’t taken off duty. Instead, 10 days after that email, he made a mistake that would cost him his job.It was a routine medical call. A woman didn’t check out of the penthouse suite at the Doubletree hotel near the theme parks, and she was unresponsive. When paramedics woke her up by rubbing her sternum with their knuckles, Granada says she started yelling. Granada pulled out his iPhone, started the audio recorder, and put it back in his pocket.The patient refused treatment and everyone left. Back at the fire station, Granada played the recording for his coworkers at the dinner table before he deleted it, a possible violation of federal and state privacy laws.The next day, an internal investigation was started. The patient he recorded was Orlando City Commissioner Regina Hill. Granada wrote an email admitting what happened and apologizing, saying it was “not a smart idea.” Hill filed a complaint with the Orlando Police Department, alleging Granada violated her privacy.Granada was put on light duty while internal affairs investigators spent three months looking into what happened. During that time, he was finally able to go to the UCF Restores program for PTSD therapy.Ultimately, Granda was fired for violating two department policies and for violating state law by recording someone without consent. He is currently suing the Orlando Fire Department in the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court in Orange County for wrongful termination, and alleging that the city violated a state law that protects people who file worker’s compensation claims from retaliation. The department has denied wrongdoing, saying in a pleading in response to Granada’s lawsuit that the city “is not liable because it also had valid, legal reasons for taking the adverse employment action.”McLay, Granada’s boss, told a reporter that he would be not be able to speak without permission from the Orlando Fire Department. The department refused, citing the lawsuit. In court documents, the city denied that an official had said “PTSD is bullshit.”If Granada is unsuccessful in court, his firing will have very real consequences: He will not be eligible for any kind of pension.“The second I raised my hand and said something’s wrong with me in June, they should have pulled me off shift,” Granada said. “I should have been getting help. I never should have been allowed to run those calls, day in and day out, my head was not right, I can admit. My head’s still not right.”In a job evaluation less than a month before Granada was fired, obtained by WMFE under Florida’s public records laws, McLay wrote that Granada was “without a doubt one of the department’s sharpest medics.” But he was having spontaneous outbursts, and McLay wrote that Granada “started to unravel” when there were delays getting into treatment.“I do not think this is a true character of Josh,” McLay wrote. “I believe he is struggling inside and needing some guidance to get past this hurdle.”“Get Over It and Move On”Unlike Delgado and Granada, Gerry Realin didn’t arrive at Pulse during the shooting or its immediate aftermath. He worked inside the club after the shooting ended, when many of those first on scene had gone home.He was part of a small Hazmat team within the Orlando Police Department that placed bodies and body parts into bags to go to the medical examiner for autopsy and identification. The building had no air conditioning, and the smell was choking. Wearing a white hazmat suit without a helmet, Realin spent four or five hours inside the nightclub, his boots turning yellow and then red from the blood and gore.In the weeks that followed, Realin had nightmares, flashbacks and panic attacks. He tried to work but often called out sick or left early. After about two weeks, a doctor at a walk-in clinic diagnosed Realin with “acute post-traumatic stress disorder” and wrote that he couldn’t even work a desk job. The doctor referred him to a psychiatrist.Realin, burning through his sick time, filed a worker’s compensation claim, and in August started doing interviews with the press about his struggles. He was relieved of duty with pay, meaning the department kept sending him a paycheck as long as he kept up with paperwork. (It didn’t legally have to do this under Florida’s worker’s compensation system at the time.)Going public, though, came with a price. His wife, Jessica Realin, said the rumor among police officers was that her husband was a faker trying to game the system. Two psychiatrists wrote in their reports that the department’s treatment of Realin likely worsened his condition. Cassi Alexandra, special to ProPublica His union warned Realin that he could be put under surveillance, so he should be careful not to do anything that would appear to contradict his diagnosis. A union official wrote that he was worried Realin was getting bad advice that could cost him a disability pension.The department got involved in Realin’s clinical care as well. Realin’s deputy chief, Orlando Rolon, met the Realins at a gas station in early September 2016. Rolon gave him a copy of a memo: It was a direct order to report to the Restores clinic for treatment.“Gerry, as you know, the members of the law enforcement profession are exposed to horrible situations during their careers,” Rolon wrote in the memo. “I am confident that this program, that has helped many, will address some of your needs and for this reason I’m ordering you to participate. Your wellbeing is our top priority!”At the gas station, Realin said he told Rolon he had already been to the clinic and didn’t want to go back. Things escalated. Rolon asked Realin if he was a threat to himself or others and, according to allegations in one of Realin’s two civil lawsuits against the city, threatened to have Realin involuntarily admitted to the hospital on a psychiatric hold.Rolon told him about responding to a scene in which a 12-year-old had hung himself in a closet. Realin “needed to get over it and move on,” Realin said Rolon told him.Rolon did not return phone calls or text messages for this story. Asked in an interview in September 2016 whether officers with PTSD should be eligible for worker’s compensation, he said, “I think it’s tough to be able to justify that when you are already expected to be exposed to so much that the average person may not be able to handle.”In March 2017, Realin was ordered to report back to work for the city of Orlando. He would monitor city cameras for drivers who drift into bike lanes. Realin’s psychiatrist worried that Realin could witness fatal pedestrian accidents and recommended that he not report for the new job, so he did not.That decision grabbed headlines: Orlando police officer with PTSD ordered back to work at City Hall — but he’s not going.Dr. Noel Figueroa, Realin’s psychiatrist, wrote in his medical chart that, in his opinion, Realin was not able to work “at any job at this point. As far as I’m concerned, the patient is permanently unable to return to full duty.”He continued: “The patient has been feeling ‘prosecuted’ [sic] by his employer throughout this process. The behaviors by the employer in the last 72 hours only have enhance [sic] his perceptions.”Figueroa’s notes were included in one of Realin’s lawsuits against the city.A year after the shooting, Realin said he hid from his children so they wouldn’t be traumatized by his rage or depression.“It’s exhausting, physically and mentally,” Realin said. “But then there’s the moments you can’t control. The images or flashbacks or the nightmares that you don’t even know about, and your wife tells you the next day you were screaming or twitching all night.”Realin’s fight with the city came to a head before Orlando’s Police Pension Fund Board in July 2017. Realin was asking for a line-of-duty pension, which would entitle him to 80 percent of his salary for the rest of his life.Dr. Herndon Harding, one of the doctors hired by the city to perform an independent exam of Realin, wrote that Realin had a “dramatic, perhaps histrionic element to his presentation” that could have been “an attempt to demonstrate his pathology.” But he also wrote that one of the factors leading to Realin’s inability to function was “how much the role of OPD has contaminated this treatment.” Steve McKillop, an outside attorney hired by the city of Orlando to fight the pension, argued that Realin never really wanted to get well. Getting a pension was his goal all along.“Rather than accept the hand that has reached out to him, at every turn he’s utilized all means necessary to suit his goal of obtaining permanent, in the line of duty benefits so that he does not have to return to work as a police officer,” McKillop said to the board.Ultimately, the board approved the disability pension, writing that Realin was permanently and totally disabled from police work in the line of duty because of PTSD. He was given 80 percent of his pay for the rest of his life: about $41,000 annually, after health insurance costs.In one of Realin’s lawsuits against the city, filed in December 2017, he alleges that the way the department treated him worsened his condition and that the city violated a state law protecting people from being fired or threatened because they file worker’s compensation claims. In the other, he claims the city should cover his health insurance costs because he was disabled in the line of duty. The city is contesting the first lawsuit and hasn’t yet responded to the second, which was filed in May. Both suits were filed in the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court in Orange County.In an interview with WMFE, Orlando police chief Mina wouldn’t comment on Realin’s case because of the ongoing lawsuits. But he said when an officer is injured, officials never worry about the financial burden on the city.