Category Archives: Salt Lake Tribune

Police story: Lots of documents, lots of questions, remember human impact

By Michael McFall

Reporter, Salt Lake Tribune

I’m very proud of my coworkers for the dedication and skill. We practiced good journalism: jumping on new information, making a lot of phone calls (sometimes late at night), pulling a lot of public record documents, asking a mountain of questions, running to a lot of press conferences and writing what we could confirm.

I wouldn’t say there’s any secret to it. Journalism can take a lot of work and time, but it’s fairly straightforward and if you just knuckle down and do it, the job gets done. And, if you remember the human impact in a story, as we did and acted on, you get some pretty stellar stories that go above and beyond as well.

This is part of the announcement of the March DFMie for the Colorado/Utah cluster of Digital First Media.

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Public records law aided investigation of police department

By Janelle Stecklein

Reporter, Salt Lake Tribune

Our coverage of West Valley City began last November with the fatal officer-involved shooting of 21-year-old Danielle Willard. When several months passed with very little information being released, we started to get curious about what could be going on.

We started asking questions of both the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, which determines whether the police were justified in use of force, and the West Valley City Police Department, which employed the two officers who shot and killed Willard.

From there, we learned that there were some issues with the police department’s Neighborhood Narcotics Unit that ultimately led to nine officers being put on leave, a federal investigation, the dismissal of 125 cases and a variety of other probes. We used court records to track cases and defendants, including thousands of dollars in property that the District Attorney’s Office had already seized.

Utah public’s record law, known as GRAMA, has proven invaluable in our ongoing coverage of the issue. We’ve filed at least a dozen GRAMA requests in the past two-or-so months to obtain policies, police discipline records, court filings, etc.

This is part of the announcement of the March DFMie for the Colorado/Utah cluster of Digital First Media.

Shooting by police officer seemed unusual from the first

By Kimball Bennion

Reporter, Salt Lake Tribune

Our coverage of the scandals unfolding at West Valley’s Police Department was the result of cohesive team effort from the editors and reporters on the Tribune’s justice desk.

I covered the initial police shooting of Danielle Willard as it was breaking on the afternoon of Nov. 2. I had covered officer-involved shootings before then, but we could tell from the beginning that the police were being unusually quiet about the details of this one — it took the police hours to even confirm the victim’s age and gender, let alone her identity. It became apparent early on that this story needed to be pursued for as long as it took.

As I developed a relationship with Willard’s mother and talked to eyewitnesses and neighbors, we eventually found out that Willard was unarmed and inside her car when she was gunned down. From then on, it seemed like each small answer we got was accompanied by 10 new questions, but we all set our egos aside and worked the story using our own unique resources and talents. The incredible teamwork involved in the reporting is really what made this story work so well.

This is part of the announcement of the March DFMie for the Colorado/Utah cluster of Digital First Media.

Inquiry about oversight of police department showed it was lacking

By Nate Carlisle

Reporter, Salt Lake Tribune

I know from my training at Investigative Reporters and Editors that, when examining, an agency you should inquire as to what oversight it has. I found the civilian review board for the West Valley City Police Department, but the official in charge of the board refused to provide me with any statistics or discussion of how the board operates. I found this odd and inquired with experts in the field as to how other civilian review boards operate. I found, among other things, West Valley City’s board did not publish statistics, announce its meetings or have independent members the way other boards do.

This is part of the announcement of the March DFMie for the Colorado/Utah cluster of Digital First Media.

Coverage of police problems wins DFMie for Salt Lake Tribune

The Salt Lake Tribune’s coverage of problems in the West Valley Police Department won the March DFMie for the Colorado/Utah cluster of Digital First Media.

Editor Nancy Conway explained in her nomination:

When the Salt Lake County district attorney put out a press release March 20 that said it was dismissing 19 cases because of problems involving a police officer, The Salt Lake Tribune saw the tip of an iceberg.

The officer came from Utah’s second-largest city, West Valley City, where the police department had been called into question several times recently and the chief had just retired. For Tribune reporters and editors, it suddenly cast several events in a new light, including a drug stop in which this officer and another shot and killed a woman in the car.

In the month since, The Tribune has reported that the FBI is now investigating, that the city’s own police review board has little effectiveness and that another 69 cases have been dismissed. The revelations have shaken citizens’ faith in its police department as city political leaders worry they haven’t reached the bottom of it.

Led by editor Nate Carlisle, reporters Janelle Stecklein, Pamela Manson, Kimball Bennion and Michael McFall continue to press this story on multiple fronts.

Judges applauded the project:

A news organization can inform, enlighten and entertain. But it serves no higher purpose than serving as a community watchdog. Citizens can be “wary” of their local police department. Review boards have their place. But a news organization has the resources to drag questionable practices, procedures and ethics into the light. This series is a good example of watchdog journalism, starting with the astute reading between the lines of the original press release.

Another judge:

My choice for the Colorado/Utah area is the Salt Lake Tribune’s watchdog efforts with the West Valley City Police Department. This is the type of news that television just can’t give you. It was a complicated and difficult story to uncover and the Tribune reporters did an excellent job of research and writing. This is something the entire newspaper industry can be proud of.

And another:

Nice team effort here and good reporting by the Salt Lake Tribune staff as they followed the twists and turns of this story and dug in to get answers from officials.

This is part of the announcement of the March DFMie for the Colorado/Utah cluster of Digital First Media.