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2022 Feature, Large Newsroom winner

The Badge and The Cross

About the Project

In 2015, when Jason Dearen was a correspondent in North Florida, he wrote a brief story that grabbed him: three current and former prison guards had been arrested for plotting an inmate’s murder, and the FBI had discovered those guards were klansmen. The state’s press release was short on details, so Dearen began a slow, years-long effort to find out what really happened.

A major break came in the summer of 2020, when Dearen got transcripts from the trial of the KKK members and learned that an FBI informant was the star witness. While his name had been redacted, there were lapses in the redactions that exposed him as Joe Moore. The transcripts also revealed that prosecutors had played more than an hour of the informant’s secret recordings in the courtroom, so Dearen requested the audio and video from the county clerk. It was a long shot, and it took months, but when the disks came, they were rich with detail about a clandestine world the public rarely sees.

Still, Dearen didn’t limit reporting to the murder plot. He talked with experts on police violence, racism, and White Supremacist groups. The first story in this series “The Badge and the Cross” shows why this tale, which at first blush seems like the one-off plot of some deranged people, is in truth a view into the violent world of white supremacists in law enforcement.

Dearen worked closely with AP video producer Marshall Ritzel to creatively tell the story on video even though the main characters weren’t available. And AP’s immersive storytelling team made dynamic use of the wiretap audio, photos, and video to grab readers and keep them engaged — for an average 5 minutes, 30 seconds, longer than any other AP story in memory.

Dearen followed up with a story showing how the racism problem is allowed to fester because of systemic indifference by Florida’s corrections officials. Records and interviews with current and former guards and state prison investigators showed officers who are reported for white supremacist group affiliation are rarely investigated and can move from prison to prison with impunity. A whistleblower’s story helped show how the state’s corrections system is designed to keep such reports inside prison walls.

Finally, after the first two stories exposed a systemic problem, Dearen received an email with the subject line “I am Joseph Moore.” The FBI informant had come out of hiding and wanted to tell his story only to Dearen. His message: White Supremacist infiltration of law enforcement was worse than even Dearen’s stories were
describing. In 10 years undercover in two KKK groups, Joe Moore told the FBI about klan members who worked as officers who worked at the local, county and state levels.

The totality of the work exposed in granular detail the dark reality that inmates of color are in danger in Florida’s prisons and the state by many accounts is uninterested in fixing the problem.