“No, any time an officer is injured or can’t perform, the financial aspect of that is never taken into consideration,” said Mina, who is a candidate for Orange County Sheriff this year. “What’s taken into consideration, by our pension board, which handles that, is was this an on-duty injury, did this happen in the line of duty, can this person go forward performing the job they were hired to do.”Keeping It Quiet, Trying to Get BetterIn early 2017, firefighter EMT Brian Stilwell had requested a meeting with Orlando Fire Department Chief Williams to encourage him to commission an after-action review of the Pulse nightclub shooting and the department’s response to it.Stilwell, as well as leaders of the firefighters’ union, thought the department needed an outside expert to come in and evaluate whether anything could have been done to reduce the death toll.At the end of the conversation, Williams told Stilwell to take advantage of the city’s employee assistance program for free counseling if he needed it, or to go through the UCF Restores clinic. Williams said that if Stilwell needed time on light duty to go to the clinic, the department would work with him.Stilwell was already going to the clinic. Sometimes, he’d wake up in the middle of the night and couldn’t get back to sleep because something would jar a memory of the shooting. At work, he would be shorter with patients. At home, he was curt with his wife, and would lose his temper.“And I was like yeah, I’ve already been going to UCF, which he was kinda taken aback,” Stilwell said.On the night of the shooting, Stilwell was one of four men inside Station 5, about 300 feet from Pulse nightclub. On any given night, they were close enough to hear the music and see the club from the dinner table. On June 12, they heard the gunfire and saw a flood of survivors running for their lives down the street.The gunfire was so loud, the lieutenant working that night wouldn’t let them out to start treating patients until a few minutes passed and a police officer was out in front of the club with an assault rifle.The firefighters and EMTs went to the triage area across the street, and helped the paramedics already there sort patients. Green tags meant a person was walking and stable. Yellow ones went to those who had serious injuries, but who were stable and could wait to go to the hospital. Red tags were for those people who needed to go to trauma surgery immediately or risked death. Black was reserved for those considered too far gone.“Some of the people changed from being stable but serious to critical in front of us,” Stilwell said.Stilwell had been open with his coworkers about getting treatment for PTSD, but he hadn’t formally told the department. In part, he says, that was because there’s no clear protocol on what happens when a first responder comes out and says he or she needs help. He wondered: If you file an injury report for PTSD, are you taken off shift to go into treatment?Stilwell also worried about how peers would view him. If someone in his department had a heart attack six months earlier, no one would worry about whether he or she was still physically able to do the job. Cassi Alexandra, special to ProPublica “No, you go in, you fight the fire, you do whatever you have to, never crosses your mind,” Stilwell said. “But if you know a guy that had a mental breakdown or had some mental issues, the stigma is still like, ‘Oh, this guy’s weird.’”Stilwell said the meeting with the chief was productive and didn’t lead to any negative consequences at work. He completed the Restores program and says he’s doing better.Officer Alison Clarke with the Orlando Police Department is going through the Restores program now. She also was working the triage scene at Einstein Bros. Bagels. Clarke, an openly gay female who had previously worked at Pulse as an off-duty security officer, saw a flood of survivors knock down the fence outside the club.“Of course, they were traumatized, screaming and crying, and not knowing where they were going,” Clarke said. “At that point I started asking for ambulances, and there weren’t any ambulances that were responding at that point. So we just started loading up patrol cars and [fellow officer] Jimmy Hyland’s pickup truck and started running people to the hospital.”Clarke was able to work through her PTSD with a counselor provided by the city’s Employee Assistance Program. She stopped working the night shift, and had gotten to the point where she was only seeing a counselor sporadically.But then trauma hit again. In January of 2017, her boss Lt. Debra Clayton was tracking a man in an Orlando Walmart who was wanted for killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend.Clarke heard the gunshots over the radio as her lieutenant was shot. When she got to the Walmart, she held Clayton’s hand while others performed CPR. Clarke escorted the ambulance to the hospital, where Clayton was pronounced dead.Afterward, the anxiety and agitation came back, with a new symptom — hypervigilance. Clarke would think the worst was going to happen on each call. Knocking on a door for a noise complaint, she’d worry that someone on the other side would shoot her through the door. She went to a psychiatrist, who prescribed Prozac. Cassi Alexandra, special to ProPublica “Now I’ve seen it twice,” Clarke said. “My first look at evil was Pulse, and then my second look at evil was the day that Debra was killed. So I know it’s there. I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it. So now my brain thinks the worst thing’s gonna happen when you’re out on the street.”In February of this year, she responded to what she came to believe was a man who wanted an officer to shoot him, sometimes called “attempted suicide by cop.” The man was holding his hands behind his back, acting like he had a weapon. Clarke drew her pistol. He kept yelling: “You know you want to shoot me, you know you want to shoot me.”Ultimately, the man was subdued with a Taser, and no one was seriously hurt. He was found to be unarmed.“The moment the handcuffs went on and I was able to take a deep breath and realize that the situation was safe, my anxiety, I just full on had just a like a huge anxiety, panic attack. I couldn’t get the adrenaline and my anxiety to calm down,” Clarke said.As she was walking to the patrol car, she thought: This was it. I can’t be an initial responder. It was her last shift as a patrol officer.Clarke asked to be put on light duty while she went through the Restores program, and the department agreed.“It came to a choice where I could either keep suffering and ruin my home life or step forward and take the help being offered by the department,” Clarke said. “Not just the department, the whole community.”How They CopeJosh Granada has been teaching classes for paramedics and EMTs since he was fired from the Orlando Fire Department. He and his wife are having trouble making ends meet, so they’re planning to sell their house and move in with Amber’s father before they fall behind on the mortgage.He leans on his therapy dog, Jack, which he got from the Pawsitive Action Foundation, a group that provides service dogs for veterans and people with disabilities.Omar Delgado got a dog from the same group: Jediah.On the days when Delgado has trouble getting out of bed, shaving or brushing his teeth, the dog gives him the motivation he needs, he said. Since he was terminated from the Eatonville Police Department, Delgado has been living off the proceeds of a GoFundMe campaign. He’s stuck in limbo, waiting to see if his disability pension will be approved. Once that happens, he’ll be able to decide what’s next.“We cut back on everything humanly possible,” Delgado said. “It’s rough. We gotta keep going. What else is there?”Alison Clarke has accepted a position as a police department liaison to the LGBTQ community. She no longer works on patrol, and when she’s ready to put a uniform back on, she plans to finish out her career at the Orlando Airport. To help cope, she drives her Mazda Miata with the top down, or takes an hour at the driving range, hitting golf balls with her headphones on.After policing, she plans to work as a counselor to help other officers.“I’ll never be the same [as] before Pulse,” Clarke said. “You can recover to a certain extent. At least for me, I can recover to a certain extent. But I know that I’ll always have some type of small anxiety issue. It’s just learning how to live with it and function with it.”To cope, Gerry Realin goes out paddleboarding and fishing. Walking ankle deep in saltwater in Webster Creek, north of Mosquito Lagoon and the Canaveral National Seashore, Realin casts out into the channel with a lure, hoping to catch redfish, jack and trout. Gerry Realin credits paddleboarding with helping him in his recovery from PTSD. (Cassi Alexandra, special to ProPublica) He sleeps better on the nights he fishes.“I used to have pressure in my mind. I better hurry up and heal,” Realin said. “But how? How do you hurry that up? With some physical injuries, you kinda know. Tear a hamstring, you’re out six months. Sprain your ankle, couple weeks. But for this? I don’t know.”Realin’s wife has become a crusader. After realizing that Florida’s workers’ compensation law didn’t cover lost wages for PTSD and mental conditions, Jessica Realin set out to change the law, and is running for local office. Under a law signed by Gov. Rick Scott in March, first responders will soon become eligible for these benefits.Brian Stilwell has found healthy ways to cope. He rebuilds classic cars and plays drums. He still works for the Orlando Fire Department, but he’s been transferred away from Station 5. Now, he’s at a small station in an old Navy base, what he calls “the last stop on a trip to nowhere.” He wants to go back to Station 5.That station, so close to Pulse nightclub, feels like home to him.“I feel a bigger connection to that area and that community now because of that,” Stilwell said. “It feels like the station is a part of me now, not something I want to leave.”As the two-year mark for the shooting approaches, Stilwell says he may go back to UCF Restores for more treatment. The anniversary, he says, is bringing things back to the surface again.
