Howard Center wins award for probe of federal police shootings

Thursday, April 8, 2021

The Howard Center for Investigative Journalism, a national reporting initiative at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, has won the top collegiate award in investigative journalism from Investigative Reporters & Editors for its probe of federal police shootings.

"Homeland Secrets” took first place in the large student category for revealing how agents from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), a little known investigative unit of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), were involved in civilian shootings around the country, many of which had not been publicly investigated.

Finalists in the same category were the University of Maryland’s Howard Center for “Public housing, the last refuge for the poor, threatens to kick out tenants for small debts” and Cronkite’s Carnegie-Knight News21 program for “Kids Imprisoned: An Investigation of juvenile justice in America.”

The State Press, ASU's student-run news organiztaion, was a finalist in the small student category for its reporting project “ASU's sexual assault investigation processes leave survivors traumatized, often without justice,” by Wyatt Myskow, Andrew Onodera and Piper Hansen, which examined how the university handles sexual assault cases.

“We’re especially proud that such a range of work is being recognized with these awards – the Howard Centers for Investigative Journalism, our Carnegie-Knight News21 program and the ASU student newspaper,” said Cronkite School Interim Dean Kristin Gilger. “We’re seeing more student interest than ever in investigative reporting, and students are producing work that any professional would be proud to claim. That bodes well for the future of journalism.”

The Howard Centers at Arizona State University and the University of Maryland are funded by the Scripps Howard Foundation to advance deeply researched watchdog journalism and train the next generation of investigative reporters. They were established in 2019 to honor the legacy of Roy W. Howard, the former chairman of the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain and a pioneering news reporter.

The national News21 Initiative is part of an effort of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York to change the way journalism is taught in the U.S. and train a new generation of journalists capable of reshaping the news industry.

The Howard Center’s award-winning investigation was triggered by a 2019 shooting in Phoenix involving HSI agents and suspected human smugglers. Students pieced together what happened by analyzing the Phoenix Police Department’s complete investigative file, which included a 132-page incident report, hours of video and audio of interviews with suspects, witnesses and federal agents, thousands of crime scene photos and audio of the shootout captured by a nearby security system.

It was that audio — analyzed for the Howard Center by two nationally recognized audio forensics and ballistics experts — that revealed federal agents, not suspects, opened fire first, contradicting official accounts of the shooting.

Howard Center journalists then set out to investigate whether HSI agents had been involved in other shootings across the U.S. They scoured news reports and obtained details of each case through public records from police agencies, health departments, prosecutors and courts. In all, reporters amassed more than 1,500 pages of official records and interviewed family members of victims from around the country who had been involved in HSI shootings.

Eight Howard Center students spent five months reporting and producing the multimedia investigation, which includes an interactive national map of shootings and an 11-minute video documentary. Two other Cronkite students helped produce some of the graphics used in the project, which was published in February 2020 and carried by national and regional media outlets, including The Associated Press, The Arizona Republic and Cronkite News, the news division of Arizona PBS.

“I’m so proud of the student-journalists who produced this Howard Center investigation. It was an important but tough topic, and they rose to the challenge. Their tenacity and hard work are what’s being honored today, and I couldn’t be happier for them,” said Maud Beelman, director and executive editor of the Howard Center.

“We were fortunate to work with students who were both fierce reporters and great storytellers,” added Lauren Mucciolo, the center’s executive producer.

The IRE winners include:

Student - Large

Winner

"Homeland Secrets,” Howard Center for Investigative Journalism, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, José-Ignacio Castañeda Perez, Alexandra Edelmann, Joel Farias Godinez, Derek Hall, Nicole Ludden, Maia Ordoñez, Devan Sauer, Mackenzie Shuman, Mike Barnitz and Troy Tauscher.

Finalists

“Public housing, the last refuge for the poor, threatens to kick out tenants for small debts,”
Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at the University of Maryland.

“Kids Imprisoned: An Investigation of juvenile justice in America,” Carnegie-Knight News21, news staff.

Student - Small

Finalist

“ASU's sexual assault investigation processes leave survivors traumatized, often without justice,” The State Press, Wyatt Myskow, Andrew Onodera and Piper Hansen.