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Dec 14, 2019

Think globally, report locally

Co-produced with PRX Logo

This week, Reveal teams up with local journalists around the country to see how stories we first broke on the show are playing out in their communities. 

We start with the issue of concussions. In Colorado, KUNC reporter Michael de Yoanna dug into local data after our show in February exposed the limits of state laws designed to protect high school athletes. De Yoanna’s tally of head injuries surprises the Colorado school districts where all those heads got knocked. Who is responsible? We’ve got a cheat sheet for you to ask questions in your community, too.

Then reporter Eleanor Klibanoff of the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting at Louisville Public Media dives deeper into data we used to ask this question last year: In sexual assault cases, how often do police actually arrest someone before they clear the case off their books? She found it can depend on your local prosecutor.

Finally, many communities fight hard to bring in high-tech jobs. Then comes the sticker shock, as the price of housing climbs. Reveal joined forces with NBC Bay Area, Bay Area News Group, KQED, Renaissance Journalism and Telemundo 48 to find out “who owns Silicon Valley.” 

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Credits

This week’s show was produced in collaboration with KUNC, the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting from Louisville Public Media and partners within Reveal’s Local Labs project in San Jose, California – including NBC Bay Area, Bay News Group, KQED, Renaissance Journalism and Telemundo 48. 

The show was reported by KUNC’s Michael de Yoanna and Louisville Public Media’s Eleanor Klibanoff. Stories were edited by Emily Harris, Catherine Winter and Kate Howard.

This week’s show built on earlier stories by Reveal done in partnership with InvestigateWest and Pamplin Media Group, as well as previous reporting done in collaboration with Newsy and ProPublica. 

Thanks to Reveal’s Byard Duncan, Sumi Aggarwal, Katharine Mieszkowski, Vivi Nguyen, Hannah Young, Robert Rosenthal, Andrew Donohue, Matt Thompson, Michael I Schiller, Emmanuel Martinez and Jen Chien. Also special thanks to Michael Corey, Ziva Branstetter and Amy Pyle. 

Our production manager is Mwende Hinojosa. We also had help from Reveal’s Najib Aminy, Amy Mostafa and Kevin Sullivan. 

Sound design and engineering by Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda. Our host is Al Letson.

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Found, the Heising-Simons Foundation, Democracy Fund, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

Concussions Segment: 

Sexual Assault Reporting Segment: 

Silicon Valley Segment:

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal's radio stories is the audio.
Al Letson: From the Center of Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. At the end of each show you hear me say there's always more to the story. And today we find out where some of those stories lead through a project we launch called Reveal's Reporting Network. More than 800 journalists have signed on. We provide each of them with data and reporting techniques so they can see how stories we've covered are playing out in their communities.

 

Al Letson: Just after the Super Bowl last February, we brought you a story about concussions in high school sports. We focused in on Oregon where reporter, Lee van der Voo, had a simple question. How many high school athletes there get concussions?

 

Lee van der Voo: We asked for two years of these records from all the public high schools in Oregon, that's 235 schools. And we looked at which sports had a lot of concussions, at which schools, whether they had happened in big districts or small ones. And we also just wanted to see who was following the law.

 

Al Letson: Don't states enforce it?

 

Lee van der Voo: Actually, no. There's no enforcement mechanism, so at minimum we thought this could be a really good audit. Do people do this if nobody checks? At the end it was really hard to be confident in how well the laws were being followed.

 

Al Letson: Every state has a law requiring the kids who bang up their heads playing sports in high school get taken out of games or practice. Many say a medical professional has to clear them before they can play again.

 

Al Letson: Lee found that these laws are designed to prevent individual athletes from getting a second concussion. They're not set up to prevent concussions in the first place. Lee wanted to know what Oregon had learned after a decade of pulling kids out of games because of head injuries.

 

Lee van der Voo: Our data showed something like 600 concussions, or suspected concussions over two years at schools, that gave us enough good data to use.

 

Al Letson: 600 knocked heads. Is that a lot?

 

Lee van der Voo: Well, if you break it out it's roughly 50 concussions per 1,000 athletes, so, anecdotally, as the person who enters those in a spreadsheet one by one I can tell you that sometimes it really looks like a lot, five per game, four per game.

 

Al Letson: Based on Lee's experience, we made a list of questions that anyone could ask to find out how their school handle head injuries. More than 150 people got on the list, including Michael de Yoanna in Colorado. He's a reporter with KUNC Public Radio.

 

M. de Yoanna: I knew basically nothing. I don't cover sports and if I've covered concussions at all it's been through my military reporting.

 

Al Letson: Using our guide as a starting point Michael started asking school districts how they handle concussions. Eventually, he met the mom whose son became the name and face of Colorado's concussion law. Michael takes the story from here.

 

M. de Yoanna: I take my computer over to Kelli Jantz because she can't get an old video of her son to play.

 

M. de Yoanna: Let's make sure we have sound.

 

M. de Yoanna: I set my laptop on a crowded table. Kelli works in a hospital, where in a small room there she's taking a break to meet with me.

 

M. de Yoanna: It's coming up. It says "Jake's Video". Let's see, this should be "play".

 

M. de Yoanna: The sentimental music makes Kelli smile. Photos of her son as a young teenager flash by.

 

Kelli Jantz: Number 40, there he is right there.

 

M. de Yoanna: Number 40, Jake Snakenberg, doing what he loved, playing football for Grandview High School in Aurora, Colorado.

 

Kelli Jantz: There he goes.

 

M. de Yoanna: Kelli hasn't seen this video in years, but she knows every beat. She leans in and adjusts her glasses as pictures move by. She's so totally focused on the small screen that she seems to forget that I'm there. Kelli's looking for something.

 

Kelli Jantz: Here, this is going to be it. This is going to be it, I'll bet.

 

M. de Yoanna: Her son barrels through defenders to score a touchdown. It's not the touchdown that Kelli's been waiting to see, it's the big grin on Jake's face, slightly hidden by his helmet, a mixture of humbleness and joy. This is always Jake Snakenberg, forever 14 years old. Some of these images are from the day he died in 2004.

 

Kelli Jantz: I just miss him. It's hard because, I mean, he loved what he did. If we knew, if we had just known. You know? But it's just not...

