Al Nakkula Award goes to Florida reporters
Two Florida reporters who uncovered a police department’s secret scheme to lure drug dealers to small town and entangle them in a sting operation have won the 2014 Al Nakkula Award for Police Reporting.
The $2,000 Nakkula prize goes to reporter Megan O’Matz and database editor John Maines of the South Florida Sun Sentinel for their series “Cops, Cash, Cocaine.”
The Nakkula award is sponsored by the University of Colorado Journalism & Mass Communication program and the Denver Press Club. It is named in honor of the late Al Nakkula, a 46-year veteran of the Rocky Mountain News whose tenacity made him a legendary police reporter. This year’s contest drew more than two dozen entries from major publications around the country.
“The Sun Sentinel’s report, ‘Cops, Cash, Cocaine,’ stood out for the sheer doggedness of the reporting and the sheer audacity of the operation the newspaper exposed — a secret municipal police department program to systematically lure drug buyers to town, take them down, and confiscate their cash and their cars,” said contest judge Kevin Vaughan.
“Along the way, the paper’s reporting found that the town was pocketing millions in forfeitures as a result of the undercover operation, and that officers involved in the secret project were reaping huge benefits, including $240,000 in overtime pay to one sergeant alone. And then there was the informant the city paid more than $800,000 to help lure their targets to town, almost certainly bringing a criminal element to the city that never would have come there on its own. All of those factors, and the work it took to pierce the veil of secrecy that shrouded the program, made it easy to pick the Sun Sentinel’s report at this year’s Nakkula winner,” Vaughan said.
Vaughan is an investigative reporter at Fox Sports and, like the other four contest judges, a former reporter at the Rocky Mountain News, where Nakkula worked.
O’Matz has received numerous state and national honors for previous work and was a 2006 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting.
The project’s co-author, John Maines, has been database editor for the Sun Sentinel for the past 16 years. He and a Sun Sentinel colleague won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
Second place in the contest went to reporters John Diedrich and Raquel Rutledge of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for their series Backfire, which chronicled questionable undercover stings by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The judges also sent a special commendation to the staff of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for the depth and breadth of their work in 2013. The staff entered two major reporting projects in the contest.
Center for Investigative Reporting’s California Watch
“Both Sides of the Law”
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
The News Journal
The Plain Dealer
The Newark Star-Ledger
Amber Hunt Martin
Detroit Free Press
Del Quentin Wilber
San Francisco Chronicle
Akron Beacon Journal
Naples Daily News
Santa Barbara News-Press
The Florida Times-Union.
The Huntington Herald-Dispatch
The Sacramento Bee
Northwest Arkansas Times
Virgin Islands Daily News
The Arizona Republic
Bucks County Courier Times
The Detroit News
Diana K. Sugg
The Sacramento Bee