Wednesday, March 09, 2016

S.C. police shooting series wins Charleston daily Scripps Howard Community Journalism award

The staff of The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C. was awarded the Community Journalism prize in the 2015 Scripps Howard Awards for its series, "Shots Fired," an in-depth analysis of the state's handling of every police-involved shooting since 2009 "that revealed the state's failure to learn and properly investigate shooting cases," the Scripps Howard Foundation says. The shootings were spread throughout the state, including in many rural areas. Recipients of the journalism awards will be honored in Scottsdale, Ariz., on April 28. To view other award winners click here.

Judges wrote of the series: "We applaud the exhaustive research, including scouring more than 30,000 documents, hours of video and an analysis of more than 400,000 stops involving law enforcement officials in South Carolina. The reporting and writing were compelling, as was the chilling video. The project has created a positive chain of reaction. It has forced local, state and federal law enforcement officials to re-evaluate how they investigate and respond to shootings."

The series, reported by Tony Bartelme, Andrew Knapp, Doug Pardue, David Slade and Glenn Smith, used investigative files obtained through the Freedom of Information Act to reveal "that Palmetto State officers shoot someone on average every 10 days, and that state investigators often failed to answer key questions about what happened," reports The Post and Courier. Overall, 235 shootings have taken place since 2009, leading to 89 deaths and 96 wounded. (Post and Courier map: South Carolina shootings by police since 2009)
"Each shooting also triggered an investigation into whether officers were justified in using deadly force," The Post and Courier reports in the series. "With just a few notable exceptions, these officers were cleared of any wrongdoing. To be sure, many cases were open and shut: Armed robbers shooting their way out of convenience stores after holdups; rage-filled drunks bent on destruction; suicidal people daring cops to cut them down. "But a Post and Courier investigation uncovered case after case where agents with the State Law Enforcement Division failed to answer key questions about what happened, failed to document the troubled backgrounds of the officers who drew their guns, and failed to pinpoint missteps and tactical mistakes that could be used to prevent future bloodshed."

"Never-before released dashboard videos also reveal a disturbing pattern of officers shooting at and into vehicles," The Post and Courier Reports in the series. "In statements to SLED, officers said they fired because they were afraid of being injured or killed by these cars and trucks. But the videos show that some officers were out of harm’s way when they opened fire. And SLED case files show little or no documentation that the officers’ accounts were challenged over these inconsistencies." The series also contains the name of every person shot, the officer who shot them and the county where the shooting took place.

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