 

M. de Yoanna: If she'd just known more about concussions. In the week before his death Jake had complained of tingling hands after a hit in a football game. It didn't seem serious, but it turned out to be. Apparently, his brain had been hurt, too, so when he got hit again in the next game his brain swelled up so much that it killed him. This double concussion is called Second Impact Syndrome, but Kelli had never heard of it even though she's a nurse and her husband's a doctor. Back then, they knew football could be dangerous, just not this dangerous.

 

Kelli Jantz: We didn't know then how great the consequences could be. We didn't have that information.

 

M. de Yoanna: Kelli had no idea if this sort of thing was common. She didn't even know how often other high school athletes got concussions. And without that big picture information, looking back, she felt she couldn't make a good decision about whether to let her son play.

 

Kelli Jantz: It's hard, you know? What I have yanked him out of football? I don't know.

 

M. de Yoanna: But she did know that something had to change so other kids wouldn't die playing high school sports. It took over six years. Kelli joined forces with school and sports officials and got the ear of then-State Senator, Nancy Spence.

 

Nancy Spence: Jake Snakenberg was a constituent of mine, a student at Grandview High School. I didn't know him and I didn't know his family, but his mother came to me and asked me if I would be willing to carry the bill.

 

Nancy Spence: The Health and Human Services Committee will come to order. We have...

 

M. de Yoanna: In a packed state capitol hearing room in February of 2011, Kelli Jantz made her case. She told senators they could save lives by passing a law requiring coaches to pull young athletes out of play if they hurt their heads.

 

Kelli Jantz: Putting a strict guideline for return to play sends a message to everyone, to coaches, parents, and the kids, that the consequences of a concussion must be taken seriously.

 

M. de Yoanna: Support was widespread. Parents, players, coaches, even Joe Brown, a top NFL executive, and Billy Thompson, the former Denver Broncos defensive back, showed up. Senator Spence, a republican, easily found allies in her own party.

 

Nancy Spence: The motion is for the adoption of Senate Bill 40, all those in favor say, "Aye".

 

Group: Aye.

 

Nancy Spence: All those opposed, "no"?

 

M. de Yoanna: As well as among democrats, all the way up to the governor who signed it.

 

Nancy Spence: Senate Bill 40 passes!

 

M. de Yoanna: Colorado's Youth Concussion Law is similar to Oregon's and every other state's around the country. Athletes suspected of having a concussion must be pulled out of practice or competition. Almost every law says they can't return until a medical professional says it's okay in writing. Colorado's law goes further than many because it covers athletes as young as 11 in club and rec leagues, not just schools.

 

M. de Yoanna: The law passed with strong support, but not without a warning from then-State Senator Shawn Mitchell, another republican. He said there was no way to make sure the law would make a difference, no way to hold anyone accountable for safety.

 

Shawn Mitchell: This bill has no teeth. There's no enforcement provision. There's no penalty provision. There's not even a reporting provision.

 

M. de Yoanna: No state laws like this require anyone to keep track of concussions. So like Lee found in Oregon, it's hard to be confident how well Colorado's law is being followed. I got on the phone with a guy who had helped shape the law back then.

 

M. de Yoanna: Well, Bert, I appreciate you taking a time out.

 

Bert Borgmann: Not a problem.

 

M. de Yoanna: Bert Borgmann lobbies for the Colorado High School Activities Association. We call it, CHSAA. They make the regulations for high school sports. He remembers the goal when writing the law was to ensure kids who got hurt stopped playing, not to count how many kids got hurt.

 

Bert Borgmann: We were looking for the educational resources that we could provide to help get them in to the appropriate treatments as necessary, those kinds of things.

 

M. de Yoanna: Under Colorado law coaches get educated. They're required to take a concussion training course every year. But because there's no requirement the schools keep track of head injuries, it is almost impossible to see how that training translates to the field. How many kids get pulled from play? Which schools, or teams, have the most head injuries? Former Senator Spence says that would be a lot to ask.

 

Nancy Spence: And I don't think there's a way you could trace that. Every coach of every sport of every kid from 11 to 18? It's difficult.

 

M. de Yoanna: But we found a way to start using Reveal's Pocket Guide plus the Colorado Open Records Act and I showed the senator what we found.

 

Nancy Spence: 6,000 concussions?

 

M. de Yoanna: 6,000.

 

M. de Yoanna: The records we got showed that Colorado students were pulled out of play for head injuries 6,000 times. That number spans the last five years. But the true number must be much higher because we only got good data from six school districts. That's six out of 178 districts in Colorado.

 

Nancy Spence: In the big school districts in rural, I mean, in metro Denver?

 

M. de Yoanna: In five larger school districts. That includes Cherry Creek...

 

Nancy Spence: But it doesn't include Denver? Because they wouldn't give you any data?

 

M. de Yoanna: Because they wouldn't give us any numbers. Yeah, the largest...

 

M. de Yoanna: Denver is the largest district in the state. They told me that athletic trainers at each school have head injury information, but they don't track or report any injuries publicly. Other districts told us they don't even keep track of concussions, but every district we spoke to says it takes head injuries seriously.

 

M. de Yoanna: I show the data I have to Dawn Comstock, a national concussion guru.

 

Dawn Comstock: Love it, love it, love it, love it. Whenever anybody collects data...

 

M. de Yoanna: Dawn's a researcher at the University of Colorado's School of Public Health. She runs a big database that analyzes youth sports head injuries collected from a sampling of schools around the country. The two of us are in my office and we're squinting at tiny type on my computer screen.

 

M. de Yoanna: Oh, let's see if I can. I'll look at the [inaudible 00:11:01].

 

Dawn Comstock: Can you scoot it over?

 

M. de Yoanna: A skosh. There we go.

 

M. de Yoanna: We find a way to zoom in. We're looking at a chart from one school district. It tallies up the number of times students were pulled with head injuries.

 

Dawn Comstock: And that's the school?

 

M. de Yoanna: Yeah.

 

Dawn Comstock: Okay.

 

M. de Yoanna: So this is the school.

 

Dawn Comstock: School and year? All right.

 

M. de Yoanna: So this would be Cherry Creek.

 

M. de Yoanna: Cherry Creek schools, it's one of the state's largest district and it's where Jake Snakenberg played football.

