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Must reads: Texas watchdog journalism roundup for July 23, 2017

Gilbert Flores shot by Bexar County deputies

Investigative stories across Texas that uncovered hidden facts and held officials accountable.

Decision to ‘end this’ after 12-minute standoff left Gilbert Flores dead | San Antonio Express-News

After a 12-minute confrontation with a belligerent, knife-wielding man who said he wanted to die, two Bexar County sheriff’s deputies turned to each other and agreed on “ending this,” according to their sworn civil depositions obtained by the San Antonio Express-News. But the deputies decided to open fire moments after the man, Gilbert Flores, raised his arms in apparent surrender. Read more …

Must reads: Texas watchdog journalism roundup for July 9, 2017

Lost Immigrants

Investigative stories across Texas that uncovered hidden facts and held officials accountable.

Lack of sharing, limited resources impede identification of migrant remains | San Antonio Express-News

“Funded by a grant from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, reporter Aaron Nelsen and photographer Julysa Sosa traveled more than 3,000 miles for three weeks chronicling a caravan of Central American mothers and other family members on a heart-wrenching journey: trying to find out what happened to their loved ones, who disappeared while making the dangerous trek to the United States. But many are denied even the bitter closure of burial because lack of shared DNA databases, international conflicts and shifting immigration policies are preventing the identification of an untold number of remains.” Story by Aaron Nelsen Read more

Must reads: Texas watchdog journalism roundup for May 27, 2017

Deadly fire in San Antonio kills firefighter Scott Deem

Investigative stories across Texas that uncovered hidden facts and held officials accountable.

Radio traffic: Thick smoke, confusion hampered efforts to rescue missing firefighter Scott Deem | San Antonio Express-News

“Hours after a San Antonio firefighter was killed in a Northwest Side strip mall inferno — the first to die in the line of duty in 20 years — Fire Chief Charles Hood stood by his decision to suspend the search for one of their own, calling it ‘one of the most difficult decisions’ of his life.”‘ Read more …

Must reads: Texas watchdog journalism roundup for April 22, 2017

Deadly church bus crash kills 13 near Garner State Park

Investigative stories across Texas that uncovered hidden facts and held officials accountable.

Pot found in truck that hit church bus near Leakey, DPS says | San Antonio Express-News

“Jack D. Young had taken prescription pills and was in possession of marijuana when he crashed his pickup into a church bus March 29 on U.S. 83, killing 13 people, according to court records released Tuesday that also bolstered reports that he was texting while driving.” Story by Zeke MacCormack. Read more …

How to make stunning time-lapse videos: Q&A with photojournalist Tamir Kalifa

Freelance photojournalist Tamir Kalifa spent two days working on this stunning time-lapse video of the Texas Legislature’s opening day for the 83rd legislative session. Lawmakers convene in Austin every two years and the event is widely covered by the media. But Kalifa, an intern at the Texas Tribune, captured the energy of the day in a unique, compelling way. I called him to ask how he did it.

Q: This is actually the second time the Texas Tribune has done a time lapse of the opening day of the Texas Legislature.

A: Yeah, that’s correct.

What were you trying to convey in this particular video and how does time lapse help you do that?

Tamir Kalifa
Kalifa
Well, I think that during the off year, the Texas government is sort of hibernating and waiting for this huge burst of energy that happens in the first few months of the year. So really what I wanted to show was the Legislature sort of waking up and coming to life and the excitement that everybody — from the legislators to the lobbyists to the lawyers to everyone’s families — I wanted to get across how people are hugely involved. I just thought doing a time lapse was the most efficient way to show the enormous scale of it. There were thousands and thousands of people swarming around the Capitol. There was an enormous line waiting to get into the House chamber to hear Joe Straus, to see him sworn in again.

It was amazing. I’m a musician in Austin. Free Week is just coming to a close now. You had all these free shows and everybody is clamoring to get in. It’s one in, one out when it gets to capacity. I realized, as I was desperately trying to get into the House to just get a little glimpse of it, there are a lot of Texans who get that kind of enjoyment and excitement out of the government. And that’s awesome. I really wanted to show that and kind of show the grandeur of it. There aren’t that many things in Texas that are as old as the capital. So it’s also cool to showcase it in that way.

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Everything you need to know about DPS, police pursuits and why troopers shoot at vehicles

Last week, Hidalgo County District Attorney René Guerra asked the Texas Department of Public Safety to temporarily suspend its practice of using airborne snipers to fire at fleeing vehicles. Guerra made the request after DPS trooper Miguel Avila, riding in a helicopter, fired at a pickup truck he thought was carrying a drug shipment. Actually, the truck was full of immigrants suspected of entering the U.S. illegally. Two Guatemalan immigrants were killed.

One of the most difficult and controversial challenges for police officers is chasing a fleeing vehicle. Police are supposed to catch criminals. But a lot can go wrong in a high-speed chase — especially in the deadly cat-and-mouse game DPS troopers play with drug smugglers in Texas border counties.

DPS Director Mike McCraw has asked the FBI to investigate the shooting. But there are already resources available to the public that show why an incident like this near the border was probably bound to happen.

Smugglers recovering drugs from the Rio Grande River
Smugglers recovering drugs from the Rio Grande River (Source: Texas DPS)
Two years ago, we found and wrote about a little-known resource: A DPS database that keeps track of every vehicle pursuit troopers are involved in. The database is available to the public through the state’s open-records law, and I teamed up with Brandi Grissom at the Texas Tribune to get a copy of the data and analyze it.

We received data for nearly 5,000 chases that occurred from January 2005 to July 2010. The database was packed with details about every DPS pursuit in Texas, showing factors like how each chase started, how it ended, and how many people were injured or killed.

One thing that jumped out at us was the high number of pursuits in Hidalgo County on the Mexican border. Between 2005 and July 2010, troopers in other Texas counties chased vehicles, on average, about 20 times. In Hidalgo County, DPS troopers chased vehicles about 30 times more often — 656 pursuits. That’s far and away the most in Texas:

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