Projects by ProPublica and the South Bend Tribune, a participating newsroom in the ProPublica Local Reporting Network, are two of seven finalists for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting. ProPublica was recognized for its “Zero Tolerance” series and the Tribune for “Accused in Elkhart.”
Led by ProPublica senior reporter Ginger Thompson and reporters Michael Grabell and Topher Sanders, “Zero Tolerance” dug into conditions at Border Patrol detention centers where thousands of children separated from their parents, as well as unaccompanied minors, have been sent. Jodi S. Cohen, Duaa Eldeib, Melissa Sanchez, Adriana Gallardo, Alex Mierjeski, Claire Perlman, and Ken Schwencke also contributed to the series.
The investigation began in June 2018, when ProPublica published a secret audio recording that captured the unmistakable sounds of children, recently separated from their families at the Mexican border, sobbing and begging for their parents. The cries were played by lawmakers on the floors of Congress and by protesters at demonstrations across the country. Within 48 hours of ProPublica’s publication, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to end the policy and keep immigrant families together. A federal judge in California ordered that parents and children be reunited within 30 days.
ProPublica pressed on with a newsroom-wide investigation into detention facilities for immigrant children. Reporters on many beats — in our newsrooms in New York and Chicago — pitched in and filed public records requests for police reports and call logs concerning more than 100 shelters for immigrant children nationwide. The stories that emerged revealed hundreds of allegations of sex abuse, fights and missing children. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey ordered a statewide inspection of the shelters, leading to the shutdown of two centers run by Southwest Key after the nonprofit failed to provide proof that all its employees had completed background checks.
Months after the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy was reversed, Thompson revealed that families were still being separated at the border. She told the story of a 4-year-old Salvadoran boy taken from his father by authorities, who claimed, without evidence, that the father was a gang member. The Department of Homeland Security quickly changed course and returned the boy to his father two weeks after publication.
The “Accused in Elkhart” investigation by the Tribune and ProPublica revealed deep flaws and abuses of power in the criminal justice system in Elkhart, Indiana — from new revelations in the wrongful convictions of two innocent men, to the promotions of police supervisors with serious disciplinary records, to the mishandling of police misconduct cases. Driven by Tribune reporter Christian Sheckler and ProPublica reporter Ken Armstrong, the investigation also found that, while the police chief and most of the department’s supervisors had been disciplined for misconduct, carelessness and incompetence, they kept their jobs and were often promoted.
In the aftermath of this reporting, two police officers were charged with battery for the beating of a handcuffed man. Previously, the officers had been issued only reprimands, and the incident became public only after the news organizations began investigating it. The police chief resigned, and Elkhart’s mayor announced an independent review of the city’s Police Department — before abandoning his own re-election campaign.
In addition to these two projects, an investigation by reporter Connor Sheets of AL.com — recently selected as a participant in the ProPublica Local Reporting Network during 2019 — is also a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize. See a full list of Goldsmith finalists here.