Busted: How a $2 Roadside Drug Test Sends Innocent People to Jail

Ryan Gabrielson and Topher Sanders, How a $2 Roadside Drug Test Sends Innocent People to Jail. ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine, 7 July 2016. “This story was co-published with The New York Times Magazine…. Tens of thousands of people every year are sent to jail based on the results of a $2 roadside drug test. Widespread evidence shows that these tests routinely produce false positives. Why are police departments and prosecutors still using them?”

Update, August 2016: Sidney Awards, Ryan Gabrielson and Topher Sanders Win August Sidney for Exposing Faulty Roadside Drug Tests that Send Innocent People to Jail.

“Ryan Gabrielson and Topher Sanders of ProPublica win the August Sidney for “Busted: How $2 Roadside Drug Tests Send Innocent People to Jail.”

“The story, co-published with the New York Times Magazine, found that faulty roadside drug tests send thousands of people to jail every year. These tests are so unreliable that they are inadmissible in court, yet motorists plead guilty based on tests that can be tripped false positive by dozens of common, legal chemicals, including household cleaners.

A false positive test for crack cocaine turned Amy Albritton’s life upside down. The 43-year-old property manager had no criminal record until a particle on the floor of her car falsely tested positive for crack cocaine. Follow-up tests pegged the substance as food debris, possibly a breadcrumb.

There’s no way to know how many wrongful convictions arise from false roadside results, but as Gabrielson noted in an interview with the Backstory, “even the smallest of false positive rates would produce hundreds annually.””

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Missing and Murdered: The Trafficked (in Canada)

Tavia Grant, Missing and Murdered: The Trafficked. The Globe and Mail, 10 February 2016. “Indigenous women and girls are being exploited by gangs and other predators with little being done to stop it. Missing and Murdered: The Trafficked: The story behind our investigation into the exploitation of indigenous women and girls, by Tavia Grant, 10 February 2016: “The Trafficked project sprang from an ongoing Globe and Mail investigation into missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada. In the course of that reporting, the issue of human trafficking surfaced as a factor that puts some aboriginal women at even greater risk of disappearing or being killed. The Globe and Mail spent three months investigating the subject, dedicating one reporter full-time to delve into who the victims are, how the crime is committed, what the long-term impact is and how the federal government has responded.”

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How Killing Elephants Finances Terror in Africa

Bryan Christy, How Killing Elephants Finances Terror in Africa. National Geographic, 12 August 2015. “…[T]he African elephant is under siege. A booming Chinese middle class with an insatiable taste for ivory, crippling poverty in Africa, weak and corrupt law enforcement, and more ways than ever to kill an elephant have created a perfect storm. The result: Some 30,000 African elephants are slaughtered every year, more than 100,000 between 2010 and 2012, and the pace of killing is not slowing. Most illegal ivory goes to China, where a pair of ivory chopsticks can bring more than a thousand dollars and carved tusks sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Update: Paul Steyn, African Elephant Numbers Plummet 30 Percent, Landmark Survey Finds. National Geographic, 31 August 2016. “An unprecedented census gives a sobering baseline for managing what’s left of Africa’s elephants.” The finding of the Great Elephant Census, a continent-wide wildlife survey, is worrying: “Africa now has 352,271 savanna elephants left in 93 percent of the species’ range. The aerial survey covered 18 African countries. In 15 of those, where information on previous populations existed, 144,000 elephants were lost to ivory poaching and habitat destruction in less than a decade. The current yearly loss—overwhelmingly from poaching—is estimated at 8 percent. That’s about 27,000 elephants slaughtered year after year…. The census was funded by Microsoft founder Paul G. Allen and took just under three years to complete. Led by the nonprofit Elephants Without Borders, which is based in Botswana, the survey involved a team of 90 scientists, six NGOs, and two advisory partners: the Kenya-based conservation organization Save the Elephants and the African Elephant Specialist Group, made up of experts who focus on the conservation and management of African elephants.”

Update: Edward Wong and Jeffrey Gettleman, China Bans Its Ivory Trade, Moving Against Elephant Poaching. The New York Times, 30 December 2016. China announced on Friday that it was banning all commerce in ivory by the end of 2017, a move that would shut down the world’s largest ivory market and could deal a critical blow to the practice of elephant poaching in Africa.”

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‘I’m No Longer Afraid’: 35 Women Tell Their Stories About Being Assaulted by Bill Cosby

Noreen Malone and Amanda Demme, ‘I’m No Longer Afraid:’ 35 Women Tell Their Stories About Being Assaulted by Bill Cosby, and the Culture That Wouldn’t Listen. New York Magazine, 27 July 2015. “More has changed in the past few years for women who allege rape than in all the decades since the women’s movement began. Consider the evidence of October 2014, when a Philadelphia magazine reporter at a Hannibal Buress show uploaded a clip of the comedian talking about Bill Cosby: “He gets on TV, ‘Pull your pants up, black people … I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom.’ Yeah, but you rape women, Bill Cosby, so turn the crazy down a couple notches … I guess I want to just at least make it weird for you to watch Cosby Show reruns. Dude’s image, for the most part, it’s fucking public Teflon image. I’ve done this bit onstage and people think I’m making it up … That shit is upsetting.” The bit went viral swiftly, with irreversible, calamitous consequences for Cosby’s reputation.”

Winner of the 2015 George Polk Award for Magazine Reporting.

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A Choice for Recovering Addicts: Relapse or Homelessness

Kim Barker, A Choice for Recovering Addicts: Relapse or Homelessness. The New York Times, 30 May 2015. “After a lifetime of abusing drugs, Horace Bush decided at age 62 that getting clean had become a matter of life or death. So Mr. Bush, a homeless man who still tucked in his T-shirts and ironed his jeans, moved to a flophouse in Brooklyn that was supposed to help people like him, cramming into a bedroom the size of a parking space with three other men.

Mr. Bush signed up for a drug-treatment program and emerged nine months later determined to stay sober. But the man who ran the house, Yury Baumblit, a longtime hustler and two-time felon, had other ideas.

Mr. Baumblit got kickbacks on the Medicaid fees paid to the outpatient treatment programs that he forced all his tenants to attend, residents and former employees said. So he gave Mr. Bush a choice: If he wanted to stay, he would have to relapse and enroll in another program. Otherwise, his bed would be given away.”

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