Stories

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

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  • Bad to the Bone

    When four executives of a medical-device company called Synthes went to jail for illegally marketing a bone cement—five patients had died after it was injected into their spines—Mina Kimes knew there had to be a compelling saga behind a case that had generated little coverage beyond local news articles. So she began digging, first with FOIA requests for never-before-published government documents, and then assembling hundreds of pages of court transcripts and internal company e-mails and reports. She used that foundation to begin the harder challenge: persuading Synthes employees, many of them terrified by the criminal case and the company’s intimidating chairman, to talk to her. With six months of grueling, old-fashioned reporting, Kimes succeeded, and “Bad to the Bone” is the masterful result. Not only did she persuade more than 20 current and former company employees to speak, but she also revealed a story whose disturbing breadth far exceeded the case presented in court. Her tour de force reporting raises profound new questions about the culpability of a key figure who wasn’t charged: Hansjörg Wyss, the reclusive and controlling Swiss founder and chairman—one of the richest people in the world—who made crucial decisions about how to sell the bone cement. This is a classic tale of corporate malfeasance: Warned by the government not to sell its bone cement for use in the spine, Synthes ignored the admonition despite clear evidence of lethal danger—a pig had died within seconds when the cement was tested on it—and encouraged surgeons to use the cement on people, five of whom died soon afterward. But “Bad to the Bone” isn’t just an exposé. It opens a window into a broader issue: how the medical system actually runs. Readers see how salespeople with no medical training advise surgeons—inside the OR during operations—on how to use their devices. They experience the tale of one surgeon who continues using the cement even after two of his patients died. Oh, and what sort of justice does Synthes itself receive? Wyss sells it, for $20 billion, to health care giant Johnson & Johnson, which praises Synthes’s “culture” and “values.” Corporate crime. Death on the operating room table. Secret e-mails. Surgeons on the edge. An imperious multibillionaire CEO. It’s a mesmerizing article, and Kimes’s reporting takes readers on a deeply unsettling journey that ensures they’ll never look at the medical system the same way again.
  • Driven To Distraction

    This seven-month-long investigation revealed serious crashes, injuries and deaths caused by a danger that now exists in virtually every police car in the United States. Dashboard-mounted technology has turned modern patrol cars into offices on wheels. Computers, cameras, GPS devices, radios, smart phones and license plate scanners compete for the officer’s attention while driving, and the consequences of those distractions can be life altering. The series led to significant policy changes at two of the largest police departments in Texas. It sparked action from the world’s largest organization of police leaders. And our reporting also became mandatory safety training viewing for every highway trooper in one state.
  • Hospital at Risk

    My investigation of the Minnesota Security Hospital, a state-run facility that provides psychiatric treatment to nearly 400 adults deemed "mentally ill and dangerous," uncovered high rates of violence and injuries of employees and patients at the facility, a critical shortage of psychiatrists, and widespread confusion among employees about what to do when a patient becomes violent. I found that much of confusion was the result of the abrasive, threatening management style of head administrator David Proffitt, who was hired in 2011 to reform the facility. I began investigating Proffitt and found he was hired without a basic background check. I uncovered many troubling details from Proffitt's past, including domestic violence, a PhD from a now-defunct online degree mill, a forced resignation from his previous job as the administrator of a private psychiatric hospital in Maine, and other failings. The state ordered Proffitt to resign and the Minnesota legislative auditor began an audit of the department's hiring practices. The assistant commissioner of the Department of Human Services who led the hiring search also resigned. The governor proposed $40 million in renovations to address safety concerns. Regulators from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration visited the facility for the first time in 21 years. The facility also implemented new training for employees to reduce violence. My investigation of the facility continues.
  • Startribune:The Day Care Threat

    Children had been dying in Minnesota child care at an alarming rate and state regulators and industry leaders had overlooked the problem until our reporting laid bare a series of safety failures that led to the spike in deaths. The reporters made dozens of public record requests and analyzed hundreds of cases to uncover wide problems in the state’s in-home daycare system. They almost all the deaths occurred at in-home daycares, which have more lax regulations than centers. The series also uncovered dozens of cases of sexual abuse, gun violence and negligence that harmed children in the state’s in-home daycare system. It revealed how Minnesota has some of the weakest training and supervision rules in the country for these in-home daycares. The reporters also discovered that critical safety records that would help parents identify problem providers were not accessible to the public. The response to the series was swift and sustained. State regulators implemented changes to improve infant safe sleep practices and they are planning legislation this session to shore up some of the safety problems. The series also highlighted how the lack of information about child care deaths is a national problem.
  • HBO Real Sports: Hockey's Darkest Day

