Author Archives: jeremyjojola

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Oops! Our Murrow win was a “clerical error”

This morning’s elation among our investigative team quickly turned sour when we found out we DID NOT win a regional Edward R. Murrow award.

For a few hours this morning RTDNA listed our “Roommates with Benefits” story as a winner in the investigative category.

One of our news managers was told it was a “clerical error.”

I’m pretty bummed about this after high-fiving ourselves for most of the morning and enjoying the giddy mood.

I’ve been wanting to win a Murrow for most of my career and I was pretty excited.

I hate to phrase it this way, but we were the victims of inaccurate information.  We excitedly shared the news all over our social media accounts this morning.

Now its time to correct the information and the feeling SUCKS.

I’m not angry at RTNDA, though.

Mistakes happen and I’ve certainly made my share over my career so it would be stupid for me to be angry and furious over this.

Nobody is perfect and after all, RTDNA had to handle hundreds and hundreds of awards.

If anything, we will use this feeling as a good reminder that it is always important for us to be accurate when putting information out to a mass audience.

Congrats to my colleagues in other markets who won!

 

Why holding ABQ Police accountable is difficult…..

One of the most powerful political groups in the great City of Albuquerque is the police union…at least during my time there several years ago.

Without that sweet police union endorsement, it’s actually difficult to get elected as mayor.

Spouses and families of police officers flood voting booths for the candidate who’s going to raise salaries.

Make those pay-raise promises & lay off the police discipline during your first term and you’ll have a good chance of keeping your seat the second term while keeping the police union happy.

Backing your chief 100% no matter what the citizenry says helps too.

This is perhaps why past mayors have been reluctant to even acknowledge an excessive force problem with the Albuquerque Police Department.

Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, as the old cliché goes.

While the union’s power may have slipped under Berry, their strength echoes in the current system that makes it difficult to fire an officer or administer discipline.

I could be completely wrong, but that’s just my analysis based on the 9 years I spent reporting in the city.

It’s taken boisterous protests in the streets and finally a Federal investigation for someone to acknowledge a problem.

“A disconnect exists between officers and residents about the perception of overly aggressive conduct by officers. We observed that many officers were dismissive of community concerns. For instance, many officers complained that the media generated the complaints about their perceived aggressiveness in citizen encounters. Some officers complained that citizens were the ones who were aggressive towards them” –DOJ Report on Albuquerque Police

It’s true the media are also sometimes at fault for not doing enough to hold the department accountable.

Sycophant reporters will not scrutinize the department because they need to have their calls returned by police sources on the next major crime story.

Crime stories win in local Albuquerque news as viewers drive this appetite.

People want to know whose mug shot is going to land on the six o’clock news.

People want the crime coverage and local TV gives it to them because that’s what the research tells them to do.

Do a bad story about APD and you won’t get information for your lead story.

That’s a de facto rule within APD and there’s no doubt department public information officers know the power they wield with some local media.

This is a toxic relationship that has curbed critical reporting.

It’s been said many times people get the government they deserve.

The same goes for their media.

But what’s next?

In the wake of today’s news, I saw people asking “So what’s City Hall gonna do? What’s the DOJ gonna do now?”

Those questions are fine, but I have my own question.

What are VOTERS going to do now?

A politician is often tone deaf to protest because they know the people who are spray painting buildings don’t vote.

The sound of a pen on a ballot makes more noise.

Free airline tickets letters continue to evolve

A month ago I exposed the companies behind those free airline ticket letters so many people have been getting in the mail.

Many of you probably recognize this format here under the name US Airlines:
airlinesSince my report, it appears these letters have evolved with a different look and a different name.

Here’s one titled “Peterson Bryant” a viewer sent me. When I called the 800 number, the operator admitted she worked for Tier3 Marketing (which is one of the companies I revealed in my original report).
peterson_bryant

Here’s another titled “United Rewards.”
united_rewardsAs I reported, these letters lead to a travel club where employees try to get you to sign up for a member ship during a 90 minute seminar. During my undercover investigation, one of the presenters said a membership began at $18,000.

Secrecy in Berthoud breeds suspicion

As a mysterious scandal surrounds the Berthoud police department, town administrators are perhaps obliviously creating a whole different story in itself.

Or maybe they just don’t care about perception.

The story in Berthoud about its police department now becomes, at least partially, about a lack of transparency.

That’s never good for government business.

While I can respect the fact the town’s administrators are likely bound by ethical rules that prevent them from not to disclosing too much information for “personnel” reasons, the sweeping mantra of “no comment” we received yesterday doesn’t do anybody good.

“No comment,” is one of the worst things you can tell a reporter. The response usually raises more questions and makes it seem like somebody is hiding something.

At the very least, it would be nice if town administrators could explain WHY they can’t disclose any information. Reporters like myself are not going to say it for them.

So what’s going on in Berthoud?

Now that the story is partially about a lack of disclosure among public officials, they have placed themselves under a dark cloud of suspicion.

You can only wonder….are they protecting the public or themselves?