Behind the Headline: Deborah Goldberg
by ProPublica In 2008 Deborah Goldberg was hired as the managing attorney for EarthJustice’s new northeast regional office in New York City. Her job was to lead the office’s litigation team, using community partnerships and the force of the law to address critical environmental issues.Goldberg soon discovered that her colleagues in other environmental organizations across the state were in an uproar. Gov. David Paterson had just signed new legislation to fast-track hydraulic fracturing, the shale gas drilling technique now known to cause water contamination and a host of other environmental and health problems. Get ProPublica’s Major Investigations by Email “We kept on hearing about this fracking stuff,” Goldberg said. “We didn’t know anything about it. But we thought somebody probably should look into this.”To get a handle on fracking’s potential environmental harm, Goldberg started collecting media reports. “At that point, there was practically no information out there,” she said. One of the few reporters investigating the new technology was Abrahm Lustgarten at the newly launched ProPublica. The series “Fracking: Gas Drilling’s Environmental Threat” started in July of 2008 and ran through 2016. It found more than 1,000 instances of water contamination in the western states caused by fracking — and heightened national awareness of the dangers the drilling process posed to water supplies in the east as well. “ProPublica broke this story,” said Goldberg. “Abrahm was really the first person who took a sustained look in a series of well-investigated articles about what fracking means, instead of piecemeal reports coming from all over the country. It was an invaluable resource, in part because the industry had a huge media operation saying that there’s no problem and everything’s okay.”ProPublica’s in-depth reporting also prompted academics to focus on the issue more systematically, through a scientific lens. “For a long time there was an absence of peer-reviewed literature,” said Goldberg. “A well-written, well-researched set of media articles was really important in the early days before we actually had scientific studies. To my mind, ProPublica’s series of articles was the most informative account we had of what was happening with fracking.”Within 48 hours of ProPublica’s first story, which specifically focused on fracking in New York State, Gov. Paterson placed a temporary hold on the practice. In 2014, following a state review of the gas drilling process — and EarthJustice litigation — Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a ban on fracking in New York.
Behind the Headline: Rebecca Glover
by ProPublica The incinerated body of Rebecca Glover’s nephew Henry was found in 2005 in a burned car on the banks of the Mississippi River. It was roughly a week after Hurricane Katrina ripped through New Orleans. Following a cursory probe, the Orleans Parish coroner ruled Henry’s death “unclassified,” and no law enforcement agency ever investigated the matter. Outside of his grieving family, no one seemed to know or care about Henry’s death at all. Get ProPublica’s Major Investigations by Email “You got so much stuff that was swept under the rug, it’s unbelievable,” Glover said of the indifference from authorities. When ProPublica reporter A.C. Thompson approached the family in 2008, while reporting for his “Law & Disorder” series on deadly force used by the New Orleans Police Department in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, she was heartened. According to ProPublica’s examination of the final hours of Henry’s life, clues about his death pointed to the city’s police force.“I prayed very hard for him not to give up on it,” Glover said of Thompson’s initial reporting. “If you live in New Orleans long enough, you’ll see people pretend they doing this and that. And, the next thing you know, they ain’t doing nothing.” Thompson and others stayed on the story for more than three years. Through this sustained reporting, the world found out what happened: Henry was shot by one police officer and died in custody. His body was set on fire by another officer, and the circumstances of the case were covered up by yet another police official. Five officers were initially convicted on charges that included manslaughter, lying to federal agents, and burning Henry’s body — though all but one were cleared of all charges on appeal.While grateful for the attention the case received after ProPublica’s reporting, Glover is disappointed by the four overturned convictions. “The stories made a whole lot of difference to our family, but I feel we got 10 percent of justice,” she said. “And we still have victims out there that have gotten no justice at all.”Today, Glover is a leader in a community organization called Families Overcoming Justice, which meets once a week to share and hear testimony from New Orleans families that have experienced police brutality. “We’re letting other families know they’re not alone,” she said. “We’re there for each other.”
Behind the Headline: Kristen Davis
by ProPublica After surgery last spring, Kristen Davis suffered adverse reactions to a steroid used during general anesthesia, including steroid-induced mania and hormones elevated ten times above normal levels. “It was a living hell,” said Davis, who also experienced iatrogenic PTSD from the ordeal. Worse, she discovered, the drug was unnecessary for her procedure, and no one had spoken with her about its use before the surgery.Davis tried talking to her surgeon and anesthesiologist, but they dismissed her concern. Even medical professionals in her family failed to listen. She was overreacting, they said, and should have asked more questions upfront; her doctor was just doing his job. The reactions only served to rewound her. Get ProPublica’s Major Investigations by Email “I wanted somebody to be held accountable,” said Davis, who lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. “But I didn’t know how to do that. I didn’t know what the government agencies were; I didn’t know who to complain to.”This is what Davis was looking for when she stumbled upon ProPublica reporter Marshall Allen’s 2012–2016 investigation into patient safety, which covered the prevalence of medical error in the U.S. health care system and provided resources for patients. There she not only learned where to formally voice her complaints; she discovered the ProPublica Patient Safety Community, a public Facebook group where those who have experienced medical harm can share information and connect with others. Launched in 2012, the active community has more than 5,500 members and is still moderated by Allen to this day. “The group has helped me feel less isolated,” said Davis, who remains a dedicated member a year later. “It’s like a little online support group. I feel heard and validated. Members have given me valuable resources for getting what I need out of medical care, and I’ve also been able to give advice to others who are going through the same thing, from recommending PTSD therapies to how to get informed consent from anesthesiologists.”Davis’ participation in the ProPublica Patient Safety Community also triggered her decision to increase her advocacy efforts. She is currently studying to receive her patient advocacy certification. “After this incident, it’s pretty obvious to me that we all have to be our own advocates,” she said. “I want to also be able to do that for my friends and family, so they have somewhere they can turn.”
Behind the Headline: Isaura Martinez
by ProPublica In 2012, Isaura Martinez was working as a temp in Chicago. Like the city’s many other immigrant workers employed by temp agencies, she boarded vans each day to work in hazardous conditions at a rotating series of factories and warehouses, often without safety training and protective equipment. Those rides, arranged by the agencies, came with high fees, as did cashing her paychecks. At the end of the day, she earned less than minimum wage.When ProPublica reporter Michael Grabell approached her as part of his 2013 investigation into the abuses of temporary workers employed in the supply chains of Sony, Smirnoff, Ty Inc., and other major corporations, Martinez was initially apprehensive about speaking with him about her experiences. Get ProPublica’s Major Investigations by Email “I was afraid of the retaliation,” said Martinez. “My fear was that the raiteros, the van drivers, would no longer take me to work, and that the temp agency would not hire me because I had complained and exposed the abuse I was suffering.”It was after a particularly tough night, in which a van driver left an elderly worker behind and then spat expletives at him upon returning to the factory, when Martinez’s outrage outweighed her fear. “For me, it wasn’t just about the way that I was being treated, but how my coworkers were being treated,” she said. Ultimately, Martinez and hundreds of other temp workers shared their stories with Grabell to help shed light on a shadow system that is harming workers and burdening the economy as a whole. “I felt sincerely happy to get it off my chest — I freed myself,” said Martinez. “Once the stories came out, it motivated me to continue denouncing these sorts of injustices.”Today Martinez is an organizer with the Chicago Workers Collaborative, where she advocates for stable, living wage jobs for temporary workers. In 2016, she testified about her experience at a state hearing, aiding the passage of a bill that increased protections for temp workers.“ProPublica helped me to break my silence and fear,” she said. “Michael took the time to listen to me, and he was the first to do so. In the name of all the temp workers, thank you.”
