Fall 2004

York Daily Record/Sunday News Stories Based on FOIA Requests

By Rob Walters
  • In February 2002, The York Daily Record/Sunday News wrote about a convicted killer sitting on death row for 20 years, longer than anyone else in the United States. In its investigation, the York City Police Department had sent the murder weapon—a knife—and handkerchief to the FBI for testing. No latent prints of value were found on either item, according to the FBI’s lab reports, which were obtained through an FOIA request. This information was used in a series of stories that raised questions about the defendant’s legal representation, prosecution and sentence. In June 2002, a judge changed the sentence to life in prison without parole.

  • Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Robert Maynard started his newspaper career in York in the 1960’s. While in York, Maynard drew the attention of FBI agents, who secretly sought to discover if he was a member of the radical Black Liberation Front. We learned from an FOIA request that when the FBI closed this case, agents had discovered only that he was involved in a group called York Action for Peace and a program named the Benton-York Twinning Project that assisted poor blacks in Mississippi.

  • We used the Pennsylvania National Guard’s own records to evaluate its readiness after the September 11th terror attacks. Guardsmen were deployed to protect Three Mile Island (TMI) and Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station. Among our findings: A quarter of the Pennsylvania National Guard soldiers are not trained in their specific military jobs, and a high-ranking Guard official suspended physical fitness training for full-time guardsmen to increase readiness numbers. In putting the fitness program on hold, the Guard official violated army regulations. We also reported that the state’s National Guard troops called to protect its 16 commercial airports following the September 11th attacks were given minimal guidance on what to look for if someone tried to breach security. The 160 guardsmen who patrolled the airports reacted to or resolved 78 incidents, including checkpoint closures, security breaches, and armed and unruly passengers between October 1, 2001 to May 31, 2002; guardsmen backing up law enforcement at Pittsburgh International Airport experienced turf battles with screeners and the Allegheny County Police, and officials removed five soldiers from duty for disciplinary reasons. • We obtained the NRC’s Nuclear Materials Event Database. The commission uses this database to track the use of radioactive matter and equipment used to handle it. Six companies with ties to York County, including TMI, are listed in the database. Among the findings: 15 Pennsylvania companies had radioactive events classified as abnormal by the NRC—meaning it was an incident posing a possible risk to public health and safety; the NRC investigated York Hospital three times for events ranging from broken equipment to the wrong injection of radioactive medicine, and the NRC inspected TMI Unit 1 in 1991 for the overexposure of two workers who handled fuel debris and in 2001 for a worn tower assembly.

  • In response to an FOIA request, the Federal Aviation Administration provided 61 Investigation of Pilot Deviation Reports from September 11, 2001 to January 31, 2002. The reports showed pilots, several from York County, violated an expanded no-fly zone over Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland not far from the Pennsylvania state line.

  • From 1990 through April 2002, 128 pilots nationwide violated FAA drug or alcohol regulations, including four from Pennsylvania who lost their licenses, according to information gathered through an FOIA request. A York County resident and former general aviation pilot was among those to be stripped of his license.

To view more York Daily Record/Sunday News’s FOIA-based stories, go to www.ydr.com/foi.


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