Media Writers and Writing

WitnessLA Walks Away With One of Top Prizes at LA Press Club Awards

Witness LA took home a top prize in one category, a second place in another, and was a finalist in a third on Sunday night at the 54th annual Los Angeles Press Club Awards,
where hundreds of reporters, editors, columnists, producers, news anchors and other miscellaneous members-of-the-press gathered in the Crystal Ballroom of the Millennium Biltmore Hotel to find out who had won what in the world Southern California Journalism.

Among its highlights, the evening featured a duet of speeches by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. (The twosome got the evening’s President’s Award). Woodward gave his remarks looking Big Brother-ish via SKYPE on a screen behind where Bernstein stood at the ballroom’s podium. (Woodward apologized for his looming electronic non-in-person presence, pleading that the manuscript for his latest book was due to the publisher on Monday.)

For some reason, the glitzy night also featured more than the usual number of gawp-worthy shoes including these startling items, whose owner admitted she had lacerated her ankles more than once with the things.

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Witness LA—namely Matt Fleischer and I— walked away with a 1st Place for Advocacy Journalism for our work reporting and investigating the problems in the LA County Jails and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. (Matt didn’t do any literal walking Sunday night as he was up in the Bay Area all weekend, so learned of the award via his editor’s enthusiastic texts.) We competed in a terrific field that included entries from Reason Magazine and Reason TV, the Huffington Post, KCET’s online division and more.

In their comments on WLA’s work the judges wrote:

Many thought it just sarcasm when some inner-city residents referred to law enforcement as “just another armed gang” during the riots some years back. These reporters uncovered the chilling truth in what is perhaps America’s most troubled jail in this startling series of articles, making the judges relieved that they lived to tell the tale. While some observers prefer the term “cliques,” groups of deputies employ many of the trappings of street gangs to protect some prisoners (and each other) while savagely assaulting the person of prisoners and the careers of deputies who don’t join up. Outstanding research and excellent writing.

WLA also won second place in the Group Weblog category. (The staff of Reason Magazine was the winner in this field, but we were happy to be the runner up on a list that also included entries from Truthdig and LA Weekly’s Squid Ink.)

AND WitnessLA’s Matt Fleischer was a finalist for the Online Investigative Journalism award for Part 3 THE PRINCE of our Dangerous Jails series, a category won by Bloomberg reporters Christopher Palmeri, Rodney Yap and Michael Morris.

(A pretty good haul, we thought, for our hardworking little shoe-string operation.)

There were many, many worthy winners, lots of our good pals among them.

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KCET’s So Cal Connected left with a bunch awards, as did KPCC, Neon Tommy,
LA Weekly, OC Weekly, the LA Times and The Atlantic Magazine….and more.

(You can find the full list here.)

Congratulations to everyone for their fine work.


  • Congrats to WLA. You shined light into a cockroach infested hole of LASD. Your factual stories of Sheriff Baca and Undersheriff Tanaka and their unethical conduct “might” result in positive change to LASD, some day. I look forward to continuing stories on Abrams, Cruz, Duran, Aero Bureau, MCJ, Pay for Play, and all of the other stories you folks are currently working on. Good job, be proud.

  • Celeste – Your unconventional, “hardworking little shoe-string operation” is making a huge difference in LA’s law enforcement community by exposing the system of corruption Baca and Tanaka grew over the last 13 1/2 years. Your recognition is well-deserved! Thank both you and Matt for your perseverance and hard work.

  • A tremendous and well-deserved honor. You keep alive the best traditions of journalism and embody the idea of speaking truth to power. Full disclosure, I am honored to be friends with such an amazing woman! Kudos to both Matt and to you, Celeste

  • I went to my first journalism awards ceremony a few weeks ago and was amazed at all the categories, as I am at the number in your linked list. We can’t have similar awards in accounting, because what we do for others is no one’s business.

