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  • Commercial Pilots: Addicted to Automation

    NBC Bay Area’s news team set the bar for coverage with big-picture context and expert analysis without speculation in the hours and days after Asiana Flight 214 crashed at San Francisco International Airport on July 6, 2013. Beyond having the major facts and developments of the breaking news first, NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit over the following months deepened that coverage with investigations that exposed safety issues within the aviation industry; issues that both the FAA and NTSB later confirmed and acknowledged as critical safety concerns. The Unit: •First widely exposed the danger that pilots tend to become addicted to automation in the cockpit •First uncovered the little-known Flight Level Change Mode trap as a potential safety issue, one that may have played a role in this crash •First to go inside and tour several international flight schools based in the U.S. where pilots such as the Asiana crew trained •First to uncover questionable gaps in training and experience of young, foreign pilots who come to the U.S. to learn to fly commercial large-body airplanes
  • Wandering

    Six in 10 people with Alzheimer’s disease will wander, and a quick rescue is critical: 60 percent of those who wander, if not found within 24 hours, are going to die. But in Washington, government belt-tightening has hindered efforts to better equip local law enforcement to handle missing-persons cases involving dementia, InvestigateWest learned. A first-ever analysis of media reports, search-and-rescue mission reports, and interviews with law enforcement by InvestigateWest found that at least ten seniors have died as a direct result of wandering in the last five years. In that group is Samuel Counts, 71, a father of 10 and a retired Vietnam War veteran whose case fueled this story’s narrative. The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office waited six full days before enlisting a helicopter in the search, a delay that goes against search-and-rescue experts’ guidelines when someone is endangered. Even as the number of people with Alzheimer’s increases dramatically, no public record is routinely created in Washington when wandering is a contributing factor to death, and no state agency keeps a tally of these cases. Wandering behavior is predictable and training for law enforcement is available, but here in Washington, it takes a tragedy for anyone to pay attention.
  • In the Line of Fire: Tough justice for bystanders hit by NYPD bullets

    When innocent bystanders were shot by New York police in front of the Empire State Building, many were surprised. Yet over the last two-plus decades, from 1990 to 2012, an examination of yearly police reports revealed that nearly 60 innocent bystanders were shot. Some were killed, while others suffered permanent injuries.These were people who were not mistakenly believed to be suspects, but simply innocent bystanders at the wrong place and wrong time. A CUNY News Service review, based on examining more than two decades of police reports, lawsuits, news accounts and interviews, shows that every year for the past 10 years at least one innocent bystander has been shot by the NYPD. Most of the time the victims are wounded. Some with permanent injuries. One bystander, a paraplegic teenager, was struck by a stray police bullet while sitting in his wheelchair. Further digging revealed the city makes no special effort to compensate victims -- indeed, the city in an untold number of cases fights making any compensation. The investigation shows that innocent bystanders who try to get city compensation have to file claims and lawsuits, and often face years of delay and mental anguish to go along with their physical pain. Payment vary greatly. The city often contests payments, and some victims get no money at all for their pains. Even victims in the same incident can get wildly different results -- in one case, one bystander got compensation, a second bystander who was severely wounded got no money. The majority of the shootings happen in the city’s poorer sections, particularly in northern Manhattan, from Harlem to Inwood. The shootings also happen mainly during daylight, underscoring questions about police training raised by victims.
  • Buried in Grain

    NPR Correspondent Howard Berkes and Center for Public Integrity Senior Reporter Jim Morris spent seven months investigating dozens of horrific and preventable deaths in America’s grain storage bins. They immediately discovered that the government’s own data for grain entrapment incidents was inaccurate and incomplete, and a database kept by Purdue University and used by OSHA and industry was also incomplete. That prompted weeks of painstaking scrutiny of multiple government datasets, which resulted in a more complete list of incidents and discernible and disturbing patterns in enforcement. The NPR/CPI analysis showed that grain bin “drownings” occurred repeatedly and increasingly during a 20-year period in which both OSHA and the industry had promised more focused attention to safety. The analysis also showed that the same safety standards were violated over and over again, year after year, in incidents that left workers dead, including incidents involving underage, illegally employed workers. Workers were repeatedly sent into bins in violation of the law, and without proper training or safety equipment. But NPR/CPI found that OSHA’s fines were cut an average of 60 per cent in 60 per cent of the incidents. In the very worst cases, which involved willful and egregious employer behavior, OSHA cut fines from 50 to 97 percent. NPR/CPI also found that criminal referrals and prosecutions are rare, even when employers are cited for egregious and willful behavior. “Buried in Grain” chronicles a failed regulatory system even as grain harvests and storage, and worker entrapments and deaths, reached record levels. The series highlighted one particular incident in 2010 in Illinois in which a 14-year-old and 19-year-old died, and their best friend watched them die. “Buried in Grain” prompted calls for reform from members of Congress, support for legislation that would make willful behavior in worker deaths a felony, an internal agency effort to look more closely at fine reductions and a second look at possible federal criminal charges in the Illinois case.
  • Chemical Drift, the Second-Hand Smoke of Big Agriculture

