Danielle Mackey

Journalist

Heroes, Terrorists and the Police: From Chicago to El Salvador

The Chicago Reader, February 2020.

With The Invisible Institute.

Officer Salvador Enrique Chavez stood ready to apprehend a colleague accused of murder.

It was December 29, 2017. The 40-year-old was two months from celebrating his 18th year on the Salvadoran police force. As a member of the SWAT-style unit called the Grupo de Reaccion Policial (GRP), he represented the “authentic elite” that smashed through doors, rappelled down walls, brandished semiautomatics and hunted bad guys, mostly gang members. Chavez had been trained in everything from explosives to wilderness orientation.

But his resume particularly stood out for another reason: Chavez had been selected as one of five officers to work with the International Tactical Training Association (ITTA), a small police training company founded in Chicago in 2012 that set up shop in El Salvador almost five years ago, and has since trained more than 600 officers. ITTA conducts counterterrorism and military tactical “bespoke training solutions” for law enforcement abroad—and Chavez was one of the company’s local trainers in its El Salvador operations.

At least twice in his career, Chavez had received honorable mentions from top police brass for making high-profile arrests. Now he was instructed to do it again.

It was about 4:30 AM. Five hours earlier, when the GRP’s holiday party was winding down, a group of his colleagues had given another officer a ride home in a police truck. En route, GRP member Juan Josue Castillo, alias Samurai, had allegedly shot the woman they were taking home, officer Carla Ayala, an internal investigator of misconduct allegations, according to court documents.

The truck had sped back to the unit’s headquarters and the other officers jumped out, leaving the keys in the ignition and Samurai with Ayala bleeding in the backseat. Samurai had climbed behind the wheel and sped away. The truck had GPS, but no one followed him. In a rural area, Samurai had allegedly shot Ayala again, killing her, and buried her, court documents say. He had called a colleague at headquarters to say he was returning to base.

That is when Chavez and a partner were ordered to block his exit once he returned, according to court documents.

Until the night she was killed, Ayala, like Chavez, had given her life to the force. Their trajectories mirrored each other: She was one year younger than him, had been an officer one year longer than him.

This was the decisive moment. All of Chavez’s training would show.

But, the Salvadoran Attorney General’s office now alleges, Chavez let Samurai go.

Samurai drove in, parked, walked up to a GRP commander and handed over the keys. Then he walked toward a main street. Minutes later, according to court documents, Chavez and his partner caught up with Samurai on the side of the road. They traded words. Samurai got into a grey Toyota Corolla driven by his brothers-in-law and drove away.

Police again stopped them before they escaped the city, and arrested Samurai’s brothers-in-law, who now await trial. But Samurai, drunk and with only one sandal—at some point he had lost a shoe—evaded capture once again. He remains at large.

The next morning, the deputy director of police moved Chavez out of the GRP, to a low-profile post at a municipal station, according to the transfer order and Chavez’s internal personnel file, shared with the Reader by a PNC official who requested anonymity for fear of retribution. Chavez has since been placed on “temporarily inactive” status while he awaits trial, charged with breach of duties. In an interview with the Reader, he said that the charges are unfair. “I followed the order I was given,” he said. “We did what we were supposed to do but unfortunately we couldn’t detain the suspect.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. company that Chavez trained for, ITTA, claims to be closely connected to the U.S. Departments of State and Defense. “Always on Mission,” per its tagline, the company trains in various countries, and is comprised of current and former U.S. police officers and federal agents, including its president, Aaron Cunningham, a 22-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department (CPD). With more than 100 honorable mentions and awards, Cunningham holds another distinction: He sits among the top 0.6 percent of Chicago officers with the most complaints from citizens, according to the Citizens Police Data Project, which houses public police misconduct data.

Chicago police records from 2004-2016 show that Cunningham has used force, mostly against Black Chicagoans, more frequently than 90 percent of other officers. Misconduct allegations against Cunningham show claims of unconstitutional policing—unlawful entry and search, confiscation or stealing of property, verbal abuse, planting drugs, false arrest, and assault. Although consequences for such alleged police misconduct are rare, Cunningham was disciplined four times between 2000 and mid-2016 following now-closed investigations into his conduct—only 1.3 percent of officers were disciplined as often during that period.

John Lindsay-Poland, a U.S. analyst and specialist in Latin America, has concerns about foreign officers receiving training from U.S. officers. Poland describes the situation as exporting abusive U.S. policing practices to legitimize similar abuses abroad. “We have a police violence problem in this country, and we also have an issue of American exceptionalism where we think we are the best,” Lindsay- Poland said in an interview with the Reader. “Those two things together often mean that we export problems to other countries that have their own problems. Sometimes it’s embedded in the language of how law enforcement is discussed. How crime is discussed. How people are discussed.”