The story behind family’s $340,000 legal bill

Noah Warden will need medical care for the rest of his life, according to his parents.

Noah Warden will need medical care for the rest of his life, according to his parents.

Stacy Warden first approached me about her legal bill back in February.

Because this case already involved a jury trial with a final decision, I was quite skeptical about airing this story.

In most cases, reporters shouldn’t be in the business of second guessing jury decisions, especially since juries have seen more evidence and spent time in court listening to both sides of a case.

I tried my best not to approach this story in a way in which we were second guessing the jury.  Even in my reporter standup, I mentioned the jury “had more information in this case than we do and saw all the evidence….”

My intent was to show the legal consequences of what could happen when you lose a lawsuit.

After showing some of the legal costs the Wardens faced to several attorney friends and acquaintances, I received a consistent reaction. Some of the “bill of cost” items listed in court documents seemed to be “unusual,” they said.  One attorney even told me the costs appeared “quite vindictive.”

We had much discussion in our newsroom about moving forward with this story and I knew, if the hospital didn’t offer its perspective, it was going to be nearly impossible to come across as objective.

I reached out to the hospital twice for comment, and both times the hospital declined.

How do you be fair when one side doesn’t want to explain their perspective?

We moved forward with the story because you rarely hear from the losing side of such a case.

Here are some of the viewer reactions to the perceived bias:

“Shame on 9 news for writing such a blatantly biased story as to pick out seemingly trivial expenses incurred by the defense. Plain and simple, expenses are expenses. Why don’t you write a story about the overwhelming abuse of the legal system that is creating such high medical malpractice costs?” – Dr. Nils Albert, via Facebook

 

“It is unfortunate you chose to write such a one sided piece. Our justice system allows for the prevailing party to collect back their legal expenses and that is exactly what the prevailing party is doing in this case. Our system is burdened by frivolous and unfounded lawsuits every day and perhaps plaintiffs and their attorneys need to think about this more seriously.

All too often attorneys take on cases and promise the moon when the case easily speaks for itself. I do not know the specifics of this case but the jury heard the evidence and made its decision. That is how it works. All involved must be willing to accept the consequences.

To try and play the sympathy card like this family and KUSA has done nauseates me. Shame on you.” -Ann Kennedy, via Email.

Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences

In the wake of Shea Allen’s termination, she appears to be under the impression she is “standing up for free speech.”

I’m not sure Allen understands how the First Amendment works.

Free speech means we have the right to say what we want without fear of government detention, sanctions and censorship.

In most cases, I can go on a public sidewalk and spew whatever I want without a ticket or some sort of citation.

I can say almost whatever I want online.

But what some people don’t understand is the First Amendment is not some ubiquitous statute or shield that can protect you from private, personal consequences.

WAAY-TV had every right to fire Allen under the laws that govern civil contracts.

As a private enterprise, the station likely saw Allen as a liability to the station’s image and credibility.

There’s likely a good chance Allen has what’s called a “moral turpitude” clause in her contract.  Such a clause would give the station civil authority to terminate employment if it feels an employee’s behavior doesn’t jive with the standard of behavior the “community” would find morally acceptable.

I’m sure the majority of people reading Allen’s list of confessions would find that stealing mail is unacceptable.

Discriminating against the elderly is also something most people would find objectionable.

There would be a First Amendment violation if a local police officer cited Allen for her post or if the government forced Google to censor her blog.

A few posts down from this particular write-up (here on my blog), I expressed sympathy for AJ Clemente, who ended up getting fired for saying some curse words on air.

While she didn’t curse, what Allen revealed was far more vulgar.

She claims she is human and is just being honest.

True.

While they have the same medieval linguistic roots, in this case there is no honor in honesty.

A disturbing child abuse photo we all must see

I’ve seen my share of horrific events and crime scenes.

Nothing comes close to the photo below.

IMG534_012812

Prosecutors say Gabriel Trujillo, 4, was tortured and starved in the months before his death.

The first time I saw it, I was in the courtroom for a child abuse trial.

You may not like that I posted this image and you may feel it’s exploitative.

I posted this photo because we need to see images like this to remind us child abuse is a very real reality.

We hear about it, but we often don’t see it.

This little boy lived a torturous life in the months before he died, according to prosecutors.

The least we can do is acknowledge his pain and suffering and try to remember there are thousands of other children out there like him who are still alive.

Reporting child abuse is important.  You may save a life.

Yes, it may be uncomfortable, but that awkwardness doesn’t compare to the pain and suffering that needs to be stopped.

This little boy WAS four-year-old Gabriel Trujillo, a victim of severe child abuse who eventually died last year.

Weeks after this photo was taken, Gabriel passed away as a result of a severe head injury.

This little boy, according to prosecutors, was beaten, tortured, starved and forced to stand naked outside in the cold as punishment.

Prosecutors said in court that the above photo captures a moment when his grandmother, Becky Trujillo, would force the little boy to stand in front of the bathroom mirror and repeat the words, “I am a monster.”

Becky Trujillo escaped a first degree murder conviction during her trial.

