Stories

The IRE Resource Center is a major research library containing more than 27,000 investigative stories.

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Search results for "Texas Observer" ...

  • TX Observer: Prison by Any Other Name

    Since the 1990s, Texas has run a controversial, constitutionally dubious “civil commitment” program that keeps hundreds of sex offenders in intensive monitoring and treatment long after they’ve finished their prison sentences. In 2015, after the agency running the program nearly imploded amid mismanagement, Texas lawmakers essentially turned civil commitment over to a scandal-ridden private prison contractor eager to gobble up contracts at the intersection of incarceration and therapy. The result: non-existent treatment, shoddy medical care, and a new taxpayer-funded, privately operated lockup in middle-of-nowhere Texas, where men under civil commitment are now confined indefinitely. Since the facility opened, only five men have been released — four of them to medical facilities where they later died.
  • The Texas Observer with The Investigative Fund: The Surge

    If Texas’s border counties have some of the lowest crime rates in the nation, why are they so heavily policed? As Melissa del Bosque shows, the State of Texas has gone all in on border security spending, devoting $2.6 billion to special-ops teams, armored gunboats, high-tech spy planes, and a surge of law enforcement personnel in the past several years — on top of a multibillion-dollar federal border security operation. For her piece for The Texas Observer, in partnership with The Investigative Fund, del Bosque interviewed residents and elected officials in these border counties, now among the most profiled and surveilled communities in America, who described how this two-fisted border security buildup has taken a toll on their civil liberties. In a separate analysis, Del Bosque joins with reporter G.W. Schulz to uncover how Texas's $15 million high-altitude spy planes have surveilled one border town at least 357 times and may have traveled multiple times into Mexican territory.
  • The Texas Observer and Grist with The Investigative Fund: Too Big to Fine, Too Small to Fight Back

    Citgo refineries spew thousands of tons of chemicals into the air, degrading air quality and putting human health at risk. Despite Citgo's revenues hitting north of $40 billion, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality lets the company off easy. For her investigation in The Texas Observer, in partnership with Grist and The Investigative Fund, Naveena Sadasivam dug into how the TCEQ has fined corporate polluters $30 million for air violations, not much more than the $24 million imposed on gas stations, a significant percentage of which are owned by immigrants, just for record-keeping errors. The disparity between TCEQ's treatment of mom-and-pop operations versus large corporations favors those with money and power. The agency rarely punishes big polluters, often because of a legal loophole, and when it does levy a fine, lawyers negotiate big reductions in penalties. As a result, environmental advocates and small business owners say there's a fundamental unfairness at work with the way TCEQ treats the businesses it regulates.
  • Texas Observer: Access Denied

    The Texas Public Information Act is under attack. The law, which ensures the public’s access to government records, has taken a beating from state Supreme Court jurists, lawmakers and state agencies since it was passed in 1973. Once a shining example of government transparency, the law has been eroded by a growing list of loopholes for everything from ongoing police investigations and the dates of birth of government employees to information related to executions. Journalists are well aware of this problem, but it had never been presented to the public in a deep-dive feature until now. “Access Denied” reveals that government officials can delay, derail and deny requests by slow-walking them or charging exorbitant fees. This piece was reported over six months and included interviews with dozens of government officials, investigative journalists, citizen activists and researchers.
  • Graves of Shame

    In the summer of 2014, a team of forensic anthropologists gathered in Brooks County, Texas, to unearth mass graves containing the remains of hundreds of migrants who had died on their journey north. Reports emerged of bodies buried in kitchen trash bags and skulls wedged between coffins. Within days, the Texas Rangers were asked to investigate. But the probe found no wrongdoing. Investigative Fund reporting fellow John Carlos Frey finds that the Rangers investigator spent all of two days compiling the report and missed massive criminal wrongdoing. In a story for the Texas Observer, Frey uncovers an illegal failure to collect DNA samples and properly label remains. He finds bodies buried less than a foot underground, in violation of Texas law, and other graves containing commingled remains. These violations have made it nearly impossible for families to identify and properly bury their missing loved ones. As a result of the piece the cursory investigation performed by Texas Rangers was nullified, organizations protested, and state representatives vowed to strengthen existing law.
  • The Deadliest Place in Mexico

