Grantee Stories

A Murder in New Orleans and a Wrong Conviction

In 1988, Erin Hunter was convicted of a murder in New Orleans he claimed to know nothing about after a trial that took place in a single morning. Years later, the detective who investigated the case went to federal prison for extortion, the prosecutor remembered the single eyewitness as being of “dubious character,” and investigators suggested Hunter was set up. But Hunter remained in prison for three decades. Nicholas Chrastil reports this story for The Lens.

Photo: Erin Hunter as a young man. (Courtesy of the Hunter family)

Danger in the Ground: Lead Contaminates Neighborhood

Despite alarmingly high levels of lead in the soil of a mostly poor, largely African American community in Atlanta that is now an EPA Superfund “removal action” site, there has been no effort by state or local officials to test children for contamination.  An investigation by Georgia Health News, the Georgia News Lab and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution brought the story to light with the help of a grant from FIJ.

Lead Slag, a byproduct of smelting found near homes in Atlanta. Photo by Curtis Compton of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


California Foundation Created to Help Fire Victims More Interested in Lobbying for PG&E

The Rebuild North Bay Foundation was created in October 2017, ostensibly to provide relief to thousands of victims of wildfires in Sonoma and Napa counties in California. As Peter Byrne and Will Carruthers report in the Pacific Sun the foundation performed little or no relief work, choosing to focus on lobbying on behalf of prominent businesspeople and Pacific Gas & Electric.

Photo Collage by Pacific Sun


Should Civilians Investigate Police-Related Shootings in New Hampshire?

Most police shootings in New Hampshire over the last three decades have been ruled justified by the state Attorney General’s Office perhaps because investigations were completed by the New Hampshire State Police. Nancy West of investigates how the state is now considering a civilian review board to determine whether police have acted appropriately when using lethal force against citizens.

Photo: Cody Lafont who was shot to death by a Claremont police officer who went to his home to tell him to stop calling 911 early on Sept. 25, 2016. Photo courtesy of the Lafont family.

Suicide Hidden in Colleges in Massachusetts

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students across the United States. And numbers are on the rise. But you won’t hear details about these tragic deaths from Massachusetts colleges and universities. Most of them don’t release information if they track it at all.

Jenifer McKim, a reporter with the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, used data and public records to look into this problem in a state that draws students from across the world.  Here are her print and radio stories that ran in the Boston Globe and WGBH News.

Luke Tang  Harvard University freshman, committed suicide on campus in 2016.  Photo courtesy of Lucy Wang

Half the Judges in Venezuela are Linked to the Ruling Party

FIJ grantee Joseph Poliszuk of, an online publication in Venezuela, finished a three-year investigation on the independence of judges in Venezuela. He and his partners at created a website that tracks 6,000 judges throughout the country, finding evidence that 50 percent of the justices in the country were selected for those positions because of political ties to the Maduro government.  Poliszuk and his colleagues at are now living in exile in Colombia after facing legal problems in Venezuela because of their journalism work. English versions of some of the stories are here.

Race, Land and Justice

More than two decades ago, a group including the white sheriff of Limestone County, Ala., rustled and slaughtered more than 60 head of cattle owned by Michael Stovall, a black farmer. They then dumped the carcasses into graves dug up on the farmer’s land. That was the finding of a Department of Agriculture special investigation. But the culprits remained free, and the farmer went to jail because officials accused him of starving the animals to death.

FIJ grantee Katti Gray delves into this story and others that look at how the USDA has engaged in actions that have eroded black farm ownership.

Michael Stovall inside a chicken house that was to be part of a USDA-financed farm expansion that never happened. Photo by Katti Gray

Local Communities Fight Oil and Gas Projects in the Pacific Northwest

“Holding the Thin Green Line,” a  radio documentary by FIJ grantee Barbara Bernstein, tells the stories of communities fighting fossil fuel industry projects in the Pacific Northwest .

The first hour follows the efforts of activists in Tacoma and Kalama, Washington, to stop construction of the world’s largest methanol refinery and delves into the saga of Puget Sound Energy’s effort to build a liquid natural gas facility at the Port of Tacoma. The second hour tells the stories of citizen push-back against the construction of what could become the largest liquid natural gas (LNG) export terminal on the West Coast. This mammoth facility is being proposed for Coos Bay, Oregon.  It would be fed by a 240-mile-long pipeline transporting fracked gas across four counties in southern Oregon, disturbing 480 rivers and streams in its wake.

Photo by Barbara Bernstein

Teachers and School Officials Get Off Easy on Sexual Assaults in Southern California

A two-year investigation by The Voice of San Diego of sexual misconduct by teachers and other public school employees found that the employees seldom face termination, but often leave with hush deals that protect reputations and enable them to continue working in education.

Records obtained show some teachers were quietly reprimanded for years as complaints piled up. Other times, school districts moved teachers from school to school after finding they violated sexual harassment policies with students. In one case, a Southwestern College educator resigned with a non disclosure agreement after committing sex acts with students in his office. He then went on to work at San Diego City College.

Loxie Grant, one of at least four women who have said physics teacher Martin Teachworth harassed them when they were students at La Jolla High School. Photo by Adriana Heldiz


One African American Family’s Struggle With the Mental Health Care System

WAITING FOR TEARAH,” a film directed by FIJ grantee Juliana Schatz is an intimate portrait of a mother struggling to find mental health care for her child. Shot over two years, this vérité film tells the story of Shayna, a single parent of three girls on the brink of losing her home due to medical costs, while her eldest daughter, Tearah, waits for months in a psychiatric hospital. Day after day, Shayna navigates a complicated maze of government agencies as she fights for much-needed treatment for Tearah.