Instead, the jury convicted the grandmother of a lesser charge…negligent child abuse resulting in great bodily harm.

While we haven’t heard from members of the jury, it’s clear they did believe the grandmother was responsible for negligence and child abuse.

You can read more about Gabriel’s story here.  

Who earns six-figures in state government? Here’s a list of Colorado’s $100,000+ Club

For the sake of transparency and watchdog journalism, I often request databases of government employee salaries.

Sometimes such databases can yield interesting stories and reveal who is working for us–the taxpayers.

Based on a database I obtained a few months ago, we can see who the top-earners are among Colorado state employees (aside from people who work at state colleges).

You can download the entire database I obtained by clicking on this link to a PDF document (hit Ctrl+f in the document to search for a name). 

According to the database, here are the top three members of the state’s $100,000+ Club (aside from state colleges).

3.  Keith Owen – Deputy Commissioner, Department of Education – $180,000.00

Keith Owen - Photo: Colorado Department of Education

Keith Owen – Photo: Colorado Department of Education

From his bio (scroll to bottom of page): 

Owen oversees the state’s special education programs, federal programs including Title I, support for local school districts, and accountability systems.

Owen comes to the state department from Durango School District where he served as the superintendent for three years. During his tenure in Durango, he is credited with initiating a principal professional development program for principals in the southwest portion of the state and leading a comprehensive community strategic plan that has resulted in many improvements to the school system.

 

2. Dr. Christopher Urbina – Agency Director, Department of Public Health & Environment – $215,004.00

Christopher Urbina - Photo: CDPHE

Christopher Urbina – Photo: CDPHE

From his bio:

Chris Urbina, M.D., MPH, is the executive director and chief medical officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. He is an associate professor of the Colorado School of Public Health and Family Medicine, University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Outside of the department, Dr. Urbina is a member of the Association of Teachers of Preventive Medicine, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the Center for Public Health Practice Advisory Committee.

At the Department of Public Health and Environment, in addition to his role as the executive director, Dr. Urbina also is responsible for the supervision of the health-related divisions, including the Disease Control and Environmental Epidemiology Division, the Prevention Services Division, the Health Facilities and Emergency Medical Services Division, the Laboratory Services Division, the Center for Health and Environmental Information and Statistics, and the Emergency Preparedness and Response Division. He also supervises the Office of Health Disparities.

1. Robert Hammond – Colorado’s Commissioner of Education – $235,000.00

Robert Hammond - Photo: Colorado Department of Education

Robert Hammond – Photo: Colorado Department of Education

From his bio:

Robert came to be the top leader in Colorado’s K-12 public education system by demonstrating success in city management and the banking industry. It was from there that the Wichita Public Schools in Kansas tapped him to head its administration and operations division and later serve as associate superintendent.

In 2001, he moved to the Rocky Mountain state and was the chief operations officer for the Boulder Valley School District. About five years ago, he was successfully recruited to apply his leadership talents to the state level when he was named the Colorado Department of Education’s Deputy Commissioner. Robert was then recruited as the Commissioner of Education and was officially sworn into office in May 2011.

If you see anything suspicious or concerning in the database of salaries, please send me an email to jeremy@9news.com, or you can contact me on Facebook or Twitter.

Who failed Michael Harris?

michel_harris

Michael Harris was killed two months before what would have been his second birthday. Prosecutors say it’s one of the worst child abuse cases they’ve seen.

Last week I walked around a cemetery in Adams County to pay a visit to the grave marker of Michael Harris.

It wasn’t too hard to find.

Someone left some small plastic toys on his gravestone.   I wonder who’s still thinking about him.

Not many people cared for Michael when he was alive.

His mother and grandparents were meth users, according to court documents. Michael’s mom smoked pot while pregnant and he was born with marijuana in his system.

Michael’s biological father knew of his existence, but didn’t ever meet the little guy.

Prosecutors say Michael’s case is one of the worst they’ve seen when it comes to child abuse.

Judge Chris Melonakis unleashed on caseworkers and accused them of blatantly ignoring abuse and neglect in his home.

It’s important to point out caseworkers are not the ones who killed Michael, even though Judge Melonakis says they are also directly responsible.

The man who was convicted of killing Michael is serving a 42 year prison term.  Michael’s mom is serving 16 years for knowing about the abuse, but doing nothing to stop it.

Many of the caseworker documents and investigative documents are not accessible by the public because of confidentiality laws, so it’s impossible for us to hold them accountable.

While there is oversight in place, as I reporter I’ve learned over the years you can’t count on the government to watch itself.

Agencies need public and media scrutiny, especially when a child dies while under the radar of government employees who should be protecting them.

I’m not sure if the judge’s call for a grand jury investigation will prompt a serious investigation into the Adams County child welfare office.

Perhaps an investigation will find caseworkers did everything they could, as their supervisor tells us.

At Michael’s grave site, there were several other children I recognized from our Failed to Death series who were grouped together in the kids’ area of the cemetery.

I couldn’t help but notice there was plenty of space for more.