Just when things got quiet

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Big news in the Ashland Police Department scandal came (of course) at 5 p.m. on Friday night.

Eight months after a grand jury convened to investigate a sergeant accused of destroying pills in an ongoing drug case, he was indicted on counts of evidence destruction and obstruction of justice. 

This is pretty incredible. I had known the grand jury was meeting, but after eight months I’d given up hope of ever writing this story. The best part was being able to open up my Ashland Police drawer (because yes, I have a filing cabinet devoted to this chaotic police department) and pull out the case file for the drug case he allegedly tampered with. 

The Globe had a story on the indictment, but they didn’t have any of the nitty-gritty details I did. I’d waited 8 mo to get to use that file!

There’s still more digging to do, however. I want to know the connection between the defendant in the drug case and the sergeant responsible for getting her case thrown out. 

Long commute not OK

I just finished a project on how far police and firefighters live from the town where they work. I found police and firefighters in many towns were breaking an often-ignored law about residency. 

This project involved records requests to fifteen cities and towns. I cleaned, compiled and sorted the data to find out what percentage of public safety officers live locally. One Framingham officer has a 121-mile commute from Cape Cod. 

Shiny award for nitty gritty work

Morley L. Piper himself presented the award. Photo by Art Illman/MWDN.

Morley L. Piper himself presented the award. Photo by Art Illman/MWDN.

I am honored to report that last week I received the 2013 Morley L. Piper First Amendment Award from the New England Newspaper & Press Association.

The best part of winning was hearing from some long-gone colleagues and others with whom I’d lost touch.

The award was for more than a year’s worth of coverage of chaos within the Ashland Police Department. The plaque we received is a lot shinier than the daily grind of reporting all those stories felt.

“Krantz’s relentless reporting and frequent use of public-records laws allowed her to dig through the layers of the police morass and tell readers what was going on,” the judges wrote.

At last count I’ve written about 50 stories about APD. If you want to know more, read this.

From scanner chatter to investigation

LeMaire with a Maltese puppy. Contributed.

The breeder with a Maltese puppy. Contributed photo.

I was on the police beat one Friday in late July when my editor heard chatter on the police scanner about dogs evacuated from a Red Roof Inn motel room.

It’s true – the best investigations come from beat reporting.

A few months and a lot of records later, I pieced together the story of a rogue dog breeder who evaded authorities for more than a decade.

My reporting included lots of meetings with the breeder’s customers, an interview on Cape Cod (note to self: August is the worst time to drive to the Cape in a hurry) and a 5:30 a.m. trip to Grafton the day 21 dogs (the ones we heard about on the scanner) were spayed and neutered.

I pieced together local and state records and spent two days in a government office sifting through three hulking binders of records about the breeder. I worked old sources and developed new ones.

The result is a tale of how lax laws made it easier for this breeder to get away with her schemes for a decade. Here’s the story.

Change

It’s exciting when a story leads to change. After my Aug. 18 story about the retired Ashland sergeant the state is asking to return $27,000 he earned from traffic details, Framingham is looking at its own retirees to hunt for over-earners.

UPDATE: The county has now admitted two errors in calculating the amount the sergeant owes. He now over-earned about $24,000. The retiree and state and county overseers are calling for this confusing law to be changed or clarified.

tiny tip, big story

Sgt. Steve Zanella works a traffic detail in 2008. MWDN file photo

Sgt. Steve Zanella works a traffic detail in 2008. MWDN file photo

This story started with an offhand remark from a source. But it nagged me and I followed up. The person told me the state was investigating a retired sergeant for earning too much money. Turns out there wasn’t an investigation, but state officials started one when I inquired.

This story taught me the importance of following up on tiny tips, and being persistent. About six months passed from the tip to the final story. My reporting involved records requests, interviews, lots of (polite) nagging and some (unsuccessful) stalking of a few construction sites, trying to talk to the retirees. 

There should be some follow-ups, too, because my records requests turned up other police officers who also earned too much money working traffic details. The best stories are the ones that keep on giving.

civil rights questions arise in dirty dog case

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The ongoing Red Roof Inn dog story shows what can happen when a reporter keeps pushing – and sits down for a while with the Massachusetts General Law.

The story about the woman found with 19 dogs in a stinky hotel room is raising questions about whether the Board of Health is overzealous in condemning properties, at the expense of tenants’ rights.

The story also shows how reporting can lead to change. The Board of Health is now calling for stricter regulations on hotels, to prevent this type of situation from happening again.

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