For the second year in a row, the Center for Investigative Reporting’s California Watch today was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize – this time for uncovering systemic failures in protecting residents at the state’s developmental centers.
The California Watch series Broken Shield was a finalist in the public service category. The award went to the South Florida Sun Sentinel for its story on speeding police officers.
“This series truly gave a voice to the voiceless and held the government accountable,” said CIR’s Executive Director Robert J. Rosenthal. “The results of the series have been extraordinary. Being recognized as a finalist is a terrific achievement. We are very proud of the newsroom.”
Added Editorial Director Mark Katches: “Our main objective for telling these stories is to draw attention to a problem – and that attention has already produced significant results for the residents of the state’s developmental centers.”
The series – which had already won the George Polk Award, top honors from the Online News Association and two awards from Investigative Reporters & Editors – has prompted far-reaching change, including a criminal investigation, staff retraining and new laws.
Reporter Ryan Gabrielson’s 18-month investigation about the Office of Protective Services snowballed over the course of 2012 – resulting in five major installments from February to November. The police force was set up specifically to protect the developmentally disabled living in the state’s five remaining board-and-care centers. But Gabrielson found that the department’s officers and detectives often fail to secure crime scenes and routinely delay interviews with key witnesses and suspects – leading to an alarming inability to solve crimes.
Gabrielson detailed that 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. 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.
In one egregious physical abuse case, a caregiver was suspected of using a Taser to inflict burns on a dozen patients. Yet the internal police force waited at least nine days to interview the caregiver, who was never arrested or charged with abuse.
In addition to Gabrielson, several staff members in the newsroom contributed to the project – most notably Agustin Armendariz, who provided data analysis; Carrie Ching, who produced two videos for the series; Monica Lam who produced a broadcast video distributed to TV partners; and Robert Salladay, who edited the project along with Katches.
Last year, California Watch was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in the local reporting category for its series On Shaky Ground, about faulty seismic safety oversight at K-12 schools.