Behind the Headline: Bil Musgrave
by ProPublica Bil Musgrave was just 54 years old when he was diagnosed with a rare cancer and given six months to live. He retired from his job as a coal miner in Warrick County, Ind., and focused on his treatment, which was covered by the lifetime health insurance provided to him by the Squaw Creek Coal Company. Miraculously, he survived. The insurance — a benefit that Alcoa, the corporation that operated Squaw Creek in a joint venture with coal giant Peabody Energy, was contractually obligated to provide him and other retired workers — also covered the lengthy list of medications he needs to take on a regular basis. Get ProPublica’s Major Investigations by Email In 2007, Squaw Creek’s operations were passed to a new entity called Patriot Coal Corp., a creation of Peabody Energy into which it moved much of its retirement liabilities and very few of its assets. Even with the spinoff, Alcoa continued to provide insurance for Musgrave and hundreds of other retired coal miners. So he was floored when ProPublica reporter Alec MacGillis called in 2015 with the news that Patriot Coal had gone bankrupt (as a result of the liabilities Peabody had burdened it with), and his health care was going to be cut off.As ProPublica went on to report, in a draconian feat of financial engineering, millions of dollars earmarked for the health insurance of retired Squaw Creek coal miners — at least 208 retired miners and their dependents — would be diverted to legal fees and other bills from Patriot Coal’s bankruptcy.“I was shocked that Alcoa would do that to their long-term employees and disavow their contractual obligations to 233 unionized families, leaving them without health care at all,” said Musgrave. “It was just devastating. And it was all hidden in the bankruptcy filings.” A week after ProPublica’s story shined a light on those bankruptcy filings, Patriot Coal announced that it was withdrawing its plan to strip retirees’ insurance benefits. Musgrave, who is now fighting another cancer (he believes both are linked to industrial waste dumps at Squaw Creek), will continue to receive lifetime healthcare benefits. He attributes all of it to ProPublica’s investigative reporting.“No news organizations knew about it until after ProPublica reported it, and I think the coverage embarrassed Alcoa,” said Musgrave, who stresses the importance of investigative journalism for small towns like Warrick County, where many local newspapers lack the resources to support it. “It diminishes our democracy. That’s why ProPublica does such an outstanding job. I know I’m getting true investigative reporting with both sides of the story. In my opinion, that’s what it takes for a democracy to survive.”
The Government’s New Contractor to Run Los Alamos Includes the Same Manager It Effectively Fired for Safety Problems
by Rebecca Moss, Santa Fe New Mexican Despite a lengthy record of safety violations, the University of California will continue its 75-year legacy of running Los Alamos National Laboratory, the U.S. Department of Energy and National Nuclear Security Administration announced Friday.A management partnership that includes the university, research and development nonprofit Battelle Memorial Institute and Texas A&M University, the alma mater of Energy Secretary Rick Perry, will be paid $2.5 billion annually to run Los Alamos, the birthplace of the atomic bomb. They’re calling their partnership Triad National Security LLC.The contract could be worth upward of $25 billion over the next decade, with hundreds of millions of dollars more in performance-based bonus fees. Six other corporations will join the team in support roles.“We are committed to building on the legacy of world-class research, unparalleled innovation and service to public good that have been the hallmark of the laboratory since it was founded in 1943,” the University of California said in a joint statement with its new partners. Get ProPublica’s Top Stories by Email This is the second time the University of California has effectively maintained control over the laboratory despite concerns about serious mismanagement. In 2003, and again in 2015, the National Nuclear Security Administration said it would seek a new management contractor for the New Mexico lab following significant security breaches, costly accidents and injured employees.The current management team, which also includes defense contractor Bechtel, amassed more than $110 million in fines and withheld bonuses because of health and safety issues. An electrical accident in 2015 left a worker hospitalized for over a month, and waste packaging errors led to a drum burst in 2014 at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, exposing workers to radiation. The accident caused the storage facility to shut down for nearly three years.The latest competition to run Los Alamos pitted the University of California’s team against one led by its partner Bechtel and another that included the University of Texas system.Critics of the lab questioned how the university emerged as a winner once again and how any serious overhaul of the lab’s problems can occur if part of the existing leadership remains in place. Even the federal government called for a “culture change” at Los Alamos when it solicited bidders for the new lab contract last year.This is a pivotal time for the lab. Los Alamos is expected to take on new nuclear work, building up to 30 plutonium pits per year. Producing the softball-sized plutonium metal cores, which trigger a reaction inside a nuclear weapon, is dangerous work, and Los Alamos has struggled to safely build even a single stockpile-ready pit in recent years.The lab’s entire plutonium facility was shut down in 2013 after workers nearly caused a deadly accident. Since production restarted in late 2015, workers have violated safety rules meant to prevent a runaway nuclear reaction, and several workers have been exposed to radiation.Building new pits also requires the lab to handle significantly larger quantities of plutonium, a task that federal officials said would be a “learning curve” for the lab.In announcing the new contract, Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty, undersecretary for nuclear security at the Department of Energy and administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, called Los Alamos a vital national asset.“The lab will continue to be a critical resource to ensure the future safety and security of the United States as we begin work on new endeavors,” she said in statement. David Jonas, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who previously served as general counsel of the National Nuclear Security Administration, said he thought Battelle, which will take a leading role alongside the University of California and has experience running seven other national labs, could help create the changes Los Alamos needs.“We need to give them a chance,” he said. “The question is then, if nothing changes, then what? And of course I don’t have an answer for that.”Robert Alvarez, who was a senior policy adviser to Bill Richardson when he served as secretary of energy in the Clinton administration, said the lack of a contingency plan points to holes in the Energy Department’s oversight system.“One thing that really hasn’t changed much is the lack of safety culture at the lab,” Alvarez said. “It’s a culture that lacks what you’d call an industrial safety ethos.”Since the Manhattan Project, the Department of Energy has been granted wide leeway to oversee its nuclear activity. Its contractors are largely indemnified from paying damages in the event of serious accidents and are not bound by the same rules as the private nuclear energy industry. The department’s primary tools to penalize violations are issuing fines and withholding bonus awards. If all else fails, it can terminate a lab operator’s contract, as it did with the current managers of Los Alamos.“It is a low-risk environment, except when it comes to their reputation,” Alvarez said of the contractors. “And even that, they overcome and reformulate into a different consortium — but it is usually the same cast of characters.”The main loser in Friday’s decision is Bechtel, which had submitted a contract bid under a team it formed with Purdue University. A third bidder was the University of Texas and Boeing. A fourth team, first reported by the trade publication Exchange Monitor, included BWXT, Jacobs and Southeastern Universities Research Association.Terry Wallace, director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, said in a statement that the lab is committed to working with the new management team.“While the contract change will bring in a new team of parent companies, the laboratory’s mission remains the same: to serve the nation in the tradition of excellence that has defined Los Alamos for the last 75 years,” he said.Alvarez said the only tool left to enforce better safety than in the past would be congressional oversight and withholding funds.But, Alvarez said, “there has been no serious congressional oversight for several years.”
