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Broken Shield series wins two IRE awards

Investigative Reporters and Editors

The Center for Investigative Reporting’s California Watch today scored two top national awards from Investigative Reporters and Editors for a series that exposed shoddy practices by an internal police force patrolling California’s developmental centers for the disabled.

The series, Broken Shield, won the IRE Award for best multiplatform investigative reporting in the medium-size category. The series also won the Gannett Award for Innovation in Watchdog Journalism – the only IRE award that comes with a significant cash prize. The Gannett Award is open to news organizations of any size.

It was the second consecutive year that California Watch has won the Gannett Award, making it the first news organization to have won the award twice.

The series is noteworthy because CIR and California Watch produced it for newspapers, broadcast TV stations, public radio stations and an online audience. California Watch also held public forums and distributed postcards summarizing the story to residents near some of the state’s developmental centers...

Gabrielson wins top honor for police reporting

Reporter Ryan Gabrielson has won a national award for excellence in police reporting for exposing the shoddy practices of an internal police force patrolling California’s developmental centers for the disabled.

Gabrielson, who covers law and order for California Watch and its parent organization, the Center for Investigative Reporting, won the 2013 Al Nakkula Award, named after a former Rocky Mountain (Colo.) News police reporter known for his dogged journalism. The award is presented by the University of Colorado, Boulder and the Denver Press Club.

Gabrielson won for his series Broken Shield, an 18-month investigation that uncovered systemic failures at the Office of Protective Services and prompted a criminal investigation, two new laws, staff retraining, policy changes and a management shake-up. A third bill was introduced last month.


He detailed widespread abuses inside the state’s five developmental centers. He also found that the police force charged with protecting some of the state’s most vulnerable wards almost never gets to the bottom of the abuses. Officers and investigators routinely wait too long to start investigations and fail to collect evidence. Gabrielson found that 36 documented rapes had occurred at these state facilities in recent years, but the Office of Protective Services didn’t order a single “rape kit” examination – a standard law enforcement investigatory tool...

CIR’s California Watch wins Polk award for second straight year

February 18, 2013, 12:05 AM | Mark Katches

We are proud to write today that the Center for Investigative Reporting’s California Watch has won the George Polk Award for our series exposing flaws in the way a special state police force handles crimes against the developmentally disabled.

It is the second consecutive year that California Watch has won the prestigious George Polk Award. This year, we are being honored in the category of state reporting for Ryan Gabrielson’s extraordinary series “Broken Shield.”


The series has prompted far-reaching change, including a criminal investigation, staff retraining and new laws – all intended to bring greater safeguards and accountability.

Gabrielson was one of 14 Polk award winners announced today by Long Island University, which administers the prizes. University officials said more than 700 stories were submitted to the judges. Other winners include The New York Times, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Bloomberg News, CBS News, The Washington Post and Mother Jones.

The Polk award is named after a CBS newsman murdered while covering the Greek Civil War in 1948...

What’s your ideal future for the Sonoma Developmental Center?

February 6, 2013, 6:05 AM | Marie McIntosh

At a Jan. 30 community forum on the future of the Sonoma Developmental Center, a few themes consistently surfaced in the conversation with residents, families and workers at the board-and-care facility for the developmentally disabled. The Sonoma center has come under fire after an investigation by California Watch revealed abuse of patients and inept investigations by the Office of Protective Services, the state-run police force that operates at the center.

Our staff gathered more than 50 questions and many pages of notes from the event, which was sponsored by California Watch and the Sonoma Index-Tribune, and we wanted to share them here in an effort to keep the conversation going.

One of the issues addressed most frequently was how taxpayer money is spent within the Sonoma center and the state Department of Developmental Services at large. Some of the key questions asked by attendees: Is the money being spent properly? Are patients getting enough care? Are staffing levels adequate? One participant had this to offer:

"The SDC property is overkill for a population of 500 patients. Instead of waiting years (for the relocation of existing patients) why can't they relocate to a smaller, more modern and efficient facility...

National Green Week makes a splash on The I Files

February 4, 2013, 9:05 AM | Julia B. Chan

National Green Week is upon us, offering an opportunity to explore the ways we can make our communities more environmentally friendly and sustainable. With that in mind, we're featuring some great green-themed videos on The I Files, an investigative YouTube channel curated by our parent organization, the Center for Investigative Reporting.

One of the videos we’re highlighting is “Heat and Harvest,” a half-hour documentary produced by KQED and CIR that focuses on the environmental challenges California’s agriculture industry faces.

The film takes a look at the state's farm belt, an area long known as "the nation's salad bowl," and the impact threats such as rising temperatures, shrinking water supplies and abundant pests have on a $30 billion dollar industry and, ultimately, our wallets. Exploring possible solutions, "Heat and Harvest" helps to explain the nuanced effects of climate change and some of the efforts to solve these problems.

For CIR reporter Mark Schapiro, the answer lies in reducing carbon footprints. But he also cites scientists who are developing new types of crops that can withstand the new stresses that changing weather conditions present...

Public forum: What’s the future of Sonoma’s developmental center?

