“Mauled” investigation named finalist for Goldsmith Prize

March 17, 2021

Poster of an aggressive dog in the bottom left. The bottom right is captioned, "When police dogs are weapons". The title of the story is Mauled.

The investigative project “Mauled: When Police Dogs Are Weapons” led by Berkeley Journalism lecturer Abbie VanSickle with research by student Michelle Pitcher (’21) has been named a finalist for the prestigious Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.

“Mauled” is a year-long collaboration between The Marshall Project, AL.com, IndyStar and the Invisible Institute and exposed the widespread use and abuse of police dogs across the U.S. It is one of six finalists for the Goldsmith Prize, announced on March 16 by Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, which administers the annual award.

A woman with long blonde hair and glasses stands outdoors in a narrow pathway between wooden buildings. She is smiling and wearing a dark cardigan over a pink patterned blouse.

Abbie VanSickle is a lecturer at Berkeley Journalism and staff writer for The Marshall Project.

VanSickle covers criminal justice in California for The Marshall Project and works out of the office of Berkeley Journalism’s Investigative Reporting Program. She is a former reporter for the IRP. 

“This project speaks to the power of collaboration in investigative reporting,” VanSickle said. “Instead of competing against each other, The Marshall Project joined with newsrooms in Alabama, Indiana and Chicago to tell these stories. Our work was so much stronger because we all worked together. It made me feel so hopeful about the future of journalism, despite all of the turmoil in the industry. I’m also very grateful for being able to work from the IRP newsroom and being part of the community here.”

A young woman with wavy, shoulder-length hair smiles at the camera. She is wearing a black top and has a natural, friendly expression. Plain white background.

Michelle Pitcher (’21) began working on the “Mauled” investigation while she was a research assistant at the IRP

Pitcher, a second-year student, spent months gathering data for the investigation while working as a research assistant at the IRP in 2019-20. She continues to work with The Marshall Project as a data researcher.

“This was my first experience with a project of this scale, and I learned that even the most herculean stories are made through the day-to-day work,” Pitcher said. “I was also fortunate enough to see firsthand the real-world effects of this investigation, which put all of that work into perspective.”

“Mauled” included the first-of-its-kind database of incidents nationwide in which police dogs were used to attack suspects, resulting in serious injuries. In response to the series, a national police think tank is drafting new guidelines on the use of K-9 units and lawmakers in several states are pursuing new restrictions on the use of police dogs. 

“We love nothing more than creating opportunities for our amazing students to gain invaluable direct experience on groundbreaking investigations like ‘Mauled,’ ” said Prof. David Barstow, chair of the IRP and Logan Distinguished Chair in Investigative Journalism. “We were thrilled to support Michelle’s involvement in this important project, and we are blessed to have Abbie and her brilliant investigative reporting skills at our IRP home on Hearst Avenue. We look forward to more collaborations with our friends at The Marshall Project.”

The winner of the Goldsmith Prize will be announced on April 13.

By Janice Hui

Dean's Newsletter

Black and white portrait of Berkeley Journalism Dean Geeta Anand with short hair and hoop earrings, wearing a dark top. The background is blurred foliage.

Quarterly Newsletter From Dean Geeta Anand

Spring 2024 Dear Berkeley Journalism community: With great optimism about the future of our school, I share with you news of the largest gift in the history of Berkeley Journalism:…