How Racial Profiling Goes Unchecked in Immigration Enforcement
by Kavitha Surana When immigration officers raided a rural Pennsylvania poultry transport company early last year, a lawyer for five undocumented men arrested saw plenty of evidence their rights had been violated.The Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers had no warrant to drive past the company’s “No Trespassing” signs and block the exits with their vans, or to demand documentation on the workers’ legal status. According to witnesses, the officers seemed to target workers solely based on their ethnicity: They lined up Latinos for questioning and asked white employees to lead them to more Latino workers.In a ruling last month, a Philadelphia immigration judge, John Carle, found there was a strong argument that the ICE officers had “egregiously violated” the Constitution. He noted that the agency presented no evidence to counter allegations of racial profiling.If the case had played out in criminal court, such a finding might well have resulted in the men going free.In immigration courts, however, there’s a higher bar, both for proving officers violated defendants’ rights and for getting cases thrown out as a result. Even when immigrants manage to meet this standard, they can get deported anyway.The system is backed up by decades-old court rulings that consider undocumented immigrants to be in continuous violation of the law, regardless of how they are arrested, and that give officers extra latitude to factor in their targets’ physical appearance when making immigration arrests.“Even if you were to suppress the evidence because you didn’t have proper consent … that doesn’t matter,” said Claude Arnold, a former ICE special agent. “The fact remains that the person is here illegally.”ICE says its agents are forbidden from racial profiling, and are refreshed on training every six months.But advocates for immigrants and some judges say that the logic governing immigration rulings only emboldens officers to trample over constitutional rights.“It gives a huge incentive to do intentionally illegal searches, because they have a huge way to take advantage of it,” said Rex Chen, an attorney at Safe Passages Project.In the case involving the Lancaster County poultry workers, the racial-profiling argument has done little to derail ICE’s deportation efforts.After arresting the workers, ICE officials looked them up in a database and found that four of them had overstayed their visas. Since this information did not stem from their arrests, but was obtained separately, Carle decided their deportation cases could proceed.“All they did instead was basically almost say, ‘Nanny-nanny, boo-boo, we got you anyway,’” said Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, a lawyer at the Legal Aid Justice Center who has worked on similar cases. “Like, so what if we violated constitutional rights? We have this other piece of evidence, and that’s it, you’re done for.”It’s Harder for Immigrants to Prove an Unlawful SearchUnlike criminal defendants, immigrants must demonstrate not only that officers acted unconstitutionally, but that their violations were egregious, or represented a widespread pattern, when filing a motion to suppress evidence as the poultry workers did.This higher bar dates back to Supreme Court guidance from 1984, when the court concluded that allowing motions to suppress in deportation cases would compel courts to release people who would then “immediately resume their commission of a crime through their continuing, unlawful presence in this country.”At the time, almost all of those arrested for immigration violations agreed to leave the country without a formal hearing, the justices wrote, so challenges to the legality of immigration officers’ actions virtually never came up and wouldn’t deter them.The justices also trusted that the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, the precursor to ICE, had “its own comprehensive scheme for deterring Fourth Amendment violations by its agents.”Its conclusions “might change,” the justices wrote, “if there developed good reason to believe that Fourth Amendment violations by INS officers were widespread.” Get ProPublica’s Major Investigations by Email A lot has changed since then. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, immigration enforcement moved under the Department of Homeland Security and greatly widened in scope. Now, most immigrants choose to fight their deportations, as the mammoth 680,000-plus case backlog can attest.Accusations of racial profiling abound — committed by cops on highways, Border Patrol agents on buses and ICE on neighborhood streets — though motions to suppress are still rare and filed by the most aggressive lawyers.Few cases will have enough evidence to prove an egregious violation.“The best indicators of racial profiling are comments,” said Sandoval-Moshenberg. “We have one case in which the ICE agent said, ‘Hey, are any other Spanish families living on the block?’ … Otherwise, it’s very difficult to prove racial profiling. The officer always has some other reason on why he stopped your client and no one else.”One of those reasons could legitimately be “Mexican appearance,” thanks to another Supreme Court ruling.In that 1975 case, a U.S. citizen of Puerto Rican descent was stopped by Border Patrol agents. Two undocumented people were passengers in the car. The agents said their only reason for the stop was that the car’s occupants looked Mexican.The court found that “Mexican appearance” alone could not justify an immigration stop, but ruled that a list of examples, used together, could. They included: “characteristic appearance of persons who live in Mexico, relying on such factors as the mode of dress and haircut”; “facts in light of [the officer’s] experience in detecting illegal entry and smuggling”; “driver’s behavior,” such as “erratic driving” or “obvious attempts to evade officers”; and “characteristics of the area in which they encounter a vehicle.”“All those give an awful lot of discretion to rely on race,” said Kevin R. Johnson, a law professor at University of California-Davis. “Even if they say, ‘Well, he’s wearing working clothes’ or ‘He’s wearing clothes typical of an immigrant from Mexico,’ or something like that, there’s an awful lot of leeway there.”When confronted with public outcry about profiling, ICE and the Border Patrol usually respond that agents used “a multitude of indicators that, when put together, raise a reasonable suspicion of illegal alienage.” For example, in an Oregon case caught on video by a legal observer for the ACLU of Oregon last year, Isidro Andrade-Taffolla, a U.S. citizen, alleged racial profiling after he was questioned as he left a county courthouse. ICE officers in plainclothes had approached him with a picture of another man and asked for his identification, but Andrade-Taffolla said the picture looked nothing like him except for his skin color.ICE officials said the questioning was in line with their policies. “Physical appearance wasn’t the only thing in common between the person questioned and the actual target,” Matthew Bourke, a spokesman for ICE, told ProPublica. “ICE officers had information that the target would be at the courthouse, and that — combined with a similar physical match — was why ICE officers asked for identification.”Peter Schuck, a Yale law professor, argues that some reliance on profiling may be necessary for officers to act quickly and efficiently.“It’s hard to see how immigration enforcement could occur without some kind of stereotyping and generalization,” he said. “It stands to reason that they don’t know much about the people they are seeking, so they have to rely on inferences, and those inferences are generally supported by some stereotypes.”Arnold, the former ICE agent, said officers use observations about a person’s “manner and demeanor” to assess whether they could be here illegally. According to him, these can include noticing when people speak only Spanish or appear nervous when encountered by an immigration officer.“Maybe a bunch of people are running,” he said. “Maybe the five white employees are just standing there; they aren’t running. It has nothing to do with their skin color, but I know clearly they are not afraid of ICE. … That is an indicator to me that they might be legal.”Proving Profiling May Not Be Enough to Get an Arrest TossedProPublica and the Philadelphia Inquirer reported on the Lancaster County poultry workers’ arrest in a series this spring about ICE’s aggressive enforcement in Pennsylvania, an effort not completely supported by local communities.Luke Brubaker, a prominent dairy farmer, mentioned the workers’ arrest in a meeting between President Trump and agriculture-industry representatives. Brubaker said he told the president that ICE had been arresting essential workers in Pennsylvania agriculture.According to the workers’ motion to suppress evidence, filed in October, ICE officers came onto the property on April 5, 2017, with a photo of a man they were looking for. His name was “Alix,” and he worked for a company called MainJoy Unlimited.Workers told them they were at the wrong company, and nobody with that name worked there. But agents immediately moved to ask for the documents of the workers who did.“They were totally taking advantage of the language barrier and the fact that these guys didn’t know they had any rights,” Nichole Carpenter, the company’s human resources manager, told a reporter. “The three mechanics in the mechanic’s bay — white guys in their 50s — just continued to work like nothing was going on.”Under duress, the Latino poultry workers admitted to being undocumented.ICE used those admissions, and the workers’ lack of documentation at the time of the arrest, to try to get them deported. The men asked the judge to prohibit ICE from using that evidence, arguing they were intimidated and coercively interrogated because of their race.They added, in the motion, that an officer physically forced one of them to sign papers and get fingerprinted. They also said an officer told them they had come to the United States to “take his jobs and invade his country.” Luke Brubaker, 76, takes issue with calling workers on his family's Mount Joy dairy farm "immigrant workers." He insists they are "essential workers." (Ed Hille/Philadelphia Inquirer) In December, ICE voluntarily withdrew the evidence gathered from the arrests of four of the men, saying it had found independent proof in a database that they were in the country illegally because they’d overstayed short-term visas.The Philadelphia judge made his preliminary ruling on the motion to suppress only for the one man without a trail in the database. ICE had no record of him, presumably because he entered the country illegally. The ICE officer who ran his background check had simply written “no criminal history” and, crucially, “no migration history” on his intake form.In court documents, ICE called the interrogation “consensual.” But the judge found that there was enough evidence to suggest ICE officers had detained him because he was “Latino-looking.” He ruled that ICE would have to prove otherwise or drop its case. If ICE decides to fight the allegations, it will do so at a hearing in October.The judge allowed deportation proceedings to go forward against the four workers in the database. The men are out of custody, on bond, and plan to appeal Carle’s decision.“It’s a weird situation,” said Andy Mahon, the lawyer for the workers. “Because they did things the ‘right way,’” — entered the country legally — “they are in a worse position than someone who didn’t, because now that evidence is being used against them.”The agency declined to comment on the case, other than to say: “ICE’s enforcement actions are targeted and lead driven. ICE does not conduct sweeps or raids that target aliens indiscriminately.”Arnold said that even if an immigrant proves an ICE officer searched him without cause or consent, it still doesn’t negate being here illegally. “The court can’t remedy that and say, ‘OK, yeah, we’ll make that person legal.’ How do they do that? The court does not have the authority,” he said.Over the years, some judges have questioned the Supreme Court’s reasoning, seeing outcomes like this as encouragement for ICE officers to overstep in their operations, in hopes that they’ll be able to net enough deportable people.In August 2017, the 9th Circuit in California reviewed the case of Luis Enrique Sanchez, a 45-year-old undocumented immigrant who had lived for almost three decades in California. A small boat owner, he took his friends out for a ride off Channel Islands Harbor, within territorial waters. When his boat’s engine lost power, he called the Coast Guard for help. The Coast Guard rescued the group — then immediately detained and frisked Sanchez and his friends and reported them to ICE.When Sanchez filed a motion to suppress, ICE also found him in a database that showed his legal status had lapsed.Unlike Judge Carle, the 9th Circuit ruled that his deportation case should be dropped. Doing otherwise “allows immigration and other law enforcement agencies to prey on migrant and working-class communities. Law enforcement officers can unconstitutionally round up migrant-looking individuals, elicit their names, and then search through government databases to discover incriminating information in preexisting immigration records,” one judge wrote.While lower courts have issued conflicting rulings, the Supreme Court hasn’t weighed in to clarify since the 1980s, leaving the issue unsettled until the court decides to intervene again.It’s Impossible to Tell When or if Officers Get DisciplinedICE and Border Patrol say they investigate complaints of rights violations, including profiling, but it’s unclear what this amounts to.Both agencies declined to release numbers on how many officers, if any, had been disciplined for racial profiling in recent years.The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General, which looks into complaints about immigration agencies, has never issued a report on racial profiling. Complaints and internal investigations are never aired in public. Arnold said ICE officers are deterred from making illegal searches by the threat of lawsuits. But advocates say the system is set up to make officers feel as if they won’t face consequences for inappropriate behavior.The lawyer for the poultry workers said he has not filed a complaint about the officers’ behavior. Like many immigration lawyers, his priority is to keep the workers in the country. He doesn’t see any benefit for his clients in complaining to the department.“There’s next to no accountability, “ said Sandoval-Moshenberg, who has made the same decision in similar cases. “Our perception of their internal complaint mechanism is that it’s totally broken and ineffective.”
