How we wrote the Misconduct Concealed series
At the end of 2020, both Bangor Daily News reporter Callie Ferguson and Portland Press Herald reporter Matt Byrne checked their email and discovered the Maine State Police had sent them trooper discipline records. Ferguson had requested the documents six months earlier, in late May, and Byrne had waited even longer, having requested them in February 2020.
The two work for competing newspapers, and both had hoped the records could serve as the basis for a story about how Maine’s largest police force handles discipline. But the records were written in such a vague way that it wasn’t possible to understand the underlying misconduct in most cases, despite lawmakers originally intending for such documents to shine a light on officer abuses. There were also a number of unexplained redactions.
It’s not typical for competing newspapers to team up. But reporters and editors for both newspapers agreed that readers would ultimately get more information if the papers worked together to bring to light the misconduct missing from the records and understand the consequences of the lack of transparency. The partnership would hopefully make a statement, too: that it was worth setting aside rivalry to better confront how police keep matters of public interest a secret.
The state police justified recording minimal information about officer misconduct by saying the law didn’t explicitly require it to state more. But by uncovering some of the misconduct, the newspapers showed the minimal punishments many officers received. The newspapers also illuminated how even severe misconduct can be kept out of public records — and, therefore, the public eye — when officers are allowed to resign or destroy their discipline history.
The newspapers also joined force in court in the winter of 2021, arguing the state police unlawfully redacted information intended for public viewing in the records. The lawsuit is ongoing.
The team behind
Three journalists worked on this series: BDN investigative reporter Callie Ferguson, Press Herald reporter Matt Byrne and BDN investigative editor Erin Rhoda. Press Herald editor John Richardson helped oversee the project.
The BDN’s Linda O’Kresik and Natalie Williams, and the Press Herald’s Derek Davis, took photos. The BDN’s Coralie Cross and the Press Herald’s Michael Fisher made graphics.
The series was funded in part by the Pulitzer Center.