Currently assigned to CPD’s fusion center, a joint federal-municipal hub for collecting and analyzing information on potential national security threats, Cunningham is also amply trained by the U.S. government, the product of a post-9/11 reality in which federal agencies integrate with municipal police forces under the banner of counterterrorism.

Meanwhile, the Salvadoran Civilian National Police (PNC) have perfected “strategies designed to violate fundamental rights . . . [as] a mechanism of social control,” in the words of one security analyst. Supposedly aimed at gangs, the approach has backfired, creating bigger gangs while victimizing an untold number of young people in poor communities. A 2019 report by the country’s human rights ombudsman analyzed an “emblematic” sample of 116 people executed by state security forces between 2014 and 2018. The victims’ ages ranged from 13 to 46. The average number of bullets in victims’ bodies was nine. Sixty percent were killed in broad daylight. One-third were tortured before death. One was decapitated. The police claimed all victims were gang members; the report found that, in fact, many were not. The report also found that police harassed and threatened the surviving family members or witnesses into silence. The officers involved in the 116 executions were mostly not prosecuted or found innocent; five officers were found guilty.

Cunningham has not shied away from advocating for aggressive police tactics. “It should not surprise that police work entails taking a life to save or protect others,” he wrote in a July 2016 Facebook post. “And this burden is not light. But society fundamentally depends on its government to exercise just and legitimate force else the law becomes a comedy. It has been this way for all of modern civilization. Do we want to be civilized or savage?”

He echoed this sentiment in commentary about the Salvadoran government’s repressive security strategy, writing in a June 2016 post that policing should not be a “simple matter of killing and capturing gang members” but that “cruelty against the wicked on the behalf of the public is necessary in certain situations. . . . There can be no rest for the wicked in #ElSalvador.”

Neither the Chicago Police Department, Fraternal Order of Police, nor the individual officers named in this story responded to requests for comment.

ITTA has a bizarre history in El Salvador. It also has a strange role in the constellation of U.S. training for foreign police. It is a private contractor, independent of the federal government but run by officers who are the product of post-9/11 federal training. And because ITTA doesn’t operate on government funds, the company isn’t subject to congressional oversight.

Congress began keeping tabs on what exactly the U.S. pays for after U.S.-trained, anti-communist state security forces committed heinous crimes in Cold War-era Latin America. Communism has been replaced by terrorism in the new geopolitical landscape—and ITTA has built its reputation on this new paradigm, overseen by no one.

ITTA COMES TO TOWN

In 2015, the PNC faced a crisis: an average of 52 officers a month were deserting the force, after 81 had been killed by gang members in the previous year.

But the force didn’t have the budget to react. The Salvadoran PNC relies on foreign governments to be able to train its nearly 29,000 officers, according to Commissioner José Orlando Arévalo Rivera, who was until 2019 the director of the Center for Institutional Formation and Training (CFCI). The CFCI is a small academy inside the PNC, and along with the National Academy for Public Security (ANSP) they make up the police’s internal training apparatus—and they never have enough money.

Then, a South Korean police superintendent named Kim Eil Kwon swept in and suggested they turn to ITTA, according to a report from the Salvadoran police academy. Kwon, who was in El Salvador implementing a video surveillance system donated by his government, said he was a member of ITTA, a global company run by experienced U.S. police officers, and that the company would train for free, said CFCI director of foreign assistance Jorge Ventura.

On September 25, 2015, academy authorities approved ITTA’s proposed course, “Tactical Use of Force & Police Survival.” To date, the company has conducted at least 14 sessions and trained officers from most units, according to ANSP documents. Each course lasts one week and costs the PNC $6,840.00 in “logistics and food.”

A September 2015 pamphlet provided by the ANSP defines the course objective as “giving participants techniques and tactics necessary to allow them to react effectively in an incident that puts their lives at risk.” Specific goals include improving the use of force and firearms control, and “detention tactics that involve situations of lethal force.” The course also covers first aid.

The ANSP leadership has denied seven requests for interviews, from December 2018 until February 2020, about the specific course content regarding use of force and the role of the U.S. trainers, some of whom appear to be active federal agents. It had posted numerous photos of ITTA trainings to what appeared to be an official Flickr account.

The PNC has also denied repeated requests for documentation under the Salvadoran freedom of information law. In April 2019, the Reader began an appeals process, and on February 4, 2020, the country’s arbiter of such disputes, the Institute for Access to Public Information, ruled that the police must provide documentation within eight days. But as of the publication of this article, the PNC has not done so.