    This series documented the dangers posed by agricultural chemicals which are applied both aerially and by land equipment. Some estimates show up to 90 percent of applied chemicals fail to hit the targeted site and drift hundreds of miles in the environment, contaminating people, water systems, air and animals. The series revealed that current safety standards were based on old theories of toxicology, which assume that the danger of chemical exposure is based on the dose. “The dose makes the poison” was the theory. That is not true with endocrine disrupting chemical pesticides that are non-monotonic, meaning that even at very low levels of exposure, significant damage can occur, especially if exposure is during childhood or fetal development. In “Pitchfork Rebels,” Howard wrote about organic farmers training to install environmental sampling devices known as Drift Catchers on their land. The resulting chemical analysis showed the presence of chlorpyrifos, an endocrine disrupting chemical insecticide linked to ADHD and autism, had drifted to their farms from an aerial application more than two miles away. The EPA banned all uses of chlorpyrifos in homes and daycare centers because of its toxicity for children, but it is still allowed in agricultural uses. This article documented the toxin’s drift to an organic farm where three young sisters live.
  • New Haven Police Brutality Investigation

    Members of New Haven’s Latino community approached NBC Connecticut with complaints about Officer Dennis O’Connell with the New Haven Police Department. Several people told us that they were being targeted by the officer, and when they encountered him, they were subjected to brutality which included beatings, verbal abuse, and in one case that we found what appeared to be repeated and potentially unnecessary use of a taser. We spoke with several of the alleged victims as a starting point for our story. From there, we embarked on a series of FOI requests that resulted in hundreds of pages of documents ranging from police reports of the alleged incidents to court settlements between the city of New Haven and alleged victims of Officer O’Connell. We spoke to an expert in criminal justice who, after reading through the police reports and reviewing Officer O’Connell’s file, determined there was a definitive and disturbing pattern. He also determined that based on the lack of disciplinary measures and retraining of the officer, NHPD was ignoring a significant problem within their ranks.
  • Wedding Video Woes

    The NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters expose a wedding videographer who left dozens of newlywed couples in multiple states without their once-in-a-lifetime memories and out tens of thousands of dollars. In our persistent investigation, Jesse Clark literally runs from our cameras and later tackles our news photographer. As a result of our initial story, Clark hands over long overdue wedding videos to a police detective but continues to try to get new business from more couples in CT, NY, RI, MA, CA, FL and TX under new company names. NBC Connecticut continued to pursue the story as he criss-crossed the United States. This story series resulted in MA Attorney General Martha Coakley suing Clark and his associates for damages of more than $75,000, freezing his assets and issuing a restraining order. The complaints against him are also under investigation in Connecticut. Legal experts say this could eventually become an interstate trade case against Clark.
  • Semper Fi: Always Faithful

    Marine Corps Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger was a devoted marine for nearly 25 years. As a drill instructor, he lived and breathed the Marine Corps and was responsible for training thousands of new recruits. When Jerry’s nine-year-old daughter Janey died of a rare type of leukemia, his world collapsed. As a grief-stricken father, he struggled for years to make sense of what happened. His search for answers led to the shocking discovery of one of the largest water contamination sites in US history. For thirty years, unbeknownst to the Marines living there, the Marine Corps improperly disposed of toxic cleaning solvents that contaminated the drinking water at North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base. It is estimated that nearly one million Marines and their families may have been exposed to high levels of carcinogens through the water. 25 years after the wells were finally closed, only a fraction of former residents know about their exposure to the toxic chemicals. In the process of investigating the Camp Lejeune contamination, a larger issue comes into focus - the abysmal environmental record of the military. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Defense is the United States’ largest polluter, which raises grave questions about environmental conditions at other bases across the country. “Semper Fi: Always Faithful” is a timely and sobering story of the betrayal of US soldiers and is a call to action for more environmental oversight of military sites.
  • Hidden Behind the Badge

    For more than a decade, the New Jersey State Police had to answer to a federal monitor after admissions the force engaged in racial profiling on state highways in the late 1990s. That oversight ended in 2009, but "Hidden Behind the Badge," a yearlong investigation by The Star-Ledger’s Christopher Baxter, showed many of the State Police’s bad habits remain. In a remarkable run of reporting throughout 2012, Baxter exposed actions by troopers that shocked the public, drew national attention, prompted unprecedented shakeups of top brass and spurred new state investigations, suspensions, criminal charges and legislation. He also got the attention of New Jersey’s most powerful political leaders by digging into how the State Police operates, showing whistleblowers fear career-killing reprisals for speaking up, proving the promotion system is more subjective than nearly any other in the country and raising questions about training to recognize diabetic shock.
  • Peter Gray

    The Press-Citizen obtained confidential documents outlining how a University of Iowa Athletics Department official was found guilty of violating the university's sexual harassment policy, including that he made unwanted and inappropriate advances toward UI students and student athletes and offered to trade athletics tickets and money for sexual favors. After breaking the story on our website and morning edition the next day, the Press-Citizen embarked on nearly daily coverage of this story, which also included numerous FOIA requests. Because of the Press-Citizen's coverage, the university restructured the athletics department and implemented other policy changes. The state Board of Regents has called for a full report of the incident and has criticized the university of being lax in its handling of sexual harassment reports and sexual harassment training. Additional changes or fallout may be forthcoming. Especially illuminating were UI President Sally Mason's remarks in an interview with the Press-Citizen that this incident never would have been made public had the newspaper not obtained the confidential documents, which highlights the importance of watchdog work.