Nakkula award goes to reporter Ryan Gabrielson
Ryan Gabrielson of the Center for Investigative Reporting’s California Watch has won the 2013 Al Nakkula Award for Police Reporting.
Gabrielson won for “Broken Shield” , an investigative series that exposed shoddy police work at California institutions for the disabled. His stories chronicle the activities of a special police force that patrols California’s five state developmental centers – taxpayer-funded institutions for patients with severe autism and cerebral palsy.
The report found that dozens of women were sexually assaulted inside the institutions, in some cases by staff members, and that investigators assigned to the special police force repeatedly failed to follow routine investigative procedures. As a result, suspects were not prosecuted and molestations of patients continued. In another case, a caregiver was suspected of using a stun gun to wound a dozen patients but police waited at least nine days to interview the suspect – even though a loaded handgun and Taser were found in his car soon after the incident was reported. No criminal charges were brought.
The project prompted several major changes in state law and regulations. It has already won the 2013 George Polk Award for state reporting. Gabrielson also won a 2009 Pulitzer Prize while working at the East Valley Tribune in Mesa, Arizona.
The Nakkula award is sponsored by the University of Colorado Journalism & Mass Communication program journalism.colorado.edu and the Denver Press Club. Nakkula judges hailed the series. “This project had excellent reporting, clear and emotional writing and a definite positive impact,” on public policy, said contest judge Sandy Graham.
“It was an exhaustive and thorough investigation that was difficult to read based on the subject matter,” said another judge, Kevin Flynn.
California Watch was founded by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Investigative Reporting in 2009. The newsroom distributes print, video, radio and multimedia stories to news organizations across the state and beyond. Parts of the “Broken Shield” series ran on the front pages of eight of the state’s largest newspapers.
Nakkula judge Tustin Amole noted that this is the first time the prize has gone to something other than a traditional newspaper. Online investigative organizations such as CaliforniaWatch “are a very important trend as traditional newspapers cut back on staff,” and seek collaborators, she said.
Gabrielson will receive a $2,000 prize. Second place in the contest went to Peter Dujardin, a reporter at the Newport News (Va.) Daily Press, for his series “Selling Smoke” about a 19-month, $4 million police sting that failed to generate a single arrest.
The Nakkula Award is named for the late Al Nakkula, a 46-year veteran of the Rocky Mountain News, whose bulldog tenacity made him a legendary police reporter.