“Why Is Harry Bennet Dead?” — investigation wins 1st Place Keystone ‘Investigative Reporting’ award

I’m honored to announce that my 2011 Philadelphia City Paper piece, “Why is Harry Bennett Dead?” has been selected as the first place winner of the Division 5 Pennsylvania Newspaper Association Keystone Awards in the category of “Investigative Reporting.”

I’m especially proud because I believe Mr. Bennett’s story deserved and still deserves attention.

It’s been nearly two years since Harry Bennett, a 53-year-old Air Force veteran, loving husband and father was repeatedly tasered and then shot by Philadelphia police officers in an incident that has received minimal formal investigation.

Police had responded to a call and found Bennett, who was known to suffer from mental illness, behaving erratically and wielding a knife. Police told reporters that after an initial Taser shock failed to subdue Bennett, the Taser was used again and, when Bennett “charged,” with the knife, he was killed.

Press accounts of Bennett’s death merely cited the police version of events, and did not include a single witness or neighbor. But when I began to talk to witnesses, days after the incident, a very different story emerged.

Here’s a snippet. You can read the whole story here:

Witnesses to the events of July 30 say Bennett, an Air Force veteran with metal rods in both legs and a history of mental illness, was not a serious threat to the officers confronting him. Bennett was holding a knife, they agree — but one witness said he was pointing it at himself. Police discharged the Taser at him not once but three times, they say, rendering him all but paralyzed — contrary to police accounts that the Taser had failed.

Not one witness reports seeing Bennett charge the police. If anything, witnesses say, it was the police who charged, entering the house after using the Taser on him. Within seconds, they say, came the sound of gunshots — three of them.

The police did not exit the building immediately. When they did, they emerged dragging Bennett, according to four separate eyewitness accounts, by the ankles. In chilling, identical detail, neighbors describe watching as Philadelphia police officers pulled Bennett, bloodied but still presumably alive, through the doorway and to the sidewalk, face down — his head bouncing on each concrete step to the bottom, where he was thrown onto a gurney, and taken away.

That story never made the news.