    The Juarez Valley, a narrow corridor of green farmland carved from the Chihuahuan desert along the Rio Grande, was once known for its cotton, which rivaled Egypt’s. But that was before the Juarez cartel moved in to set up a lucrative drug smuggling trade. “The Deadliest Place in Mexico” explores untold aspects of Mexico’s drug war as it has played out in the small farming communities of this valley. The violence began in 2008, when the Sinaloa cartel moved in to take over the Juarez cartel’s turf. The Mexican government sent in the military to quell the violence — but instead the murder rate exploded. While the bloodshed in the nearby City of Juarez attracted widespread media attention, the violence spilling into the rural Juarez Valley received far less, eve as the killings began to escalate in brutal ways. Community advocates, elected officials, even police officers were shot down in the streets. Several residents were stabbed in the face with ice picks. By 2009, the valley, with a population of 20,000, had a murder rate six times higher than Juarez itself. Newspapers began to call the rural farming region the “Valley of Death.” This investigation uses extensive Freedom of Information Act requests, court documents, and difficult-to-obtain interviews in Spanish and English with current and former Juarez Valley residents, Mexican officials, narcotraffickers and U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officials, to reveal that many of these shocking deaths were perpetrated with the participation of Mexican authorities. It shows scenes of devastation — households where six members of a single family were killed, without a single police investigation. It uncovers targeted killings by masked gunmen of community activists and innocent residents for speaking out against violence and repression facilitated by corrupt military and government officials. And it gathers multiple witnesses who describe soldiers themselves, working in league with the Sinaloa cartel, perpetrating violence against civilians. "The cemeteries are all full. There isn't anywhere left to bury the bodies," one former resident said. "You'll find nothing there but ghost towns and soldiers."
  • Snubbin' the Public

    "The Texas Observer has been fight through the courts" to have video surveillance of Texas House hallways to verify whether a James Leininger was privately lobbing legislators. "At issue is whether all video surveillance by state agencies will be held as secret under the justification of homeland security."
  • A Death in McAllen

    This investigation by the Texas Observer looks into nursing home abuse and state legislation protecting owners from non-economic damages in civil suits. What they found was a 2003 Texas law placed a $250,000 cap on damages, heavily lobbied by nursing home companies, directly affected the number of nursing home inspections and leaves little punishment for nursing homes who abuse, or even kill, their patients. The story also tells the tale of Noe Martinez Jr., a patient who died in McAllen Nursing Center due to gross negligence in July 2004. The state only fined the center $1,300 for his death. Because caring for Medicaid patients like Martinez costs nursing homes up to $1,800 per year, the center more than likely saved money because of his death.
  • City to Union-Busters: "Welcome to El Paso!"

    The Texas Observer reports on how Mediacopy, a California-based business with tainted reputation, Mediacopy, moves to Texas and receives a $1.9 million break in local property taxes. The story reveals that "charges flew on the West Coast that the firm was mistreating its workers, encouraging INS raids, and even manipulating employees trying to organize a union ... Mediacopy Inc. might not have gotten as far as it did, if the El Paso Times had not slept through the abatement story."
  • The Cream of Every Crop

    Texas Observer examines the advantages and disadvantages of the higher education "top ten percent plan" adopted by the state legislature. The plan gives high-school students in the top ten percent of their classes an opportunity to go to college disregarding their SAT scores. The story looks at an academic comparison among students on the percent plan and those accepted on the basis of their test performance, and finds that their average GPA is similar. The author finds that the plan has helped diversify higher education, but does not have the potential to solve the educational inequity at the high school level.