 

M. de Yoanna: We see football here.

 

Dawn Comstock: Yeah, that's would you'd expect. Football should be the big, hairy beast that drives most of this.

 

M. de Yoanna: Big, hairy beast. In other words, football has the most head injuries that pulled kids out of games. One-third of the total in Cherry Creek. Schools don't decide whether a student has had a concussion, they leave that to medical professionals and even then it's both an art and a science. Football is not the only hairy beast that Dawn is checking.

 

Dawn Comstock: Where is your girls' soccer?

 

M. de Yoanna: There's boys' soccer, softball...

 

Dawn Comstock: There's boys' soccer. So, usually-

 

M. de Yoanna: Girls' soccer, right here.

 

Dawn Comstock: There you go. So we'd expect it to be just a little bit higher than boys' soccer, which it is it looks like. Yep.

 

M. de Yoanna: Yeah.

 

Dawn Comstock: So that's pretty similar to what we'd expect.

 

M. de Yoanna: Here's the thing about numbers, they have the power to make athletes safer. They can catch things coaches or players might never think of, like at what age heading the ball is safer in soccer, or how often football teams should have full contact practice. Dawn gets very detailed information from the high schools where she does research like where on the court or field did the injury happen? Has this student had a similar injury before? What kind of drills does the coach regularly run?

 

Dawn Comstock: We ask every single week how many days this week did your coach have full contact drills? They should not have more than three.

 

M. de Yoanna: She found that concussion rates in football went down by 20% nationally after teams limited full contact practices, even though not all schools did it.

 

Dawn Comstock: So if all the schools would follow the recommendation the effectiveness of this intervention would be even bigger.

 

M. de Yoanna: Wow. Wow. It's amazing how epidemiology can help us.

 

Dawn Comstock: We can do some fun things.

 

M. de Yoanna: Dawn looks only at numbers aggregated from different high schools in different places. The 6,000 suspected concussions that I found all track back to specific Colorado school districts. But because each district collects different information, if any at all, we can't dig in like Dawn does. For example, we can't see whether coaches run drills that regularly put players at a high risk. Without good consistent local numbers Dawn says there just can't be real accountability.

 

Dawn Comstock: Right now, because we don't have good enough data to really do school to school direct comparisons, I think that means that we need to avoid pointing blame at any individual school.

 

M. de Yoanna: Dawn says state high school activities associations have the power to require schools to collect useful local data. In Colorado, again, that's CHSAA.

 

Dawn Comstock: CHSAA needs to take accountability for either promoting recommendations or actually installing requirements for evidence-based interventions that either have been proven to be effective or that have strong probability of being effective.

 

M. de Yoanna: So what does CHSAA think? I go to CHSAA headquarters. It's a small building across from condo complex in Aurora. I'm buzzed in through a security door.

 

Jenn Roberts: Jenn Roberts-Uhlig.

 

M. de Yoanna: Once inside, I meet Jenn Roberts-Uhlig, an assistant commissioner at CHSAA. I ask her, should they require schools to track concussions? Should they do it in a way that would let people compare schools or coaches?

 

M. de Yoanna: Would CHSAA then advance, or advise, for a state law of some sort or make it a rule from CHSAA?

 

Jenn Roberts: That's a great question.

 

M. de Yoanna: That CHSAA would say, "You have to do this and if you don't do this you can't play."?

 

Jenn Roberts: I think before we could go down that road we'd definitely had to make sure we have it very lined out what we're looking for.

 

M. de Yoanna: She says a CHSAA committee is starting to explore the idea. Right now Colorado law makes students who might have a concussion stop playing until they're cleared by a medical professional. It doesn't try to measure how well that's working or find ways to lower the number of head injuries that happen, or hold anyone accountable for doing either of those things.

 

M. de Yoanna: I take the records I dug up to Cherry Creek schools. Larry Bull is the Athletic Director there.

 

Larry Bull: I saw you at the football game. I'm Larry Bull, the Director of Athletics.

 

M. de Yoanna: We calculated that about three percent of Cherry Creek's athletes were pulled out of play for head injuries each of the past three years. That's roughly similar to other Colorado districts with enough data to compare, but it's about three times as high as Michigan, the only state that collects and published comprehensive concussion numbers. The raw number is 721 head injuries in Cherry Creek over three years. I ask Larry Bull what he thinks about that.

 

M. de Yoanna: Is that a lot to you? Does that sound like a lot?

 

Larry Bull: It does. I would have to go... I don't have it memorized, that I would have to go back.

 

M. de Yoanna: But he looks over all my paperwork and finally agrees the district's data is accurate.

 

Larry Bull: Yeah, that's probably right. Maybe I'm just shocked.

 

M. de Yoanna: Shocked at the number of suspected concussions in his own district. In addition to the big, hairy beast of football, almost nine percent were in girls' soccer. More than seven percent were in cheerleading. Even from the basic information Cherry Creek provided I can see head injuries climbed steadily, up almost 12% in three years. Those calculations are simple. They didn't take me long to do. So why shouldn't Cherry Creek put these numbers out every year for parents, students, and anyone else to see?

 

M. de Yoanna: Do you support the public release of concussion data?

 

Larry Bull: Yes and no.

 

M. de Yoanna: Yes and no?

 

Larry Bull: Yes, and no.

 

M. de Yoanna: Okay. What is the yes and what is the no?

 

Abbe Smith: We are not opposed to this data being public.

 

M. de Yoanna: That's Abbe Smith, whose also sitting at the table. She's the district's Director of Communications.

 

Larry Bull: If the public wants to know, great. Put it out there. Come up with the form, put it out there and make it something that everybody has. But I think there's what is going to be used with that data?

 

Abbe Smith: We're not opposed to publicly publishing that somehow if that's some sort of state requirement or something that groups come to suggest would be a recommendation that would make kids safer.

 

M. de Yoanna: They have no plans to do that now. But if you want to ask your school district for head injury numbers like I did, text "HEAD" to 474747. That's "HEAD" to 474747. We'll send you a short list to get you started not just about numbers, but concussion policies.

 

M. de Yoanna: In Cherry Creek, Athletic Director Larry Bull says he's sure high school athletes are safer than they were a generation ago because of Jake Snakenberg's death on that football field in 2004.

