The Innocence Network Journalism Award was created to honor investigative reporting that brings to life the process of identifying and exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals. This year's recipients willbe Ryan Gabrielson and Topher Sanders of ProPublica for their "Busted" series about flawed roadside drug tests that have resulted in untold wrongful convictions across the country. Through thoroughly researched, investigative journalism, Mr. Gabrielson and Mr. Sanders make a convincing case that police reliance on roadside drug tests long-known to have been highly unreliable routinely force innocent people to plead guilty to crimes they didn't commit, often with devastating lifelong consequences.Their reporting sheds light on the stark reality that tens of thousands of Americans are jailed each year based on these inaccurate field tests conducted by police. Following their series, the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office in Portland, Oregon overturned five wrongful convictions and the Timothy Cole Exoneration Review Commission called for research and reforms to address the unreliable drug tests.
Topher Sanders covers racial inequality for ProPublica. He has reported on education and city government for The Florida Times-Union since 2008. Named to the investigative team in 2013, he became the paper’s investigative editor in 2014. Topher’s data-driven reporting on juvenile plea deals and the time Jacksonville juveniles spend in pre-trial detention facilities was a finalist for an Investigative Reporters and Editors award in 2015. His reporting on public records concerns and questionable behavior by Jacksonville’s elected public defender prompted Florida Gov. Rick Scott to order an investigation of the office in 2013. The investigation resulted in a scathing grand jury report asking Scott to remove the elected official. His education reporting was recognized in 2012 by the Education Writers Association. His work has also appeared in Essence, Black Enterprise and Newsweek magazines. He started his career at The Montgomery Advertiser in Montgomery, Alabama.