Where Is “Home” for Children in State Custody?
by Duaa Eldeib I remember all sorts of details about the houses where I grew up. I imagine most of us can.There was the tan ranch where I got my first bee sting. The white brick two-story with light blue shutters that reminded me of the sky on a summer day. And the house with the unfinished basement my friends and I turned into our personal roller rink. I am thankful for the memories and even more grateful for the love and stability that came with them.I’ve thought often about these memories over the last couple of years, as I’ve interviewed many children in the Illinois child welfare system who long for a place to call home. For them, as for me, it’s a term that more often reflects the emotion than the physical structure. Gabriel Brasfield has been unnecessarily hospitalized twice since March 2016. He celebrated his 13th birthday at the hospital, where he said the walls were bare and there was little to do. (Courtesy of Lorelei Heric) This week, I reported on the hundreds of children trapped in psychiatric hospitals for weeks and months at a time after they have been cleared for release because the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services cannot find them homes. I wrote about one boy who had spent so much time confined in a hospital that he forgot what it was like to wear shoes or feel the sun on his face.Doctors say that, as children wait, their behavior and emotional state can deteriorate. Unnecessary hospitalizations also can delay the healing process because psychiatric hospitals are typically set up to treat an immediate crisis, not the underlying trauma. Between 2015 and 2017, DCFS children collectively spent more than 27,000 days waiting to leave the hospital for their next placement, which would hopefully lead them home one day.The idea of home, of the familiar love of family, came up in another story I wrote, albeit indirectly. Last fall, I reported on teenagers who had been sent from a state Department of Juvenile Justice correctional facility in a small, southern Illinois town to adult prison. Previously, the incidents that landed them in prison – shoving, punching or spitting at guards – had typically been handled with discipline, such as a loss of privileges or an extension of their juvenile sentences. But after employees sidestepped department protocols to pursue criminal charges on their own, these young men ended up with felony convictions and multiyear prison terms. What’s more, the prosecutions disproportionately affected young black men from Cook County. Terrence Wardell was 15 when he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital on Chicago’s West Side. He spent seven months there, more than half of which was not medically necessary. He said his time at the hospital was like a prison sentence. (Alyssa Schukar, special to ProPublica Illinois) In nearly all the cases where the young men were tried as adults, they opted for plea agreements. The public defender told me he suspected some of them pleaded guilty because they thought they’d be sent to an adult prison closer to home. But they may get some additional legal assistance soon. As I reported last month, a nonprofit group out of Evanston is recruiting private attorneys to represent them.The thread that runs through both stories is how far away home feels for so many children and teens in state systems. One of the child welfare experts I interviewed for this week’s story said my questions got him thinking about how we as a society treat our most vulnerable and what that says about all of us.That’s something that’s crucial to our mission as investigative reporters. In April, my colleague Jodi S. Cohen wrote about how the University of Illinois at Chicago had to repay the National Institutes of Health $3.1 million because one of its star psychiatrists violated protocols and put children with bipolar disorder at risk. This week, the Chicago Tribune published a devastating investigation revealing how Chicago Public Schools failed to protect students who were raped or sexually abused by trusted adults in their schools. And a joint Better Government Association and WBEZ series uncovered how unsafe elevators and lax oversight at the Chicago Housing Authority — where many residents are elderly and cannot take the stairs — have left tenants in fear.As I continue to report on issues surrounding children and adults in state custody, I want to hear from you. If you know of cases where they were not protected, email me at duaa.eldeib@propublica.org.
First Responders Speak Out About PTSD, Two Years After Pulse Nightclub Shooting
by ProPublica “To be a first responder, your DNA is built differently,” said Omar Delgado, a former Florida police officer who responded to Orlando’s Pulse nightclub shooting, in which 49 people were killed and at least 53 others wounded. “Everyone’s going to be running out of danger; you’re going to be running in.”Nearly two years after the tragedy, Delgado and other first responders who were on the scene at Pulse shared their consequent struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder at an event co-hosted by ProPublica, 90.7 WMFE and the Orlando Public Library on Wednesday night. Held at the Orlando Public Library’s Melrose Center for Technology, Innovation and Creativity, the event also featured family members of first responders, advocates, mental health counselors and elected officials. The conversation was moderated by WMFE reporter Abe Aboraya, who is spending the year investigating PTSD in first responders as part of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network. “You owe it to yourself, more than anyone else, to take care of you,” said Nancy Rosado, a former sergeant for the New York Police Department who responded to the 9/11 attacks and now works as a mental health counselor. Rosado spoke on the evening’s first panel, alongside Delgado; Jessica Realin, whose husband Gerry was on the hazmat team cleaning up after Pulse; and Alison Clarke, an Orlando police officer who was one of the first on the scene at Pulse.“You can’t count on some magical little angel of a higher rank to come down and rescue you from the nightmares, from the intrusive thoughts when you stop at a red light,” Rosado continued. “So if this is what you’re experiencing, I beg of you to reach out for help.”Delgado, who said he was let go from his job on the Eatonville Police Department after speaking publicly about his PTSD, said that seeking help takes courage. “Unfortunately, I became the poster child of first responder PTSD,” he said. “I’m sure there are a lot of officers, paramedics and firefighters who were there that night, and they probably won’t ever ask for help because their jobs and careers are on the line.”In addition to the dialogue, the event integrated photography and audio storytelling. Large-scale photographs of first responders struggling with PTSD after Pulse were displayed at the event, and attendees listened to audio vignettes of the responders’ stories, in their own voices, available through their phones in an online gallery. Guests were also invited to interact with Zeus, a therapy dog who was near the scene with first responders and those affected in the days immediately after the Pulse tragedy. Guests were invited to interact with Zeus, a therapy dog. (Cassi Alexandra, special to ProPublica) A second panel, focused on changes to Florida law dealing with PTSD in first responders, featured Florida Sen. Victor Torres and Florida Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, who sponsored bills in 2017 and 2018 to expand worker’s compensation coverage for first responders; Michael Saxe, the district 7 assistant director for the Fraternal Order of Police; and Geoff Bichler, an attorney in Orlando specializing in representing first responders in worker’s compensation cases.The bill, signed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott in March, allows first responders who develop PTSD after a bad call to recoup lost wages in the worker’s compensation system.Bichler pointed out that, while big events get the headlines, there is a cumulative effect over a first responder’s career that isn’t acknowledged in the current legislation. “PTSD is not typically diagnosed in first responders after a tragic event like Pulse,” he said. “This is something that occurs as an accumulation over time, most often. One of the severe limitations of this bill are all of these triggering events that limit coverage.”Saxe said he’d also like to see corrections officers, as well as dispatchers and 911 operators, get added to the bill so they can receive coverage for their PTSD, explaining that they too experience serious trauma in their roles.Watch the full program. PTSD in First Responders Abe Aboraya, who is spending the year investigating PTSD in first responders for ProPublica and WMFE, moderated the event in Orlando.