    It sure would be awkward to have an award for the most creative response to the IRS or the most entertaining tax return. An investigative series would be about digging out legitimate tax deductions from the pile of receipts provided. Hard news would be telling a client that he owes a lot. I’m sure that I would have won something in one of those categories.

  • Congrats WLA. Maybe now Sheriff Baca and company will realize this is more than just a “blog”

  • Thanks for the support, guys. We won and placed in some categories last year, but this win really cheered us up in a whole different way.

    And, yeah, Blake, it was fun to see how utterly riveted hundreds of cynical journalists were by Woodward and Bernstein storytelling from their All the President’s Men, Watergate-investigating days, even after all this time.

    Woody, the sorta silly categories are jammed in with the bigger ones that everyone takes seriously. It’s gotten crazier every year. (One presumes its a fundraising strategy.)

  • On this date two years ago, Beckford elementary School teacher Carol Champommier was informed that her 18 year old son Zachary had been shot and killed in Studio City the previous night.

    Zachary Champommier’s mother was told her son was shot by member’s of an undercover Narcotic’s task force which includes personnel from the LAPD, LASD and DEA.

    In the two years since Zachary Champommier was killed by a bullet purchased with public funds, one thing is clear from reading all the reporting on this case.

    That an immense influence is at work to control access to the critical facts of this incident.

    There are clearly exposed examples of powerful influence being applied, as well as events which can be seen as likely indicators of powerful influence at work.

    A journalist covering this story must feel as if they walked into a nearly empty and airless warehouse. Few solid items are visible to pick up and assemble into a reliable report to offer the reader.

    On July 2, 2010 Celeste Fremon wrote:

    “Yet it is a fact that Zac slammed into a sheriff’s deputy with his car, and it is a fact that Zac Champommier was shot dead by two members of law enforcement. According to the coroner, the fatal bullet entered through his left arm into his armpit then traveled deeper.”

    The first sentence is a compound sentence for which
    Celeste Fremon chose phrasing that conveys a personal guarantee placed on the certainty of the two statements.

    Ironicaly, the second sentence refering to “the fatal bullet” can be seen as a direct contradiction to the claim Zachary Champommier was shot dead by “two members of law enforcement.”

    In one week, we pass 2 years since Celeste Fremon certified that “Zac slammed into a sheriff’s deputy with his car.”

    What evidence exists to support the guarantee of fact?

    Can we see the affidavit of a witness? Can we have the name of a witness to contact to verify the account provided to the reporter? Can we see a medical report from an examination of the injury? Can we have the name or contact information for any witness who has read a medical report on the injury? Can we see an affidavit from the injured person or gain contact with the injured person to verify their claim of injury?

    Can Celeste provide information which leads to locating and accessing any certified document in existence prior to July 2, 2010 and still in existence today which supports her guarantee of fact?

    Can Celeste identify any individual who offered a testimony prior to July 2, 2010 that supports the guarantee of fact? Can we make contact with the witness to verify the reporter presented an accurate portrayal of their testimony?

    Celeste Fremon has provided an invaluable forum for discussion of Zac Champommier.

    However, a reporter causes critical damage to their journalistic credibility upon signing their name to this statement:

    “Yet it is a fact that Zac slammed into a Sheriff’s deputy with his car.”

  • On May 10, 2011 Celeste Fremon wrote:

    “Next week I hope to have some original reporting on the story, Mel. It’s still so heartbreaking I can’t stand it.”

    Since then, Celeste Fremon has provided no additional reporting on the Zac Champommier story.

    Nor has Celeste Fremon provided any explanation for her failure to follow through on her promise.

    There is direct and indirect evidence that massive resources and influence have been brought to bear in preventing the exposure of the factual events surrounding the shooting of Zachary Champommier.

    The silence of Celeste Fremon not only helps to fortify a Los Angeles Sheriff Department under Sheriff Lee Baca as a repressive totalitarian corrupt criminal organization,

    it should also disqualify her from receiving any award given to professional journalists.

