The North Carolina Open Government Coalition awarded the 2022 Frank Barrows Award for Excellence in Student Journalism to the Duke Chronicle for a newsroom-wide investigation into use of force by the Duke University Police Department. In a series of stories published between January and August 2021, the Chronicle staff examined with fresh eyes two incidents where use of force by Duke University police ended in a citizen death and contributed new reporting on public accountability and policing on a private university campus.
The Chronicle staff used court records, toxicology reports from the North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, campus law enforcement records, and interviews with surviving family members to piece together events surrounding the deaths of Danny Lee Winstead in 1982 and Aaron Lorenzo Dorsey in 2010, who were shot and killed by Duke University police.
The reporting also highlighted several North Carolina public records laws that make many law enforcement records and personnel records of law enforcement officers confidential and exempt from public disclosure despite calls for transparency from activist groups.
“I was thrilled to see the level of serious digging these students put into this ambitious series of articles,” said Mark Stencel, co-director of the Reporters’ Lab at Duke University and a faculty member in Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy, in a letter to the NC Open Government Coalition. “The reporting for this project was especially timely and revealing. The series provided campus-level context to help understand the broader statewide and national debates about police practices and accountability.”
At a time when elected officials and citizen activists across the state are monitoring legislative proposals to improve transparency and police accountability, the Chronicle’s work highlighted the power and the limitations of public records laws.
“We worked hard on these stories, exploring several types of public records and doing our best to work around obstacles in the law, because we saw gaps we could help fill in both our own reporting and the information available from Duke’s police department,” said Matthew Griffin, the Duke Chronicle’s recruitment chair and former editor-in-chief. “I hope the series serves as an example of journalists’ ability, and responsibility, to inform the public about how law enforcement officers use force in their communities.”
Follow the embedded links for the Chronicle’s reporting on the death of Aaron Lorenzo Dorsey, Danny Lee Winstead, and use of force by Duke University police. Nadia Bey, Matthew Griffin, Chris Kuo and Mona Tong contributed to the reporting.