The Family Plan: In Louisiana, Lawmakers Promote Bills That Help Their Relatives and Clients
by Rebekah Allen, The Advocate State Sen. Norby Chabert wanted to offer a helping hand to his district’s truck stop casinos.The number of video poker machines allowed in the casinos is tied to how much gas the attached stations sell. Bridge construction projects in Chabert’s hometown of Houma have diverted traffic and hurt gas sales at nearby casinos, limiting the number of video poker machines they can have.Earlier this year, Chabert supported a bill eliminating that link for truck stops more than 10 years old.“Without the bridge being constructed, they would have hit every sales trigger that they needed,” he said of one such casino. “It was at one of the biggest intersections on the east side of Houma, and when you shut down a bridge in bayou country, people go to the next bridge … and it damn near shut them down,” Chabert told his colleagues in a Senate committee meeting.What Chabert, a Republican, left out of the story: His own brother owns a truck stop on the east side of Houma that has been affected by the bridge construction.Chabert acknowledged to The Advocate that his brother, Marty, matches the particulars of the story he told, but so do other truck stop casinos in his district. Marty Chabert earned $1.5 million in income from the truck stop in 2015 and 2016, according to the financial disclosure forms he filed as a member of the state Board of Regents. State Sen. Norby Chabert (Mark Ballard, The Advocate) The Advocate and ProPublica reported Wednesday that lawmakers are free to sponsor, advocate for and vote on legislation that benefits their own financial interests — so long as it benefits others, too. Norby Chabert’s situation and others like it show that legislators also can be involved in bills that directly benefit their relatives and professional clients.Moreover, conflicts of interest in the Louisiana Legislature are entirely self-policed, meaning only lawmakers themselves can hold one another accountable for stepping over the line. That hasn’t happened in at least 40 years, experts say. Some political watchdogs say the laws should be tightened to ensure legislators are being transparent about their interests.Norby Chabert said he was comfortable advocating for the bill because he did not stand to personally benefit from it. He said he did not discuss the legislation with his brother and said his brother was not a consideration when he voiced his support.“Should I recuse myself from a hairdresser bill because my sister was a hairdresser? Should I recuse myself from bills dealing with the restaurant industry because my other sister owned a restaurant?” Norby Chabert said, citing examples from his own family. “I see no financial gain or loss from their business, so I don’t see how taking a position on issues related to their industry would be a conflict for me.”Marty Chabert said he did not discuss the bill “or any other legislation with Norby” and wasn’t aware of the legislation until after it was passed. (Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the bill into law last month.) Marty Chabert previously served as a state senator and is now director of the Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator’s Office, a post appointed by the governor that pays $104,000 a year.Elliott Stonecipher, a Shreveport pollster, said he thinks any time a legislator acts in a way that could benefit him or herself, or a relative or a client, it should trigger a recusal that discloses the reason.“In other words, no wiggle room,” he said. “Any degree of self-interest should trigger recusal.”An Attempted Crackdown FailsMore than a decade ago, the state Board of Ethics tried to take a stand against conflicts of interest in the Legislature, specifically cases where lawmakers were advocating for relatives.In 2007, the board found that former New Orleans state Reps. Jeff Arnold, a Democrat, and Alex Heaton, a Republican, violated conflict-of-interest laws for strenuously fighting bills that would have eliminated the jobs of Heaton’s brother and Arnold’s father, who were Orleans Parish tax assessors.But the two lawmakers claimed that the Ethics Board overstepped its powers, and they argued that the Louisiana Constitution protects lawmakers from being punished by the Ethics Board for participating in the legislative process. The Louisiana 1st Circuit Court of Appeal agreed.In the end, it was the board that got scolded — not the lawmakers. Get ProPublica’s Top Stories by Email The decision effectively prevented the Board of Ethics from serving as a watchdog for legislative conflicts of interest — leaving it to lawmakers to penalize other lawmakers for such conflicts. If someone outside of the Legislature identifies a violation, it can be considered only if another member of the Legislature decides to take it up.Dealing with entanglements is a tricky subject among state legislatures, many of them made up of part-time lawmakers who maintain full-time jobs. In Louisiana, the same rules apply to legislators voting on bills involving family members as do to their own interests — namely, lawmakers are allowed to vote on bills as long as they or relatives don’t benefit more than others in the same industry. In California, by contrast, a recusal would be triggered when a lawmaker, or immediate family member, might benefit from a bill affecting a business where they have at least a $2,000 investment.In some cases, the conflict doesn’t present itself until after votes are cast.State Sen. Gary Smith, D-Norco, was one of five legislators who sat on a task force that shaped proposed legislation overhauling Louisiana’s riverboat casino and gaming industry. He also chaired the Senate Judiciary B Committee, which considered and largely approved a slate of bills to relax gambling laws in Louisiana.Smith voted in favor of two bills that were strongly backed by DiamondJacks Casino and Hotel. He co-sponsored one, which passed the Legislature, that will allow the state’s 15 riverboat casinos to move onshore and operate as traditional land-based casinos, with more room for games. The other, which failed, would have allowed DiamondJacks casino to relocate 300 miles south from Bossier City to Tangipahoa Parish.Nine days after Smith cast his vote on the Senate floor to relocate DiamondJacks, the lobbying firm Capitol Partners hired Smith’s wife, Katherine, to join its team representing the casino, according to the state’s lobbyist registry.Smith said he became aware of his wife’s job representing DiamondJacks only when he was questioned about it by a reporter.“She has been a lobbyist for longer than I have known her,” Smith said. “We don’t discuss her clients and she has never lobbied me.”He added that his wife’s relationship with the casino would not have influenced his decision because he’s consistently supported gambling interests, a contention supported by his voting record.Katherine Smith, who has been a lobbyist since 2004, said she never talks to her husband about the bills she’s working on. The Smiths married in 2009.“There is no conflict,” she said. “I would never ask him to do anything. It’s not legal.”Jesse McCormick, a managing partner of Capitol Partners, said he started discussions with Katherine Smith about hiring her while the bill was pending in the Senate but after it had cleared her husband’s committee. “We work on a lot of things together; she’s a trusted companion and she’s a really hard worker,” McCormick said of Smith.Earlier this year, another legislator took a different path when faced with a vote that could conflict with his wife’s future employment.Rep. Tanner Magee, a Houma Republican, recused himself from a medical marijuana bill because his wife had been contacted about doing part-time bookkeeping for a company contracted to grow the plant.“You just don’t want to give the appearance of impropriety,” Magee said. “I don’t want to do anything that looks like it’s affecting me personally.”When a Day Job Collides With Writing LawsSeveral lawmakers in the Legislature work day jobs as attorneys, which creates another avenue in which different interests can collide.Lawmakers have distinct views on what constitutes a conflict. This year, for example, Rep. Stephen Dwight, a Lake Charles Republican who represents a local sheriff’s office, recused himself from a vote that could increase sheriff salaries 7 percent across the state.Dwight said he didn’t think he was legally required to abstain but opted to sit out from the vote “out of an abundance of caution,” after discussing the matter with staff.Meanwhile, Sens. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, and Danny Martiny, R-Metairie, who are also attorneys representing local sheriffs, did not. They voted in favor of the bill, which passed.Ward said the perception of a conflict didn’t occur to him at the time, because the bill moved quickly through the chamber and was not controversial. In the Senate, only one person voted against it.