 

Larry Bull: Yes, the Snakenberg law has made a difference, 100% made a difference.

 

M. de Yoanna: One big change, Bull says people are watching for concussions now. Anyone can step up and tell a school official they think a player has a head injury. Like many districts in the state, Cherry Creek follows a gradual return to play protocol so athletes have the time to heal.

 

M. de Yoanna: So on a freezing Friday night I go to watch the last regular season Cherry Creek High School football game. They're playing Grandview, the team that Jake Snakenberg was on. The game looks a lot like that video I was watching with his mom, Kelli. Same white, blue, and black uniforms as 15 years ago, same songs from the band, same happy fans. I don't see any brutal hits or anyone pulled out, but it's still tackle football. Kelli Jantz lost Jake in an ordinary game like this.

 

Kelli Jantz: And I watched him take a pretty hard hit in warm-ups, like one that caught my attention. Then during the game he lined up and he set, and then he fell forward. And he was trying to get up and you could tell something wasn't quite right, and he turned to come to the sideline and he went down. And then that was it.

 

M. de Yoanna: Kelli says the Colorado law was an important change, but she wants more. Three years ago she took her son's story to Washington D.C.

 

Kelli Jantz: ... Genuinely cared for those in his life. He had a joy about him...

 

M. de Yoanna: Kelli told a house committee gathering research on youth sports concussions that parents, schools, coaches, and students need comprehensive data. There's been a bill to do that, languishing in congress since 2015. Kelli thinks numbers might eventually erase the disbelief she still runs into.

 

Kelli Jantz: I still feel like there's a lot of, "Ah, it doesn't happen that often," and, "Oh, well, what happened to Jake, that's so rare." And there's still a culture out there to kind of butt up against.

 

M. de Yoanna: Kelli was as surprised as anyone by the 6,000 head injuries we uncovered, but in that big number she sees some good. 6,000 kids who are hurt then pulled out of play to heal. She's glad of that.

 

Kelli Jantz: It feels so good to know that maybe in those 6,000, maybe there's some kids who avoided long term problems, or suffering, ending up like Jake? God. That means the world to me.

 

Al Letson: Thanks to Michael de Yoanna for bringing us that story. Michael is an investigative reporter at KUNC Public Radio in Greeley, Colorado.

 

Al Letson: When we come back our colleagues in Kentucky had a look at some data we put together on sexual assault and they discovered a surprising story about how prosecutors and police in Louisville deal with rape cases.

 

Jeremy Wright: How you doing?

 

Jen Sainato: Fine.

 

Jeremy Wright: You care if I come in?

 

Jen Sainato: Sure.

 

Jeremy Wright: What's going on? You here by yourself or is somebody else in here with you?

 

Jen Sainato: There was like five or six officers and I was really nervous even open door to them.

 

Al Letson: That's coming up next on Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.

 

Al Letson: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. Today, we're hearing stories that came out of Reveal's reporting network. That's when other news organizations follow up on our investigations in their own communities. Last year, we looked at whether police were really doing as well as they say they are when it comes to catching rapists. We found that in Austin, Texas police were telling city officials that they were clearing lots of rape cases.

 

Brian Manley: And we're fortunate that we do exceed the national averages on all categories.

 

Al Letson: That's Brian Manley back in 2016. At the time, he was Austin's Assistant Chief. He was telling the Public Safety Commission how well his department was doing when it came to clearing some serious crimes.

 

Brian Manley: As you can see with the homicide, the rapes, all three categories of robberies lumped together.

 

Al Letson: Usually, police call a case cleared if they've solved the crime or arrested someone. But our reporting with Newsy and ProPublica found that many police departments were clearing rape cases without arresting anyone. They were using something called "exceptional clearance". We asked Tom McDevitt to explain it. He's a former commander of the sex crimes unit in Philadelphia.

 

Tom McDevitt: An exceptional clearance means that you know the crime, you're able to prove a crime occurred, you have a victim, you know where the person is and who they are, the defendant, and either the prosecutor doesn't want to prosecute, or the victim doesn't want to go forward with the case.

 

Al Letson: You'd use exceptional clearance if the suspect had left the country, maybe, or died. And official at the Department of Justice told us exceptional clearance is supposed to be used sparingly. But we found police using it again, and again, and again to clear sexual assault cases and that made it look like they were getting a lot more rapists off the street than they really were.

 

Al Letson: Reporter Eleanor Klibanoff used our data as a part of her investigation into how the Louisville, Kentucky Police Department handled sexual assault cases. Eleanor works for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting at Louisville Public Media and she joins me now.

 

E. Klibanoff: Hey, Al.

 

Al Letson: Okay, so what did you and your colleagues find when you looked at Louisville's data?

 

E. Klibanoff: When that data first came out my colleague, Jacob Ryan, and I noticed that Louisville had the sixth highest rate of rape cases being cleared by exception rather than by arrest. So, we started looking into it a year ago and almost immediately when we asked the Louisville Metro Police for comment, their spokesperson, Jessie Halladay, challenged these findings.

 

Jessie Halladay: The implication that you make when you phrase it that way is that we know who a bunch of rapists are and we choose not to prosecute them.

 

Al Letson: Is that what's happening in Louisville?

 

E. Klibanoff: I mean, by clearing these cases by exception they're saying they know who a lot of accused rapists are and they have probable cause to arrest them, but they're not. In Louisville, almost half of all rape cases are cleared by exception instead. Generally, because a prosecutor declined the case before an arrest was made.

 

Al Letson: Why would a prosecutor decline the case before the arrest was made?

 

E. Klibanoff: Right, so Louisville Police take every rape case to the prosecutor before they make an arrest. So the prosecutor gets to screen that case before the arrest is made. And what we found is that they often bring them these cases very early in the investigation. So the prosecutor declines the case, the police don't make an arrest, but they still get to clear the case by exception.

 

Al Letson: In your new podcast called Dig, you interview a woman who is already traumatized by a sexual assault and when the police get involved the investigation seems to go bad from the start.

 

E. Klibanoff: Right. The case of Jen Sainato. She agreed to let us use her name in this story because she wants people to know what she's been through.