  • Prophet: “In the two years since Zachary Champommier was killed by a bullet purchased with public funds, one thing is clear from reading all the reporting on this case. That an immense influence is at work to control access to the critical facts of this incident.”

    Are we talking about Los Angeles or Fast and Furious?

    – – –

    Celeste, if accountants were to have have a similar awards ceremony, no accounting firm would be independent, so we would have to get some actors to safeguard and count the ballots.

  • PMT, or should I say Mel,
    Why didn’t you just bring up your “9-5” theory or whatever it was? Why didn’t you rant and rail about how the cops had no right to detain a person who was looking in to parked cars? Why didn’t you expound at great length again on how a person looking into parked cars in a parking lot doesn’t give a cop reasonable suspicion to believe that person might be looking to steal a car or break into a car? Why didn’t you bring up Terry vs. Ohio?
    No flat out accusations that the cops committed premeditated murder this time?

    Ok. So Celeste didn’t keep her promise to you to further report on the issue. I suppose that makes the cops guilty of something right there. I mean, we all know how Celeste loves law enforcement. That’s why she is taking on the LASD and Baca.

    Sour grapes.

  • If Prophet Mo Teff had any facts to back up his claims, he would tell us what they are. He has none. Just inflammatory language and the incessant need to see heads roll over an explainable chain of events that ended up in the tragic shooting death of a fine young man.

  • The Zachary Champommier is tragis. But he brought it upon himself. You don’t start peering into locked cars around a group of Policemen. When the Policemen ask you what you are doing, you dont run. And lastly, you don’t enter your vehicle and try to run them down. So you know, two Policemen were struck by this kids car. Death is tragic, but some seek it out by their actions.

  • You’ve got your facts a little mixed up Top. Zac wasn’t looking into cars. The guy he was there to meet was the one looking into cars. They had never met. When the cops tried to detain him due to his obviously suspicious activity, a fight ensued.
    Zac, who had been sitting in his car the whole time, tried to drive away and in doing so hit two cops.

    Summation: (My opinion only)
    The guy that was looking into parked cars was looking for Zac, as they had never met.
    When the fight with him began, Zac decided it was time to get out of there and panicked, driving recklessly toward the cops, who thought he was a friend/accomplice of the guy they were fighting with and became afraid for their lives, thereby shooting into the vehicle to disable the driver.
    Zac did nothing wrong up until the time he ran over the cops.

  • No Top. They had met on-line and from the conversation it is assumed they were there for a sort of blind date. They had never met face to face. I don’t think Oeters (the other guy) was going to break into any cars. He was looking for Zac. If Zac had told him, I’ll be in such and such a vehicle, with such and such a license plate, we probably wouldn’t be talking about this. But since neither one of them anticipated anything like what took place, they simply arranged to meet “in the parking lot”. Hence, you have Oeters looking into parked cars. And then the tragedy unfolded from there.
    Zac had never been in any trouble and certainly didn’t fit the profile of a kid who would have been there for any criminal activity.

  • And in retrospect, it may have been only one cop that Zac hit, but two cops fired their weapons. I know there was one cop that got hit and, according to Oeters (the guy the cops were fighting with) the cop was hit hard enough that he rolled over the hood of Zac’s car.

  • Tragic chain of events, but no criminal intent by the Police. Civil case will move forward of course. The case should be closed.

  • I agree with Top of the Mountain and Answering the Question when they say:

    Tragic chain of events, but no criminal intent by the Police.

    That is very likely an accurate statement. That leaves plenty of room to also say:

    predictable and preventable TRAGIC CHAIN OF EVENTS, involving serious breaches of conduct and procedure which constitute grounds for dismissal from the department and some level of criminal culpability

    BUT NO CRIMINAL INTENT BY POLICE, rather behavior which does not meet the threshold for first degree murder but probably qualifies as so reckless and without regard of possible consequences to support a finding of manslaughter or lower degree murder.

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