2020 Hillman Prize for Broadcast Journalism
David Biscobing, Gerard Watson, Shawn Martin (and team)
On July 27, 2017, Glendale police officers pull in front of a silver Ford Taurus in a Motel 6 parking lot. The stop involves an alleged turn signal violation. Johnny Wheatcroft is in the passenger seat, with his friend at the wheel, and his 11- and 6-year-old sons in the back. What happens next is captured clearly on multiple officers’ body cameras: Wheatcroft is tasered 10 times, and gets tangled in the seatbelt, from which his screaming boys try to free him. Minutes later, Wheatcroft is handcuffed lying face down on the scorching asphalt with one officer kneeling on his back as another, Officer Matt Schneider, kicks him twice in the groin and pulls down his athletic shorts to taser him a final time in his testicles.
ABC15 airs the entire incident without comment, offering only brief descriptions of the chaotic scene. They commit to providing context and transparency, especially given the Glendale Police Department’s continued and concerted efforts to conceal the truth in this case and others.
Multiple independent law enforcement experts call the officers’ actions unlawful, criminal, and among the cruelest and most sadistic cases of police misconduct they’ve ever seen.
ABC15 investigates the Wheatcroft incident, reveals others, and ultimately exposes a culture of corruption inside the local police department that works to protect officers and mislead the public.
They find that Officer Schneider lied about the traffic violation, but Glendale minimized his untruthfulness. They reveal that Schneider had a long history of disciplinary issues, workplace harassment, and childish pranks, and yet Glendale glorified Schneider’s abusive conduct by handpicking him to star on COPS-TV. ABC15 obtains behind-the-scenes footage uncovering shocking conduct by the show and officers, including staged interviews, blatant violations of civil rights, and stunning behavior, including an officer using a stroller with an infant inside to balance himself in order to kick in a door. They find evidence of more disturbing uses-of-force cases by other Glendale officers for traffic issues or minor crimes.
Then, while under an ongoing FBI investigation following the Wheatcroft incident, the city quickly and quietly helps the police chief retire and collect a pension before secretly re-hiring him with the help of an outside company, into a newly-created city hall position.
ABC15’s bravery and commitment to methodically investigate Glendale’s spin is even more remarkable given the political and cultural climate in Arizona. The Phoenix-metro area — numb to police violence — led the nation in officer shootings in 2018. Police are rarely held accountable for illegal uses of force.
ABC15’s ongoing coverage of the culture of violence in the Glendale, AZ, police department and the city government’s indifference to it combines the power of the Rodney King video with the scope of a Serpico-like investigation,” says Hillman judge Harold Meyerson, “Thanks to ABC15’s determination to explain how this kind of brutality could go unpunished, thanks to its story-telling ability, and thanks to its sheer guts, the public found out just what was going on in one of Arizona’s largest cities.”
Abuse of Force represents local investigative reporting at its very best.
Watch the Video
Dave Biscobing is a reporter for the ABC15 Investigators, Arizona’s largest and most-honored broadcast investigative/enterprise team. Dave has spent his entire journalism career in Arizona, breaking stories that have had an unprecedented and permanent impact. He focuses primarily on exposing abuses of power and corruption by government officials. In recent years, his reporting has led to the testing of every rape kit in the state, the disbanding of a multi-state ADA lawsuit-filing scheme, the arrest and conviction of multiple medical impostors, sweeping reforms for Arizona health boards, $50 million spent to replace 1,300 broken prison cell doors, and the removal of more than a dozen top officials across state and local government. His reports have earned two national Emmy Awards, an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award, a Scripps Howard Award, an IRE Award, a National Headliner Award, and more than two-dozen other local and regional honors. Dave is a graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University. He worked in print journalism before transitioning to broadcast. Dave’s been with ABC15 since 2008 and also serves as a corporate storytelling trainer in the E.W. Scripps talent development program. He is married and has two daughters.