 

Al Letson: Let's hear that story now, but before we get started we should warn listeners that it includes descriptions of sexual violence.

 

E. Klibanoff: Jen Sainato lives in northern Indiana. She's 42 with three kids at home. She's a medical device rep. Back in January 2018 she came to Louisville to oversee a surgery involving one of the devices she sells. When she got in to town she met the surgeons at a steakhouse for dinner.

 

Jen Sainato: I'm talking about the case, troubleshooting whose going to do what the next day.

 

E. Klibanoff: After dinner Jen went back to the Marriott Hotel where she was staying. She stopped at the bar for a glass of wine. She opened her laptop to review the next day's surgical case when a guy started talking to her. She remembers going outside for a cigarette with him at one point. She remembers it tasting funny. She remembers him pushing the bartender to pour her more wine. And then she says she can't remember much. But she says when she came to she was in her hotel room and so was the man from the bar.

 

Jen Sainato: I was just screaming at him, "What happened? What happened? Why is all this blood here?" I mean, I'm panicking and I just remember him putting khaki pants on, like you've seen in the movies or something, literally running out the door.

 

E. Klibanoff: It was three o'clock in the morning on a Wednesday when Louisville Metro Police Officer, Jeremy Wright, arrived at the Marriott Hotel with five other officers, four men and one woman. Wright was wearing a body camera.

 

Jen Sainato: Yes?

 

Jeremy Wright: It's police, open the door, please.

 

Jen Sainato: There was like five or six officers and I was really nervous even open the door to them.

 

Jeremy Wright: How you doing?

 

Jen Sainato: Fine.

 

Jeremy Wright: You care if I come in?

 

Jen Sainato: Sure.

 

Jeremy Wright: What's going on? You here by yourself or somebody else in here with you?

 

Jen Sainato: No, by myself.

 

Jeremy Wright: So, what's going on?

 

Jen Sainato: I just remember kind of like walking backwards like, "Oh, my God. Why are they all coming in?" And I remember speaking really quickly like I was trying to tell them what had happened, but I was also trying to put together what had happened.

 

Jen Sainato: We went to a corporate dinner and we took our [inaudible 00:28:25], talked to a guy. And all of a sudden I have no idea what has happened.

 

Jeremy Wright: You felt like you been poisoned or you need to go to the hospital or something, what? You want to go to the hospital, get checked out?

 

Jen Sainato: I don't know what just happened.

 

Jen Sainato: There was a wine glass by the TV and I just remember that one officer kind of pointed to it and saying something like, "Oh, been partying tonight?"

 

Jeremy Wright: I understand that you've been drinking tonight.

 

Jen Sainato: Excuse me?

 

Jeremy Wright: Listen to me, just listen to me. Nobody's accusing you of anything.

 

Jen Sainato: Have I been drinking tonight? No!

 

Jeremy Wright: Okay.

 

Jen Sainato: It was wine and right away he was like, "Oh, yep. You've had a lot to drink."

 

Jeremy Wright: Listen to me.

 

Jen Sainato: I actually hadn't had that much to drink tonight.

 

Jeremy Wright: Okay. All right, how much have you had to drink tonight?

 

E. Klibanoff: Jen asks to talk to the female officer alone. In the hallway, Officer Wright talks to the other male cops and a hotel employee.

 

Jeremy Wright: Oh, my God. She's drunk, stupid drunk. We get these a lot, too, in the hotels where people probably have more than they should have and invite people back to their room, and then they say they got raped.

 

E. Klibanoff: Wright tells them, "It sounds like it was consensual to a point." At the hospital, there were signs of violence. What Jen's medical records from that night document is disturbing. A nurse found multiple lacerations in her vagina. Jen says she later discovered that her tailbone was dislocated and her breast implant had ruptured. She also had a blood test that showed her blood alcohol content was over the legal limit for driving. The toxicology screen was not comprehensive enough to determine whether she'd been drugged.

 

E. Klibanoff: A year and a half later, Louisville Metro Police cleared Jen's case, not by arrest, but by exception. Cases can be cleared by exception only when police have identified a suspect, they know where that person is, and they have probable cause to support arresting and prosecuting the suspect, but something exceptional beyond their control stops them.

 

E. Klibanoff: In Jen's case, that exceptional reason was the prosecutor. In Louisville the police department, the LMPD, asks prosecutors whether they should arrest people suspected of rape. Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Kristi Gray is a sex crimes prosecutor in Jefferson County.

 

Kristi Gray: The difference I think between LMPD and a lot of jurisdictions is the sex crimes unit contacts our office about almost all of their cases, whereas a lot of jurisdictions the police will only bring cases that they think are viable or that they've gotten to a certain level in the investigation.

 

E. Klibanoff: We found the police often bring those cases to prosecutors early in the process before they've done much investigating. And often, prosecutors tell police they don't intend to take the case to court, so police don't make an arrest. In Louisville in 2017 only 15% of rape cases ended in an arrest. Research shows the national average is around 25%.

 

Kristi Gray: Essentially it all comes down to whether or not, as a prosecutor, I believe that the evidence supports our burden which is beyond a reasonable doubt.

 

E. Klibanoff: It's not unusual for police and prosecutors to work closely on complicated cases. But rape is the only crime Louisville Police handle this way. Less than two percent of all crimes reported in 2017 were cleared by exception because a prosecutor declined to take the case, but more than 40% of rape cases ended that way. Gray said the main reason they decline rape cases because they're honoring a victim's wishes.

 

Kristi Gray: In a number of cases where we have a named suspect, the victim has said, "I want the investigation closed." And so we'll screen the case and decline prosecution mainly at the request of the victim.

 

E. Klibanoff: The other main reason is that they don't think there's enough evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt in court. I looked at the investigative record for every rape reported to Louisville Police in 2017 and case files for more than two dozen. I asked Lieutenant Shannon Lauder, head of the Special Victims Unit about the cases I looked at.

 

E. Klibanoff: We have reviewed case filed where only the victim's interviewed, the suspect was never interviewed, no other investigative efforts were sort of undertaken, and then the case was screened with the prosecutor.

 

Shannon Lauder: I'm not going to allow you to act like my detectives are not thoroughly investigating cases because it's going to sound good for your article. That's reckless of you, it doesn't serve victims for you to say that, and I don't appreciate it. My detectives do a thorough job.