January 22, 2013, 6:05 AM | Marie McIntosh

California Watch is inviting the public to share its thoughts, insights and experiences about the troubled Sonoma Developmental Center, the state’s largest board-and-care facility for the severely disabled.

Few people in California are more vulnerable than the patients at the Sonoma center. The people who live there suffer from cerebral palsy, severe autism, and other mental, intellectual and physical disabilities. Many have no family to take care of them.

For more than a year, California Watch reporter Ryan Gabrielson has been investigating the Sonoma facility. The stories have revealed widespread problems with the center’s treatment of patients by staff members and a little-known state police force charged with investigating crimes at the facility. Patients at one unit in Sonoma suffered clear evidence of sexual assault, but their cases were never properly investigated. 

Now, the Sonoma facility is facing severe sanctions and possible closure of its largest housing units. The center employs more than 1,000 people from the region.

What does this new development mean for the city of Sonoma, the developmental center and its patients, and the people who live in surrounding communities?

We invite you to a forum that will feature a panel discussion with community members and experts. The panel will be moderated by Phil Bronstein, the executive chairman of the Center for Investigative Reporting, the parent organization of California Watch. Gabrielson...

Future State forum takes on California's political prospects

December 7, 2012, 2:05 PM | Marie McIntosh

Last week, I asked readers of The Bay Citizen, California Watch's sister site, about the state of affairs in California. From spending cuts to a return to the core mission of our public education system, we examined some of the challenges, opportunities and action plans for California in a lively discussion on Facebook and The Bay Citizen's website. This provided us with some extra perspective going into our next Future State event, part of a series presented by California Watch. The series is meant to address the major challenges our state faces and its diverse residents.

Conversations at the event, held Wednesday in Sacramento, centered on themes in “California State of Mind: The Legacy of Pat Brown,” an award-winning documentary from filmmaker Sascha Rice, the former governor's granddaughter.

During the day, we held a lunchtime discussion with Corey Cook, director of the University of San Francisco's Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good, and A.G. Block, associate director of the UC Center in Sacramento. Both work with college students on matters of politics and public policy and work to create dialogue with young people about issues that matter to them...

We stand behind facts uncovered in our Prime Healthcare reporting

December 4, 2012, 3:31 PM | Mark Katches

California Watch has consistently stood behind its reporting on Prime Healthcare Services’ aggressive Medicare billing practices.

And we continue to do so – even as our reporters have come under attack from the editor of the Redding Record Searchlight for our story about a local Prime hospital that claimed in Medicare billings that it was treating an outbreak of a nutritional disorder seen in developing countries called kwashiorkor.

In a column Sunday, the editor wrote that he decided not to publish California Watch’s Dec. 16, 2011, report after meeting with Prime officials to review the confidential medical records of a patient who was interviewed for the story. The state health department recently fined Prime $95,000 for violating patient confidentiality laws by publicizing the patient’s records.

In his column, the editor accused California Watch, a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting, of ignoring “contradicting facts” and failing to correct errors in our report. But the column cited no errors, and the “contradicting facts” that he accused us of ignoring actually were addressed at length in the story.

Because the Record Searchlight continues to feel the need to justify its decision not to publish an important local story by criticizing California Watch, we felt...

'In Jennifer's Room' tells chilling story of abuse while protecting family's privacy

November 30, 2012, 12:36 PM | Marie McIntosh

“I feel bad for the people who have no one to fight for them. There are a lot of them; they don't have any family. I told them when we were (there), 'You know, I was a hands-on mom, and I fought you for my daughter's security, and I still wasn't able to protect her.'”

These are the words of the mother of Jennifer, an intellectually disabled patient at the Sonoma Developmental Center. In 2006, Jennifer accused a caretaker of physical and sexual abuse. Little was done, and her case was shelved.

Less than a year later, Jennifer’s family discovered that she was pregnant. Records show that the staff at the Sonoma center ignored or overlooked her condition, even after she visited a gynecologist at the facility while several months pregnant.

How could this have happened? Patients like Jennifer, who live at one of California's five board-and-care facilities for the disabled, have accused caretakers and other employees of rape and molestation 36 times since 2009. In that time, investigations have yielded just one arrest.

Reporter Ryan Gabrielson's latest investigation revealed that the Office of Protective Services, the police force in charge of protecting this vulnerable population of 1,600 patients statewide, failed to order a single nurse-supervised rape examination for any of the alleged victims since 2009...

Future State series: 'I'm only as strong as the person next to me'

November 19, 2012, 3:58 PM | Marie McIntosh

Challenges accessing higher education, fear of debt, English as a second language – these are just some of the challenges we heard during our Future State series in Merced. On Nov. 8, a number of California Watch staffers traveled to Merced County in the Central Valley to hear directly from the community there about the challenges and opportunities of higher education and what role it will play in the future of the Golden State. 

This is just the first in our continuing Future State series (learn more about our upcoming event in Sacramento here). In Merced, we focused in on hearing from students at UC Merced and Merced College.

Here is just some of what was said from the day, directly from the students. Stay tuned for more as we follow up in Merced and the Central Valley.

Have a topic or issue we should be following? Let us know in the comments below or use #FutureCA on Twitter.


Marie McIntosh/California Watch Jessie Johnson of Merced College 






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