A story that almost fell through the cracks

The backstory The Indy's investigation with the Rio Blanco Herald Times into the police shooting of Daniel Pierce

Rio Blanco Herald Times Editor Niki Turner and Colorado Independent Editor Susan Greene
Rio Blanco Herald Times Editor Niki Turner and Colorado Independent Editor Susan Greene

Dear readers, 

In today’s newsletter we bring you Parts 1 and 2 of “Through the Cracks,” our two-part investigation into the rural northwestern Colorado police shooting of Daniel Pierce, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. The story was a collaborative effort with the Rio Blanco Herald Times, whose editor Niki Turner wrote a must-read column about why this story needed to be told. 

If you missed our newsletter earlier this week, here’s the backstory:

In July, Niki was in Denver for a meeting of the Colorado Press Association’s board of directors, on which she and I both serve. Over beers in my backyard, she mentioned a story she was having trouble covering. All she knew was that a mentally ill man had moved to Rangely, stolen a truck, and was killed by the cop who had chased him. She heard that certain police brass may have lost their jobs, but couldn’t confirm it because town leaders clammed up about the shooting and refused to answer her questions. 

What started as a “sure, I can help” turned into a three-month team effort that had me reporting this fall in Rangely, Meeker, and Glenwood Springs, and sleeping in Niki’s guest room far more than I expected.

I figured going into this project that we’d file a few open records requests, do some interviews and put the story to bed. But Daniel Pierce’s odyssey to Rangely was far more layered and sad than I expected. Town officials stonewalled our requests for information to an absurd degree. And the killer cop, former longtime Rangely Police Lt. Roy Kinney – whom I expected would not return my phone calls because of the reporting I’ve done on police corruption and excessive force – eventually agreed to talk. 

I knew that my job on this project would be to give a voice, posthumously, to Pierce. What I didn’t expect was that Kinney was voiceless, too, because town leaders had silenced him.

I also knew when starting to work with Niki that I’d be training her in some investigative techniques she hasn’t had the chance to use as she and her family bust their butts every week reporting and distributing the only information Rio Blanco County residents have about their communities. I didn’t foresee how keen a nose the former pastor and homeschool mom would have for news and for bullshit. You’ll see in the story that Rangely town leaders urged – even threatened – Niki not to report about Pierce’s death. She has my admiration and love for keeping such an important story from slipping through the cracks. 

Our partnership reminds me there are stories in some of Colorado’s quietest corners that need to be told — perhaps most loudly. It also convinces me that, with all our resources stretched so thin, our newsrooms need to team up more than ever. 

Please let me know what you think of our project by emailing the address above. If you like what you see, please support our non-profit newsroom’s next collaboration with a tax-deductible donation here that will be doubled by some generous foundations. 

Thank you.

Susan Greene, editor

A recovering newspaper journalist, Susan reported for papers in California and Nevada before her 13 years as a political reporter, national reporter and metro columnist at The Denver Post. “Trashing the Truth,” a series she reported with Miles Moffeit, helped exonerate five men, prompted reforms on evidence preservation and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in investigative journalism. Her 2012 project, “The Gray Box,” exposed the effects of long-term solitary confinement. The ACLU honored her in 2017 for her years of civil rights coverage, and the Society of Professional Journalists honored her in April with its First Amendment Award. Susan and her two boys live with a puppy named Hymie whom they’re pretty sure is the messiah.

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