 

E. Klibanoff: Surely, sometimes detectives do do a thorough job and sexual assault cases can be difficult to investigate. But we found cases that were screened with a prosecutor before almost any investigation had been done. I talked with Jonathan Kurland, an attorney advisor in an organization called AEquitas. They help prosecutors get better at handling sexual violence cases. Kurland didn't comment on Louisville, specifically, but he said, "Prosecutors set the standard for what cases they'll take. And sometimes they set that bar too high."

 

John Kurland: So then that gets transmitted through other disciplines working sexual violence cases and if they don't think the prosecutor's going to approve it, they don't exert the effort in maybe fully investigating it.

 

E. Klibanoff: Detectives know they're going to have to get these cases past the prosecutor. Even a patrol officer, like Jeremy Wright, on the night he was called to Jen Sainato's hotel room, you can hear Wright speculating about whether the case will be strong enough.

 

Jeremy Wright: That's one of the biggest hurdles we have to deal with is one, there's no video, two, she's drunk, so we don't know how much we can believe out of her.

 

E. Klibanoff: One, there's no video. Two, she's drunk, so we don't know how much we can believe out of her. Jen picked up on his skepticism that night. Here's what she told the female officer when they were alone.

 

Jen Sainato: He's already like, "Yeah, we don't believe you."

 

Speaker 22: No, that's not how he is.

 

Jen Sainato: Like I'm like a... I'm-

 

Speaker 22: No. No.

 

Jen Sainato: Come on.

 

E. Klibanoff: Louisville Police spokesperson Jessie Halladay said Wright didn't overstep that night because he still did everything he was supposed to. He called for sex crimes detectives and he got the victim to the hospital. But his approach had an effect on Jen. She didn't want to meet with the male detective that came to the hospital where she was getting a rape kit exam.

 

E. Klibanoff: Louisville Police say Jen did meet with the detective, but that she told him she didn't want an investigation. Jen strongly disputes that claim. But because she didn't formally report, police didn't interview the bartenders. They didn't try to find the guy she accused to get his side of the story that night. They didn't gather any evidence, not the bloody sheets, not the wine glass, not the orange lighter Jen said the man left behind in her room. From that first night her case seemed destined to be declined by a prosecutor for a lack of evidence.

 

E. Klibanoff: But unlike several cases I reviewed, Jen Sainato's case did include a phone call to the suspect, the man she shared a drink with at the hotel bar.

 

Lindsey Lynch: My name is Lindsey Lynch, I'm a detective with the Louisville Metro Police Department.

 

E. Klibanoff: I got the audio of this phone call from Jen's lawyer, who got it through a subpoena. In civil court Jen is alleging that the hotel was negligent in over-serving her and failing to investigate a noise complaint about her room, and that the man she says raped her committed battery and inflicted emotional distress that night. Through his lawyer the man declined to comment and said he maintains the encounter was consensual. A lawyer for the Marriott did not return a request for comment.

 

E. Klibanoff: We aren't naming the man because he wasn't charged. That's also why you won't hear his voice during this call with Detective Lynch.

 

Lindsey Lynch: So, okay, there's a female name Jen Sainato who says that she met you at the hotel bar there. Do you remember this at all?

 

E. Klibanoff: Detective Lynch made this call in July 2018, seven months after Jen's initial police report. Up until this moment, this man had no idea he was the main suspect in a police investigation. Lynch tells him Jen has accused him of sexual assault. He insists nothing like that happened.

 

Lindsey Lynch: So I was hoping that you could tell me what did happen.

 

E. Klibanoff: He confirms that he met Jen. He says she was very flirty, pursuing him. He says she seemed loopy, like maybe she was on medication. They had a few drinks at the hotel bar and they went back to one of their rooms. He couldn't remember which and he thinks they had sex. He says it was all consensual. So Detective Lynch floats a new theory.

 

Lindsey Lynch: I'm not positive that something didn't happen after she left your room.

 

E. Klibanoff: He says that's what he was wondering, too. But, of course, police never looked for any suspect that night. If there was another man, police didn't find him.

 

Lindsey Lynch: At this point I don't really know. I mean, it doesn't make sense to me. So, I don't know that an attorney, one of our commonwealth attorneys, do anything with it because normally, especially in cases like this, we need something that proves that there was a crime. And I'm not sure that we have met that in this case.

 

E. Klibanoff: There was limited physical evidence from the hotel because Jen was unwilling to talk to the detective after the way the patrol officers treated her. The police didn't do any other investigating that night. They never interviewed Jen's family members, who she first told about the assault over the phone that night. Or the person staying in the next room who called in a noise complaint. And in their first phone call with the suspect, seven months later, they apparently gather no new details worth following up on because less than 24 hours later, Lynch is calling him back.

 

Lindsey Lynch: Okay, so I just got off the phone with the commonwealth's attorney, Kristi Gray, and she and I both are under the impression that we do not think that it is a good case.

 

E. Klibanoff: He jumps in, "Oh, my God. Thank you." He tells Lynch he's been panicking all night and hired a lawyer. She tells him the commonwealth's attorney only takes cases they can prove. This isn't one of them.

 

E. Klibanoff: Of 194 rapes reported to Louisville in 2017, 30 ended with an arrest, just 30. In many ways those 30 cases fit popular stereotypes of rape. There is serious injury or a gun involved, the offender is a stranger, or has a long history of domestic violence, there was an eyewitness, or a confession.

 

Speaker 24: What it says here is that on September 28, 2017 that you strangled your girlfriend.

 

Speaker 25: The maternal uncle subjected her to sexual contact.

 

Speaker 26: He then pulled down her pants and underwear.

 

Speaker 27: He picked her up, threw her to the ground, and held her down and attempted to remove her pants.

 

Speaker 28: The defendant stated that he would not leave until the two had sex.

 

E. Klibanoff: These cases could have come with serious jail time. Each count of first degree rape comes with a sentence of 10 to 20 years, or 20 to 50 years if the victim is under 12 or there's serious injury. But, often, they didn't.

 

Speaker 29: Judge, the commonwealth's going to move to dismiss counts one and three of the indictment. Count one is rape in the first degree.

