2024 Finalist, Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting

Unfettered Power: Mississippi Sheriffs

In the summer of 2022, Mississippi Today reporter Jerry Mitchell was alarmed by how often sheriffs accused of committing serious crimes managed to evade any consequences and remain in office. Mitchell and reporter Ilyssa Daly began investigating the state’s sheriffs and soon found themselves inundated with corruption allegations and harrowing tales of torture and violence from victims and witnesses across the state. Joining forces with the New York Times, the team obtained records logged from officers’ Tasers (the preferred torture device of the deputies, according to victims) and matched the logs with other departmental records to determine which device was assigned to each deputy. This allowed them to corroborate the victims’ accounts and identify additional victims. Their series of reports led to the federal indictment of one former sheriff and “lit a fire under federal authorities,” with the FBI requesting the reporters’ help in reaching the victims and witnesses for interviews.

This project was in part supported by Big Local News at Stanford University and the Pulitzer Center.

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