“I’m an independent contractor for the sheriff, so if they do or don’t like the way I vote, they could no longer hire me, but I never thought of it as a conflict,” he said. “I do try to keep as clear of a line as possible, so if I didn’t do that here, I’m sorry about it.”Martiny did not respond to requests for comment.Another attorney, state Rep. Katrina Jackson, recused herself from voting on one bill that pertained to her client during the regular session, while sponsoring a similar bill that passed and was signed into law by the governor. The two pieces of legislation were frequently referred to as companion bills with the same group of backers.Jackson, a Monroe Democrat, has represented physicians under investigation by the state medical board, including Dr. Greg Stephens, an Arkansas-based doctor who was disciplined by the board.At the Capitol, she has worked to change the way doctors accused of misconduct are investigated.Jackson said she was moved to act by doctors who had lost their licenses. She said they weren’t getting a fair shake under current board rules. State Rep. Katrina Jackson (Patrick Dennis, The Advocate) Jackson’s bill will prevent the board’s executive director from serving as the lead investigator into allegations against doctors, to make the investigations independent from the board and its staff. It also will change the board’s composition, by adding three members — one consumer member and two additional doctors to add more insights to the process.And the bill will prohibit board employees from initiating investigations of doctors. Instead, they will have to stem from outside complaints, law enforcement reports or a two-thirds vote of the board.In a House committee, state Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Marksville, said he had reservations about the motivations behind Jackson’s bill, which passed the Legislature and is awaiting the governor’s signature.“Is there a reason for these policy changes? I mean, what’s going on?” Johnson asked Dr. Vincent Culotta, the executive director of the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners.Culotta, who was testifying against the bill, pointed the finger elsewhere, saying, “I think you’d have to ask the makers and the people who push these bills.”“I’m worried there’s a clash of personalities, and I’m worried we’re changing policy as a result of it and it’s concerning me,” Johnson said.In April, Jackson told an Advocate reporter that she didn’t think her work with Stephens presented a conflict. She said she had no plans to recuse herself because she received no money from the board.When the companion bill came before her in a House health committee, however, she did recuse herself, saying she did so on the advice of staff. She didn’t abstain from the debate entirely: Taking up her role as Stephens’ lawyer, she asked her colleagues to limit debate about his case.“I have a client that is testifying before this committee which I have a monetary interest in his case,” Jackson said as she recused herself from the committee vote. “And of course, because he’s my client I would ask that not much more be discussed regarding his ongoing case before the board.”Jackson said in an interview that she recused herself because Stephens was testifying and because he had written part of the bill, which included a provision that could have applied retroactively to his own case.But despite that, Jackson took an active role in the debate, and when the committee chairman had to leave the room, she presided over part of the hearing.Stephens and a member of his family also gave emotional testimony about the unfair treatment he received from the board. When a member of the board responded by reading aloud some of the accusations against the doctor, Jackson stopped him, saying it was unnecessary because committee members already had access to his records. Records show that Stephens, a psychiatrist, performed a minor procedure on a patient without proper documentation. Stephens also was accused of leaving pre-signed prescription pads unattended and prescribing medicine to family members without adequate documentation.Jackson said her own bill, which passed the Legislature, wouldn’t affect Stephens, so there was no conflict.“My bill applies prospectively only and applies only to future cases,” she said.Though he was against the original version of Jackson’s bill, Culotta, the state medical examiner, said he is comfortable with the version that passed.“She did a good job at hammering out a compromise,” Culotta said.Johnson, who raised the concerns about the pair of doctor bills, said he didn’t have a problem with the fact that Jackson’s bill was prompted by her clients’ concerns.“We all bring bills based on our life experience,” he said. “Lawyers bring bills that affect lawyers; doctors bring bills that affect doctors.”And as far as bills that affect clients?“That’s her personal decision,” Johnson said. “I don’t have a problem with it.”Pearson Cross, a political science professor and associate dean at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, acknowledged that it may be difficult to spell out in law exactly where legislators should draw the line when it comes to conflicts of interest. But he said in the absence of legal clarity, lawmakers should govern themselves with common sense.“No law can substitute for good judgment in the end,” he said. “But, then again, we could probably be doing better than we are now.”
Legislators in Many States Can Push Bills They’d Profit From
by Decca Muldowney It’s a fundamental part of representative government: Politicians are elected to advocate for their constituents, and not their own interests.But in many states, laws and ethics rules allow representatives to advance bills that would benefit their own financial interests, as well.Take Louisiana, where lawmakers only have to recuse themselves if a proposed bill benefits them specifically and no one else, as The Advocate and ProPublica have detailed this week. So, for example, if the owner of a group of nursing homes votes for a bill that would increase profits for his business, but not for other nursing home owners, that would be a conflict of interest. But if the bill increases profit for the entire industry, then it’s acceptable.Similar language exists in the majority of states, regardless of whether they have full-time, part-time or citizen legislatures. In part-time and citizen legislatures, in which lawmakers are not paid a full salary and often rely on other employment, this means people connected to certain industries or fields are not automatically barred from voting on legislation that might affect them financially. Get ProPublica’s Top Stories by Email “The increasing complexity of public policy at all levels, with intervention into private affairs, makes conflicts of interest almost inevitable for every part-time public official and particularly for a member who must vote on measures affecting the life of every citizen or resident of the state,” the Legislative Manual of North Dakota states.This can mean situations that look like conflicts of interest often technically aren’t, according to the letter of the law. In Alabama, State Sen. William Beasley proposed legislation last year that would exempt prescription medicine from business license taxes, potentially saving pharmacies money. When he is not making laws, Beasley is president of the company that owns Clayton Drug Company and operates a chain of pharmacies.Beasley stands to personally benefit from the legislation, but so do all the other pharmacy owners in Alabama. “I’m sponsoring the bill for all retail pharmacists in the state of Alabama,” Beasley told AL.com, “I’m just one little person. I’m one little spoke in the wheel.”Louisiana’s rules are less stringent than those in some other states. In California, for example, a lawmaker has a conflict of interest when a bill might benefit his or her immediate family, or any business or property where he or she has over a $2,000 investment. In such cases, California lawmakers must recuse themselves, meaning they cannot discuss or vote on the matter. Maryland’s Ethics Guide specifies that a lawmaker cannot benefit from “a close economic association” with someone, like a lobbyist, who has an interest in a particular piece of legislation passing. Read More Louisiana Lawmakers Are Pushing Bills That Benefit Their Own Businesses. And It’s Perfectly Legal. Legislators own everything from gas stations to nursing homes, yet they rarely recuse themselves on bills that directly affect them. Even when a lawmaker doesn’t have a conflict of interest according to ethics rules, some states try to prevent even the “appearance” of a conflict. For example, in Maryland, lawmakers are encouraged to file a “disclaimer of conflict” to the State Ethics Commission related to their particular occupation. The commission then decides whether the lawmaker should recuse himself or herself. In Colorado, lawmakers are asked to recuse themselves from voting on issues in which their “participation would create the appearance of impropriety.”In 2015, the Center for Public Integrity and The Post and Courier reported on how South Carolina’s ethics laws allowed lawmakers to use campaign accounts, reimbursements from state governments and gifts from interested parties as a “personal ATM.” The Legislature passed changes to the state’s ethics laws the following year requiring lawmakers to file financial disclosures and establishing an independent body to oversee compliance.But even before the reforms passed, critics were saying they didn’t go far enough. The State newspaper reported that South Caroline state Rep. Jim Merrill was earning money through his public relations company but did not have to disclose who was paying him. In December 2016, a grand jury investigation into corruption in the statehouse indicted Merrill on 30 charges of ethics violations. Merrill was accused of using his company to accept more than $1 million from groups with interests in state legislation. In 2017, he agreed to cooperate with prosecutors as they continued their investigation, pleading guilty to one charge of misconduct in office. By May 2017, four South Carolina lawmakers had been indicted as part of the probe.
PTSD in First Responders: An Audiovisual Experience and Conversation
by ProPublica