 

Speaker 30: So, the criminal attempt, sodomy, in the first degree has been dismissed.

 

Speaker 31: The charge of rape one is going to be dismissed without prejudice.

 

E. Klibanoff: Almost all of these cases ended with a plea deal. And in all but four cases that plea came with the most serious charges dropped. That means out of 194 cases of rape reported, 30 led to an arrest and only four of those ended in a conviction for rape.

 

E. Klibanoff: A plea deal isn't necessarily a bad thing. Some were made at the victim's request and some were in exchange for serious jail time. Often, though, these deals came with suspended sentences or probation, which means the offender isn't in custody. But Louisville prosecutor Kristi Gray says that's better than taking the case to trial and getting a "not guilty" verdict.

 

Kristi Gray: I think a lot of these people commit these offenses believing that they're going to get away with it. And if they do in the form of an acquittal, I think it makes them all the more dangerous.

 

E. Klibanoff: Police and prosecutors here say screening rape cases before an arrest leads to stronger cases. But it's not leading to more rape convictions or more prison time. Only 10 of the people accused of rape in 2017 ended up serving any time for anything. What it is leading to is more rape victims being told that no one will ever be arrested in their case. During our interview I talked to Jen Sainato about that.

 

E. Klibanoff: And so, eventually LMPD closed your case, right? Did they?

 

Jen Sainato: I'm hoping not.

 

E. Klibanoff: Okay. No, I'm sorry, I mean-

 

Jen Sainato: I'm like...

 

E. Klibanoff: LMPD had told Jen's lawyers on her civil suit that a prosecutor had declined the case. The lawyers thought Jen already knew, but she didn't. She found out when I told her.

 

Jen Sainato: It's very disappointing. Unbelievable. That is corrupt. That is... it doesn't make sense. So nothing now?

 

E. Klibanoff: To clear a case by exception Louisville Police rules and FBI guidelines say they need probable cause to make an arrest. But Louisville Police later told me they didn't have probable cause to make an arrest in Jen's case, but they cleared it by exception anyway.

 

E. Klibanoff: Rape is the most under reported crime in America. Federal statistics estimate less than a quarter of all sexual assaults were reported to police in 2018. LMPD spokesperson Jessie Halladay says, "If people don't feel comfortable reporting a rape, police and prosecutors aren't to blame." In fact, she thinks the fault lies with people like me, journalists.

 

Jessie Halladay: The issues that make it difficult are that police are pitted as people who don't care and portrayed as people who don't care, and I think that is a big part of it. That stories like this will make it more difficult for women to come forward because they won't trust police because cases like this are difficult to prosecute.

 

E. Klibanoff: But long before I started reporting on this, Louisville's rate of reported rapes was already low. The fewest per capita among places that Louisville considers "pure" cities. Some similar size cities had more than twice as many rapes reported. That could mean Louisville has fewer rapists, or it could mean more of them are getting away with it.

 

Al Letson: Thanks to Eleanor Klibanoff for bringing us that story. It's a part of the first season of Dig, a new podcast from the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting and Louisville Public Media.

 

Al Letson: When we come back we look at the housing crisis in Silicon Valley. You're listening to Reveal.

 

Al Letson: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson.

 

Selma Angeles: [Foreign Language 00:44:23].

 

Al Letson: Selma Angeles is speaking at a community forum inside a small amphitheater in Mountain View, California, the heart of Silicon Valley. It's a busy week night. The former mayor of the city is here and so is a representative from one of the area's largest land owners, Google. Selma is a single mother of four and she has a question for tech giants like Google.

 

Selma Angeles: [Foreign Language 00:44:51].

 

Translator: How are they going to help us? How are they going to protect us?

 

Al Letson: Today, Selma lives near downtown San Jose, but in the past she and her family have lived in a homeless shelter, someone's garage, even her car. So, she knows how traumatic being displaced from your home can be, especially for kids.

 

Selma Angeles: [Foregin Language 00:45:10].

 

Translator: There's a lot of communities that have been displaced and how are we going to help our children? For example, in my case, to help my children overcome the trauma that they had, how is these big tech companies going to help the community? And how are they going to help these families?

 

Al Letson: According to Zillow the average house costs about a million dollars in San Jose, about double what it was a decade ago. And as tech companies continue to grow the housing market gets even tighter.

 

Speaker 34: Since the recession Silicon Valley has added just one, one new housing unit for every six new jobs that have located here. Unsustainable is what they say.

 

Al Letson: Unsustainable. But just how big a role does the tech industry play? Reveal teamed up with news rooms in the San Francisco Bay Area to find out in a project called Who Owns Silicon Valley? After spending a year investigating, the Bay Area News Group, NBC Bay Area, KQED Public Radio, Renaissance Journalism, and Telemundo 48 uncovered the biggest land owners in the county. Stanford University was number one on the list, but four of the top 10 were giant tech companies, including Apple and Google.

 

Marisa Kendall: If you know in Silicon Valley property is power, that's the biggest asset, the biggest source of wealth. But property is also very scarce.

 

Al Letson: Marisa Kendall was a reporter on the project with the Bay Area News Group.

 

Marisa Kendall: So, another way to look at it is potentially these are some of the companies that have the biggest opportunity to contribute to building housing in the area. They have the land and they have the deep pockets.

 

Al Letson: But, historically, not all tech companies have reached into those deep pockets.

 

Steve Jobs: Council Member Wang.

 

C.M. Wang: Hi, Steve.

 

Steve Jobs: Hi.

 

Al Letson: Steve is Steve Jobs, the late Apple CEO. It's 2011 and he's at a Cupertino city council meeting to discuss plans for new headquarters there, dubbed "The Spaceship".

 

C.M. Wang: Quick question, I think people are curious is to know what the city residents can benefit from this new campus?

 

Steve Jobs: Well, as you know, we're the largest tax payer in Cupertino, so we'd like to continue to stay here and pay taxes. That's number one.

 

C.M. Wang: Okay.

 

Al Letson: He made it clear, Apple would not be offering any other help. Other large tech companies like Facebook and Google have had a slightly different approach. Earlier this year both pledged a billion dollars toward the housing shortage and Google says it hopes to redevelop the area around its proposed new campus to include parks, bike paths, and 5,900 new homes. But, they also want to add 25,000 new jobs and that worries Selma. We called her after the forum.

