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Watchdog reporting: Impact journalism from the past week

Wednesday, August 24, 2016   (0 Comments)
Posted by: John Crouch
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A look at some examples of impact reporting from the past week.

Boston Globe: Medical examiners can be a jury of one

When Dr. Peter Cummings was a state medical examiner, he didn’t often receive emails or phone calls from lawyers, except for prosecutors just before trial, the Boston Globe reports. But shortly after he ruled that a 6-month-old Malden baby had died violently of shaken-baby syndrome, he received an email from a defense attorney on the case — the first of a number of contacts he would have with the team hired to represent the child’s father. Cummings later stunned prosecutors when, before trial, he said he was changing his finding on the manner of death from homicide to undetermined, devastating the prospects for a criminal conviction. When prosecutors sought a second opinion, fearful that the murder case would be derailed, Cummings became angry. Not even the chief of the medical examiner’s office, he said, can override him. A Globe review of Cummings’s changed decision, and two subsequent retractions of shaken-baby rulings by other medical examiners, found a highly decentralized system of ruling on suspicious deaths in Massachusetts, in which forensic pathologists are given extraordinary freedom to make — and change — their rulings, with little scrutiny of what factors, including personal ones, may have influenced them.

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Denver Post: Heroin leaves mark in rural areas of Colorado

On a hot June night in La Junta, a group of Otero County sheriff’s deputies and local police officers stormed the one-bedroom apartment of a suspected drug dealer on the west end of town, hoping to find a bounty of heroin, the Denver Post reports. “Get on your stomach! … Don’t move!” law enforcement yelled before leading out five people in handcuffs. After about two hours of searching through books, boxes, furniture and shelves, they had found little: a small rock of suspected black-tar heroin, a bit of methamphetamine residue and a mass of paraphernalia that included baggies, apparent pipes and a small scale. “We better find more than that,” a deputy said as he rifled through a safe by hand. But the raid became another frustrating reminder that it’s difficult for small-town officers to keep up with drug distributors as heroin spreads across the Lower Arkansas Valley. The rapid rise in the number of addicts also adds pressure to the valley’s few health care providers, limited substance abuse programs and jails.

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Sun Sentinel: Pythons have taste for deer, birds, even alligators

Call Burmese pythons a plague on the Everglades, but don't call them picky eaters. A Sun Sentinel examination of the digestive systems of 104 pythons killed this year in a public hunting competition turned up the remains of seven alligators, 50 mammals — including two deer — and 38 birds. It was ample evidence of the toll the non-native constrictors were taking on Everglades wildlife. "Each snake removed is no longer removing native wildlife through predation," stated a report on the hunt prepared by scientists at the University of Florida. "Even if each snake only lived to acquire one last meal, the list of animals protected by removing these snakes would be similar to the list of diet items found in this study." In addition to the deer, the mammals included 11 hispid cotton rats, eight opossums, seven cotton mice, seven round-tailed muskrats, four marsh rice rats, three raccoons, three rabbits, two eastern gray squirrels and one black rat, according to the report.

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