    In 2011 a plane carrying a Russian hockey team crashed shortly after takeoff--the deadliest accident in the history of professional sports. A five-month Real Sports investigation uncovered massive safety problems in the Russian hockey league. The league spent millions on player salaries but "a few bucks" on everything else--including travel. The plane that crashed was operated by a cheap, third-rate company that had been banned from flying to Europe because they had been cited so many times for major safety violations. The crew of the plane hadn't even completed their training. Our investigation showed that the lack of safety in the world’s second best hockey league—called the KHL—often extends to the ice where KHL team doctors use IV’s and drugs to get their players to perform better on the ice. One young star died after receiving an injection of banned drugs from team doctors. When it came to travel, the lack of safe conditions was nearly universal. Practically every team flew on a Soviet-era jet—jets that make up 3% of the world’s fleet but account for 42% of the world’s accidents. These jets are in such poor condition that most Russian airlines wont use them. Yet even after the crash the KHL continued to use these planes, a fact they initially denied. Shortly after we interviewed the KHL Vice President, the league changed its rules. Now teams fly strictly on modern equipment.
  • Spa shooter sidestepped police

    Following a mass shooting inside a suburban Milwaukee spa, reporters John Diedrich and Gina Barton dug into the history of shooter Radcliffe Haughton with police in his community of Brown Deer. They uncovered a series of failures by police that left a dangerous man on the street, emboldening him to become more violent. Let down by police, Zina Haughton sought protection with a restraining order. She was dead days after it was issued. Diedrich and Barton found Brown Deer did not follow the state’s mandatory arrest law in such cases and failed to uphold its most basic duty: protecting the public. The most remarkable finding was that Brown Deer police actually retreated from a standoff with Haughton even though officers had saw him point what appeared to be a rifle at his wife. The police chief was defiant. Elected officials in Brown Deer deferred to the chief, who operates with little oversight in the village, the reporters found. The case revealed a loophole in state’s domestic violence laws: No one could hold local police accountable for failing to follow the law as designed by legislators. Data reporter Ben Poston joined the effort to examine how many domestic violence cases referred to prosecutors result in charges, thus holding other parts of the criminal justice system accountable.
  • Broken Shield

    Decades ago, California created a special police force to patrol exclusively at its five state developmental centers – taxpayer-funded institutions where patients with severe autism and cerebral palsy have been beaten, tortured and raped by staff members. But California Watch found that this state force, the Office of Protective Services, does an abysmal job bringing perpetrators to justice. Reporter Ryan Gabrielson, a Pulitzer Prize winner, exposed the depths of the abuse inside these developmental centers while showing how sworn officers and detectives wait too long to start investigations, fail to collect evidence and ignore key witnesses – leading to an alarming inability to solve crimes inflicted upon some of society’s most vulnerable citizens. Dozens of women were sexually assaulted inside state centers, but police investigators didn’t order “rape kits” to collect evidence, a standard law enforcement tool. Police waited so long to investigate one sexual assault that the staff janitor accused of rape fled the country, leaving behind a pregnant patient incapable of caring for a child. The police force’s inaction also allowed abusive caregivers to continue molesting patients – even after the department had evidence that could have stopped future assaults. Many of the victims chronicled by California Watch are so disabled they cannot utter a word. Gabrielson gave them a resounding voice. Our Broken Shield series prompted far-reaching change, including a criminal investigation, staff retraining and new laws – all intended to bring greater safeguards and accountability.
  • The Arming Question

    Princeton Public Safety officers are sworn police officers who have the same training and enforce the same laws as local police officers, and they are responsible for responding to the same incidents -- including armed incidents -- as local officers. Yet University Public Safety officers are forbidden from carrying guns. Despite the Virginia Tech shootings and three gun scares on Princeton's campus in recent years, the University has been steadfast in its opposition to arming its officers. But our investigation casts doubt on the University's conclusion that keeping officers unarmed will not affect the response to a shooter on campus and that arming would negatively impact student-officer relationships.
  • Campus Security

    ChicagoTalks reporters found only a handful of the 63 colleges and universities in Cook County are following an Illinois law -- the Campus Security Enhancement Act of 2008 (SB 2691) -- aimed to make campuses safe. Under the law, colleges and universities are required to create all-hazard emergency and violence prevention plans, along with threat assessment teams and violence prevention committees. The schools are also required to hold annual security trainings. ChicagoTalks reporters contacted, often repeatedly, every public and private, two and four-year college and university in Cook County, and determined that 11 schools appear to be violating the law, while 45 schools provided conflicting or incomplete information -- or no information at all. Reporters found just seven schools in compliance.
  • Questions Are Raised on Restraint Training

    This examination detailed how school districts across California have relied on dubious techniques developed by an obscure industry to physically restrain unruly students. While few of these restraint maneuvers are grounded in evidence-based research, they are used to subdue students who are emotionally disturbed or mentally disabled -- some of the most difficult and sensitive situations that teachers encounter. The story also found that there is little regulatory oversight of the restraint industry.