 

Selma Angeles: [Foreign Language 00:47:54].

 

Al Letson: She's worried that more tech jobs will push rents even higher and force people like her out of their homes.

 

Marisa Kendall: Yeah, I mean, that's the classic question, right, is how much is enough? There's some estimates that say we need 3.5 million new homes in California to fix our housing crisis.

 

Al Letson: Who ultimately bears responsibility for what's going on?

 

Shawn Myers: I think it depends on who you talk to based off of the conversations we've been a part of through this process.

 

Al Letson: That's Shawn Myers, a digital special projects producer at NBC Bay Area in San Jose who also worked on the story.

 

Shawn Myers: You'll see that local governments will want to talk about the responsibility of Big Tech. Big Tech will want to talk about the responsibility of local governments and we've reached an impasse, I think it's safe to say. And it's important to remember that so much of this valley is single family housing. Those people vote, they elect people, and if residents are apprehensive to new housing developments in their neighborhood, we're going to keep on seeing these struggles because nobody wants to budge.

 

Al Letson: But someone did budge. A week after the story broke, Apple promised to put $2.5 billion towards housing. Marisa says it's a sign of the times.

 

Marisa Kendall: 10 years ago you never would have seen this, but the situation has gotten so desperate, not only is there a lot of public pressure from housing advocates, but also these companies are having a really hard time hiring because their employees can't afford to live here either. So I think it just got to the point where these companies couldn't ignore it anymore.

 

Al Letson: I wonder if they sped up the announcement after it came out? Like maybe they were planning on like, "Well, give it another month or two," and then suddenly this comes out like, "Well, nope, we do it today."

 

Shawn Myers: I give Marisa credit for it.

 

Marisa Kendall: I'm not going to dispute that.

 

Al Letson: Then I give Marisa credit for it as well. Thanks to KQED for providing us with audio from the community forum. We're always looking to team up with news rooms. If you're a journalist who wants to work with Reveal, go to revealnews.org/local.

 

Al Letson: Finally, today I want to bring in my buddy Byard Duncan, he's Reveal's Engagement Reporter. Hey, Byard.

 

Byard Duncan: Hey, Al.

 

Al Letson: All right, man, so every story in today's show grew out of some type of collaboration across news rooms. You know, these type of collaborations have become pretty essential to journalism in part because in many cities local news is struggling.

 

Byard Duncan: Yeah, it's pretty bad. Can I throw some stats at you real quick here?

 

Al Letson: Yeah, please do.

 

Byard Duncan: So, the number of newsroom employees at U.S. newspapers fell by almost half between 2008 and 2018. And newspaper circulation in the U.S. has actually fallen every year for three decades. It fell 11% between 2016 and 2017 alone.

 

Al Letson: That is depressing. And obviously we know what that means for a lot of journalists, that they don't have jobs and that affects families, all of that. But, what does it also mean for the larger public?

 

Byard Duncan: Well, I think it means that a lot of really important local stories aren't being told. And the thing about what we're doing right now is often we're telling these huge stories, these huge national stories, that have a lot of local angles to them that end up just kind of getting lost in the mix because we have to sort of focus our reporting on a larger issue. We started thinking a lot about this dynamic in 2018 and we've done a ton of reporting on rehabs that were forcing people to work for free in exchange for treatment. And we kept running to this big problem, we had too much stuff.

 

Al Letson: Too much stuff, what does that mean?

 

Byard Duncan: Documents, interviews, data. Plus, every time we released one of these stories we'd hear from dozens of other people in other states telling us you got to check out this rehab. So it quickly became clear that we basically had two options. Our reporters could spend the rest of their lives reporting on this issue, or we could figure out how to share what we had.

 

Al Letson: That's kind of how investigative reporting goes, right? You start with super wide lens and then you have to narrow it down again, and again, and again.

 

Byard Duncan: Right, but in that process of narrowing you end up having to cut out intriguing stuff. Stuff that might not be important for your national story, but is nevertheless resonant to local community in, say, Detroit or Seattle.

 

Al Letson: Sure, exactly. So, waste is bad, but how do you get all this stuff to local reporters?

 

Byard Duncan: Yeah, that became the challenge. So, it differs each time we do a major investigation. We started building these things, we call them Reveal's Reporting Networks, back in July of 2018. And now we do it basically with every single investigation we put out. We find different ways to offer up the tips, or the data, or other stuff that accompanies the investigation that maybe we mentioned, but we actually don't really dig into in the story.

 

Al Letson: So, anyone can join?

 

Byard Duncan: Yeah, and at the moment we have six of these networks going, so you can get access to data about rape clearance rates like we heard in Kentucky. You can get info on school concussions like we heard about in Colorado. There's one about visas for immigrants and more.

 

Al Letson: So if you're a journalist in a local community and you want to get involved, all you have to do is go revealnews.org/network. It's free. Thanks, Byard, for coming in.

 

Byard Duncan: Thanks, Al.

 

Al Letson: Thanks to all our partners on this week's show, KUNC Public Radio in Colorado, The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, and Louisville Public Media. Be sure to check out their new podcast, Dig. Today's show couldn't have been possible without our talented staff, including Najib Aminy, Sumi Aggarwal, Byard Duncan, Katharine Mieszkowski, Diana Montaño, Andy Donohue, Vivi Nguyen, Hannah Young, Robert "Rosie" Rosenthal, and Jen Chien. Plus, our former colleagues Michael Corey, Ziva Branstetter, and Amy Pyle.

 

Al Letson: And thanks to editors Emily Harris, Catherine Winter, and Kate Howard. Our Production Manager is Mwende Hinojosa. Our sound design team is the dynamic duo, J. Breezy, Mr. Jim Briggs and Fernando "My Man" Arruda. They had help this week from Amy Mostafa.

 

Al Letson: Our CEO is Christa Scharfenberg. Matt Thompson is our Editor in Chief and our Executive Producer is Kevin Sullivan. Our theme music is by Commorado, Lightning.

 

Al Letson: Support for Reveal is provided by The Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Democracy Fund, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

 

Al Letson: Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I'm Al Letson. And remember, there is always more to the story.

 

Speaker 42: From PRX.