investigations & storytelling
In my first year as Mississippi Today's investigative reporter focused on poverty and equity, I led two major, multi-month investigations surrounding two state jobs programs. As the only dedicated poverty reporter in the state, I’ve investigated the state’s use of welfare dollars — including on college scholarships for middle class families — and wage stagnation in Mississippi’s abundant low-skill workforce. I’ve reported on the state’s use of Mississippians’ personal data and debunked rosy claims from officials about Mississippi’s economy and labor market.
Other stories include:
How Mississippi, where chicken is a multi-billion dollar business, repeatedly balked at getting tougher on illegal immigration
Meet Gunner and BJ: Why mental health pros, courts must weigh who’s violent and who’s sick
She switched to an insurance plan that covered her treatment. Her bill quadrupled.
Grenada homeowners fighting contaminated land ‘cut off at the pass’ by federal judge
Living Day to Day: Surrounded by water and ignored by powerful officials, Tchula and its people fight for survival
‘They’re easiest to step on’: The real reason why families in the Delta, one of the nation’s poorest regions, are also the most audited by the IRS
Poverty, race and reparations: Sen. Elizabeth Warren sets tone for candidates campaigning in Mississippi
An elderly man's death after arrest illustrated a larger rift between police and this west Jackson community
Due to stagnant wages, securing a full-time government job does not ensure a life without poverty.
Misconceptions about Mississippi's felony voting ban means even more disenfranchised citizens than we know
Mississippi's lackluster efforts to protect consumers from predatory lenders
The reduction in polling locations across Mississippi since 2013 and how closures could affect voter access
Dispatches from the Mississippi Delta, where I spoke to residents about the 2018 midterms
As a watchdog reporter previously for Clarion Ledger, Mississippi's largest newspaper, I juggled a number of roles, covering Jackson City Hall and the Mississippi Legislature, reporting on health, social and environmental issues and investigating money in politics, law enforcement and government contracting. In each role, I examined both personal stories and the hidden conflicts and players in city, state and national systems, emphasizing accountability.
In many cases, my efforts led to deeper investigations, including:
Medical billing: In April 2018, I launched an ongoing investigative series on medical billing. I asked readers to send me their bills and analyzed them, often finding curious -- if not unethical or fraudulent -- billing practices. In one case, my reporting led the state's only academic medical center to change its ER medical coding policies.
Read the stories at medicallbill.clarionledger.com.
For this reporting, I received the 2019 Bill Minor Prize for Investigative Reporting from the Mississippi Press Association.
Food insecurity: I wrote about what people eat, what they have to do to get it and how it affects their health and quality of life in one of the poorest, most "food insecure" and, ironically, agriculturally rich places in the country.
Surrounded by crops, lacking food: A health paradox in the Mississippi Delta
Eating in the Delta: A community uses soil to fight food insecurity, promote sovereignty
Column: 'Get a job' simplistic answer to complex problem
Surviving 'food apartheid' in Mississippi's capital
Food desert: Engaging in Jackson's food system
Column: What would happen if we trusted each other?
For this reporting, I received the 2018 Bill Minor Prize for Investigative Reporting from the Mississippi Press Association.
Mental health: I examined the stories of people caught in the middle of a broken mental health system amid deep cuts to the primary mental health agency in Mississippi. A deep dive look at the state's mental health budget revealed the state is severely lagging on diverting funds to community services versus institutionalization.
One woman's story of dealing with behavioral and medical disorders highlighted the need for better coordination and integration of mental health services in the state.
Jackson's lead water: Immediately after discovering water samples from homes in Jackson exceeded the EPA guidelines for lead, I received push back from city and state agencies in my pursuit of the sample lead amounts and addresses. When I obtained the test results I first discovered the city had not been honest about the lead levels and that some homes were testing as high as eight times the action level. Eventually, I received the addresses and was able to speak to homeowners whose water tested high for lead.
Though the city initially said the lead was "home dependent," my reporting informed the public that the lead issue stemmed from corrosion control issues at the water treatment plants.
Though the city said it did not have lead materials in its distribution system, I discovered that the city's old cast iron pipes are jointed together with lead and although ideally the water should not touch the joint, possible corroding could cause the water to come in contact with the lead. The city water employee who spoke to Clarion Ledger about this was fired. I reported his story.
Chemical dumping: Manufacturing facilities in Water Valley and Grenada are still testing over national levels for TCE, a known carcinogen. In 2016, I investigated the Grenada contamination at a nearby subdivision, where residents believe the toxins have made them sick. The site became a proposed Superfund in 2018.
Not only are folks exposed to the chemicals just finding out about the health risks, the former director of Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality is representing the company responsible for the clean-up.
Jackson contracting: Nearly a year before a federal lawsuit publicly accused city officials of steering contracts, I obtained the altered score sheets said to illustrate the practice and reported the claims.
I followed closely all relevant public works contracts and discovered some preferred contractors fund-raised for Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber and even partnered with subcontractors who sat on various city boards, presenting possible conflicts of interest.
The connections were often difficult to place because of discrepancies within Mayor Yarber's campaign finance reports. I obtained flyers that showed when fundraisers took place, though no corresponding donations were reported.
This investigation eventually led me to discover that Wells Fargo forgave Mayor Yarber's $92,000 mortgage on the day of his election in 2014, according to subpoenaed bank records.
Hinds DA case: Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith's June 2016 arrest prompted one of the most convoluted and bizarre corruption cases in the area's recent history. Clarion Ledger has owned coverage of the case — which alleges the DA obstructed justice by hindering the prosecution of a criminal defendant — from the start, often uncovering facts that wouldn't have otherwise become public.
Less than a month after his arrest, reporter Mollie Bryant and I discovered that many of the details explaining the events leading up to his charges were sealed away in secret court cases. Clarion Ledger fought to open each case and was successful.
I have reported many specific allegations of bribery within the DA's office, giving necessary analysis along the way. I have also corresponded with the involved inmates and reported their side. Because the first trial ended in a mistrial, the case continues.
Before working for Clarion Ledger, I served as the Mississippi investigative researcher and reporter for Center for Public Integrity's state integrity investigation. I spent months researching Mississippi's ethics laws and how well they are enforced and followed. I was responsible for creating the scorecard for the state, which received a D- grade. I also wrote a report at the end of my investigation entitled "Tight-lipped officials and toothless watchdogs."
At the Jackson Free Press, the capital city's alternative newsweekly, my reporting focused on social issues, health and education.
See my full resume in journalism here.