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Must reads: Texas watchdog journalism roundup for Nov. 19, 2017

Press conference at Sutherland Springs

The latest investigative stories in Texas that uncovered hidden facts and held officials accountable:

Apple served with search warrant in Sutherland Springs shooting | The San Antonio Express-News

Texas Rangers investigating the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs have served a search warrant on Silicon Valley giant Apple Inc. and are seeking digital photos, messages, documents and other types of data that might have been stored by gunman Devin Patrick Kelley, who was found with an iPhone after he killed himself. Read more …

Must reads: Texas watchdog journalism roundup for Oct. 29, 2017

The Texas Tribune investigates furniture rental companies

The latest investigative stories in Texas that uncovered hidden facts and held officials accountable:

How renting furniture in Texas can land you in jail | The Texas Tribune

“Rental companies can avail themselves of a little-known law written decades ago by the rental industry lobby — in Texas and in many other states — that can turn a dispute over a love seat or big screen TV into a criminal offense report, a trip to jail and even felony theft charges.” Read more …

Texas watchdog journalism roundup: Arson, the Red Cross and Trump’s wall

Chief Charles Hood Press Conference

The latest investigative stories in Texas that uncovered hidden facts and held officials accountable:

Investigators: Gym owner started deadly blaze that killed firefighter Scott Deem | The San Antonio Express-News

Local officials have released few details about a deadly blaze that killed San Antonio firefighter Scott Deem. But an arrest affidavit obtained by the Express-News reveals that arson suspect Emond Javor Johnson was plagued by financial problems and confessed to starting the fire to get out of a monthly $2,500 lease at the Spartan Gym. Authorities arrested Johnson Wednesday. Read more …

Texas watchdog journalism roundup: Floods, hazing and an unemployed mayor

Flooding in Texas

With Hurricane Harvey bearing down on Texas and forecasters warning the storm could dump 20 inches of rain in some counties, it’s a good time to revisit news stories about the monster floods that keep striking Texas. Read more …

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 … Read more

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:

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