Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Struggles of telling the #ManOrWoman story

Struggles of telling the #ManOrWoman story

This was not an easy story to tell because we had so many problems getting a hold of Jasmine Martinez. She was locked up in prison. Prisoners can’t take telephone calls.

Backstory: Jasmine Martinez describes herself as having both male and female sexual parts. She says she has more female parts and should be housed with women while behind bars. The Jefferson County Jail medical staff agreed with her and placed her in the general female population. However, the Department of Corrections said she is a man and housed her with men.  Jasmine has now threatened to sue the Department of Corrections because she says it violated her civil rights. If this happens, taxpayers will pay to defend the lawsuit.

I first wrote Jasmine a prison email letter in January and she sent me a letter back through snail mail.

Jasmine agreed to speak with me but the Department of Corrections would not allow us into the prison to interview her. We were told it had to do with Jasmine’s safety.

She was getting out of prison in CaƱon City in early February. The plan was to be at the prison gates when she got out. However, a huge snow storm hit our area and we couldn’t travel south on Interstate 25 safely.

I knew where Jasmine would be staying when she got out of prison so I started stopping by the house. The family she was living with eventually had her call me and we set up an interview.

In TV, a reporter is never sure if someone will show up for the interview. Jasmine did and we talked for about an hour. I found her to be very frank but nice.

At the time, we didn’t have medical release forms so Jasmine could give the Colorado Department of Corrections or Jefferson County Jail permission to share her medical details with us.

A few days later we got the needed forms signed.

Then the Department of Corrections questioned whether the forms were valid because she had signed her signature as Jasmine Martinez. Her name in DOC is Jose Ruiz. Luckily for me, I also had her sign Jose Ruiz it just wasn’t very legible. After some discussion DOC agreed to hand over the records.

We got them last Friday. Over the weekend and all day Monday my producer and I reviewed the documents.

Talk about a fast turn on a story. I’d like to know what you think. It will be on Wednesday night at 9 p.m. on channel 20 and 10 p.m. on channel 9.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Stories on prisoners who are wronged aren’t the most popular; here’s why you should care

Tonight, I’m going to tell you about a prison guard and inmate who died when their transport van rolled on an icy stretch of Interstate 70 in December. A police investigation blamed the private-prison guard from CCA who was driving. The report said she was going too fast and was an inexperienced driver.

During my investigation I discovered none of the inmates were allowed to have seat belts. Our state Department of Corrections doesn’t require private-prison companies to give inmates seat belts. Most of our report focuses on getting answers about that.

Doing a story about a prisoner who dies is always tricky. We, in the news business, wonder if viewers will connect with the story about someone who committed a felony.

I’ve been a reporter for more than a decade now. I’ve interviewed inmates in prison and their families outside.

What strikes me is how families of prisoners are punished too. Many times they have done nothing wrong.

Mothers are forced to raise kids as single parents while dads sit in prison.

What if your brother, mother, father or wife broke the law and went to prison?

Would you stop loving that person? I wouldn’t and it wouldn’t stop me from being crushed if he or she died in a van without seat belts.

Any of us could find ourselves loving someone who is forced on treacherous roads with no seat belts.

That’s why we should care about what we uncovered in our investigation.

It airs Friday night an 9 and 10 on 9NEWS and will be on after it airs.

I asked the wife of inmate Daniel Cooper to tell me about what this situation has been like for her. Daniel Cooper was injured when the van rolled. I am not professing that I've verified his wife's claims but give it to you to read and decide for yourself what is right. This is a portion of what she said wrote to me:

On December 20th 2011 I started my normal routine as usual; make a pot of coffee & turn on tunes while I get ready. I had spoke to my husband that Sunday and knew he was going to be transported to a minimum facility and would call me as soon as he could. For some reason that morning decided to turn on the T.V instead of my usual routine, and that's when I saw it ......a correctional van that was transporting inmates was involved in a fatal accident, 2 dead and several injured. 
I started to panic they weren't releasing any names I knew Daniel was on that van, I felt a feeling I really can't explain, I mean I had finally met a man that was this amazing person that just makes some stupid choices and he could be dead. I kept thinking what if I'm a widow. Well anyways I finally got myself together enough to start making calls. My friends kept saying don't worry honey they would have called if Daniel was in that van. 
I was his emergency contact so for a few minutes the panic subsided. I first called Kit Carson and they acted like they had no idea but informed  me they only call families when a prisoner dies. WHAT???? are you kidding me and with no sensitivity whats so ever. I didn't stop there I made several calls and finally got information that he was in the van and that he had sustained serious injuries. I was furious how could they not call families to let us know. 
I finally got to talk to a nurse at Denver Health who was very kind and had Daniel sign a release of information so I could know what was going on. I called everyday 2x a day to get updates on him. Our lives have been turned upside down in a matter of minutes. So once I got to talk to Daniel which was several days later and many a phone call to DOC I heard from my husband what happened. 
2 very important  things I'd like changed 1st: All transportation vans,buses etc should have seat belts & second an accident of this multitude families should be notified immediately!!!! Daniel struggles everyday he is haunted by the events of that day I am powerless to help him we haven't seen each other in almost 2 years another great DOC move. 
I am hoping that reaching out the public they can see just how important seat belts are and chose to make the right decision either alone or transporting people go slow and pay attention. Thank you for listening my heart & prayers go out to the families suffering YOU ARE NOT ALONE :)