The film was broadcast by Frontline and featured in the Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival & Symposium 2019 in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Frontline

Rape of Alaska Native Women High; Police Investigations Low

For years, Alaska Native women have urged officials to address a crisis of violence throughout their state: Reported rapes are twice the national average, and child sexual violence is six times the national average.  Alaska’s western region has the state’s highest rate of felony sex offenses, and the overwhelming majority of victims are Alaska Native. Victoria McKenzie addresses the issue in a story co-published by Associated Press and National Native News.

In Nome, a city of fewer than 4,000 full-time residents that serves as a regional hub for dozens of smaller villages across western Alaska’s Bering Strait region, rape survivors and their supporters say the city’s police department has often failed to investigate sexual assaults or keep survivors informed about what is happening with their cases, even after they underwent invasive rape exams. An analysis of police records shows that, over the past decade, only 8 percent of calls to the department about sexual assaults resulted in an arrest with charges filed. Even fewer made it to court.

Photo credits: AP Photo/ Maye-E Wong

Flint’s Deadly Water

FIJ grantees Abby Ellis and Kayla Ruble released the documentary, “Flint’s Deadly Water,” with Frontline. The project followed a two-year investigation, in which Ellis and Ruble uncovered the extent of a deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreak during the Flint, Michigan, water crisis — and how officials failed to stop it.

The disease’s outbreak in Flint was one of the largest in U.S. history, sickening at least 90 people and killing 12, according to state data. But Ellis’s investigation strongly suggests the actual toll was much higher.

Photo: Frontline

“An Unbelievable Story of Rape” Made Into a Netflix Series

T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong’s award-winning investigation with ProPublica and the Marshall Project, “An Unbelievable Story of Rape,” has been made into a Netflix series, “Unbelievable.” The investigation detailed the ordeal of a young woman who was coerced by authorities into recanting a claim that she had been raped.

FIJ provided Miller and Armstrong with a grant when they wrote a book on the same investigation, “A False Report: A True Story of Rape in America.” In their acknowledgments, the reporters thanked FIJ for its support: “The Fund for Investigative Journalism–which, in its first year, helped pay for Seymour Hersh’s work exposing the My Lai massacre–kindly provided us with a grant to defray our research costs for this book. So many journalists owe the FIJ a debt of gratitude. Count us among them.”

How Washington, D.C. Charter Schools Outmaneuvered Local Scrutiny

For six months, FIJ grantee, Rachel M. Cohen investigated the D.C. charter school lobby, tracing the history of how the charter sector has evolved over the past two decades. Using public records requests, document leaks, countless interviews and hours of archival research, Cohen pieced together for Washington City Paper How Charter Schools Won D.C. Politics, a story of how federal intervention, an army of lobbyists, and D.C. taxpayer dollars have all helped local charters successfully beat back government oversight.

Artwork by Julia Terbrock

We Know Female Genital Mutilation Has Been Happening in the US

Journalist Suman Naishadham, writing in VICE, reports on the first federal prosecution of a female genital mutilation case in the U.S., and traces the surprisingly vexed history of the tradition here.

The case has reignited a longstanding debate over what constitutes the practice and how best to handle it. Secrecy around the issue in America means there is little data on it, and there are few arrests. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that around 560,000 females had undergone or were at risk for genital mutilation.

Illustration by Lia Kantrowitz for VICE

The Power Brokers

Juiced,” a report by Will Carruthers and FIJ grantee Peter Byrne, looks at how California power giant PG&E  oiled political machinery after the 2017 and 2018 California wildfires that killed more than 100 people and caused vast destruction in residential communities. PG&E was found responsible for the most lethal fire and is implicated in others.

It is part of an investigative series by the North Bay Bohemian, a Northern California news site. The series called “The Power Brokers” focuses on the nexus of power, money, media, and politics in Sonoma County. A previous story, “Graton Expectations,” revealed how lobbyist and local media magnate Darius Anderson defrauded an Indian tribe that was developing a casino business.

Artwork by the North Bay Bohemian

Poisons in Washington State’s Puget Sound

In 2017, the U.S. Navy scraped the hull of the decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Independence directly into Puget Sound, dumping tons of toxic, copper-laden debris into Sinclair Inlet near Bremerton, Washington. Now environmental groups, the Suquamish Tribe and the state of Washington seek to hold the Navy responsible for what they say is an “egregious violation” of water quality laws that could harm wild salmon. Cascadia Magazine investigates.

Photo: The USS Kitty Hawk, by Nia Martin 

First Amendment and Open-Records Laws May Limit California’s New Privacy Law

A Los Angeles woman who alleges that her doctor raped her at home five years ago has tried in vain to get “people search” sites such as MyLife and Spokeo to stop posting her address, to no avail.

The California Consumer Privacy Act, a statute approved last year and scheduled to become law in January 2020, could help victims like her. But even this groundbreaking legislation may not force the sites to delete personal data. The law’s impact is apparently limited by the First Amendment and open-records statutes, the San Francisco Public Press reports.

Photo by Taskin Ashiq on Unsplash