County police Director Juan Perez (left) suggested deployment of drones.
County police Director Juan Perez (left) suggested deployment of drones.
Miami-Dade Police

Miami New Times Writers Win Top Honors at Florida Press Club Banquet

Miami New Times writers brought home four first-place awards at this past weekend's Florida Press Club ceremony.

Staff writer Brittany Shammas was the big winner, with two first places in business and education writing. Cited were her stories "CEO of $25 MIllion 'Scam' Invention Company Arrested for Domestic Violence" and "After Parkland, Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie Battles the NRA and Local Critics." Here is an excerpt from the Runcie story:

An unlikely superintendent from the start, Runcie soon found himself shoved onto a national stage to grapple with some of America's most charged issues: gun control, mental health, and school safety. In the weeks after former student Nikolas Cruz's Valentine's Day massacre, Runcie was hailed for his calm leadership and outspoken embrace of gun reform and the #NeverAgain movement. But more recently, he's been slammed by outraged parents and activists egged on by conservatives already critical of his gun activism and even the NRA. They've targeted a program long considered his signature achievement in Broward: reforming discipline to keep students accused of low-level crimes in school instead of suspended, expelled, or behind bars. Critics argue the district's new approach under Runcie allowed dangerous students such as Cruz to go unnoticed by law enforcement.

Staff writer Jessica Lipscomb's "Cosleeping Kills Scores of Babies Every Year in Florida" also took top honors. 

To understand exactly how deadly the phenomenon can be, consider the final week of May 2017. As Memorial Day weekend began Friday, a 7-month-old girl near Orlando suffocated on a mattress next to her 19-year-old mother. The following morning, a Broward mom woke up beside her 6-month-old son and found him unresponsive. That Sunday, a 10-week-old Orlando-area girl died while sleeping with her mom, who might have been intoxicated.

Former New Times managing editor Tim Elfrink, who last month moved on to the Washington Post,  garnered the Lucy Morgan Award for In-Depth Reporting for "Founder of Florida's Biggest Megachurch Accused of Molesting a 4-Year-Old."

But then, in April 2014, [Bob Coy] resigned in disgrace after admitting to multiple affairs and a pornography addiction. Coy shocked his flock and made national headlines by walking away from his ministry, selling his house, and divorcing his wife.

The sexual assault claims, which have never before been divulged, raise new questions about the pastor, his church, and the police who handled the case. Documents show that Coral Springs cops sat on the accusations for months before dropping the inquiry without even interviewing Coy. His attorneys, meanwhile, persuaded a judge with deep Republican ties to seal the ex-pastor's divorce file to protect Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale from scrutiny.

And daily newswriter Jerry Iannelli took a second place in public safety reporting for a series of stories titled "Cop Drones Invade Miami."

After the Freddie Gray riots in 2015, Baltimore residents began noticing small planes circling the city. As reporters later uncovered, Baltimore Police had quietly begun using a "wide-area surveillance" system, which deploys Cessna planes to constantly record the movements of an entire metro area. Police never bothered to tell the public they were using the invasive technology, which had been developed by the U.S. Air Force to help soldiers fight in the Middle East.

Now Miami-Dade Police are quietly trying to deploy the same system. In a county document posted online Tuesday, MDPD revealed the force has applied for Department of Justice funds to begin using wide-area surveillance (WAS) tools throughout the county. In a move that echoes Baltimore's lack of disclosure to the public, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has already applied for the grant — and the county is now asking commissioners to sign off on the act retroactively at its next meeting June 6.

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