U.S. training for Salvadoran police is generally run through the U.S. federal government, which increasingly contracts third parties to train on U.S. dollars. Although serious questions have been raised about the lack of transparency of this strategy, any training done with U.S. money is subject to oversight, like the Leahy Law, which prohibits state and defense agencies from providing any military assistance to foreign security units that have violated human rights with impunity.

But it seems ITTA lacks oversight for two reasons: because, although it appears to have tight federal connections, it has no official relationship with any agency. And, because it says it does its work for free, a claim echoed by Salvadoran officials.

The company’s wide web of U.S. connections is evident in a list of ITTA instructors at counterterrorism conferences it organized in South Korea in 2013 and 2014, almost all of whom were current or former U.S. military or federal agents who represented, the company promised, “the most experienced members of the counter-terror and homeland security community.” Among them was Bryan Jang, identified as an active agent with Homeland Security Investigations who, by October 2017, was in El Salvador training the PNC through ITTA—and has continued doing so as recently as November 2019.

Since 2012, the company had conducted counterterrorism trainings for the South Korean police, and its social media posts indicate possible past presence in Myanmar and Lebanon. It sometimes serves as liaison between those forces and U.S. federal agencies; the company coordinated a visit by the Korean police to the Department of Homeland Security in Chicago’s Cook County, for instance.

In June 2017, company president Cunningham suggested a specific federal link with their El Salvador work when he tweeted: “We feel proud to be part of the alliance @PNC_SV @ANSP_ElSalvador @StateINL,”—the U.S. federal Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL).

Yet in a statement to the Reader, INL disavows ITTA.

“INL does not have a relationship with ITTA,” a State Department official told the Reader in an e-mail. “INL is aware that ITTA teaches courses at the ANSP police academy. Those courses and ITTA do not receive funding from INL, and the Salvadoran police provide the trainees and ANSP facilities.”

Yet in 2016, the U.S. federal government did open its checkbook indirectly for the company, when the police academy ran out of money to cover the logistical costs of more ITTA courses, according to academy officials. Academy officials asked INL to donate the needed support. INL paid for logistics for three courses, including food for all trainers and trainees, lodging for interpreters, salaries for interpreters, and lodging for the visiting ITTA officers, according to Ventura, CFCI director of foreign assistance. The Salvadorans who received the course, 120 special forces officers, came from two units that had recently been implicated in extreme human rights abuses, the GRP and the Specialized Reaction Force (FES). But all participating officers in those three courses were vetted by the INL to comply with the Leahy Law, said Ventura.

The company flashes other, albeit unofficial, legitimacy. For example, ITTA apparently provided “crucial training for the adventure challenge devised by Discovery Channel” for an ex-Navy Seal in the Manhunt TV show, according to Cunningham.

It’s that kind of calling card, along with the company’s now-dissolved “International Tactical Training Association Store, Inc.” (according to Illinois Secretary of State records) and its glossy ad-based trade magazine, Tactical Solutions, that helped launch it effortlessly into the heart of the Salvadoran police academy. And one of its first acts after arriving was something it would have been barred from had it been officially sponsored by the U.S. government: training the unit behind Carla Ayala’s murder, the GRP.

The unit lost U.S. government support after a group of GRP officers committed a massacre in March 2015. It was only the latest of years of abuses for which the force was infamous, including evidence that the unit shrouded “multiple” death squads. The U.S. responded to the massacre by taking the rare step of cutting off all training and aid to the unit, according to a State Department reply to a June 2018 Congressional request for information.

Six months after the massacre, ITTA arrived. It set about training GRP officers, among the other units, according to academy documents released to the Reader. Then, the company took one of its five local trainers, Chavez, from the unit.

It was a striking affront to U.S. efforts to avoid supporting foreign security forces involved in crimes. It also was a risk, given the GRP’s infamous reputation—a danger made manifest when, two years later, Ayala was allegedly murdered after the GRP holiday party in circumstances involving an ITTA trainer. The murder was one of the biggest scandals to ever rock the police, and the GRP was disbanded two months later.

The FES, the other special forces unit that ITTA trained in 2016, was disbanded in 2017 after journalists revealed the unit was coordinating death squads via WhatsApp. (The following year, CNN reported that the FES also received U.S. federal support.)

Enrique Chavez was a student in ITTA’s first course. “At first, they weren’t very aware of our reality here, of how the gangs operate,” Chavez said in an interview with the Reader. “They understood it more like maybe how it is for you in the United States—that all police officers have cars and they don’t live in isolated rural areas.”

Chavez, who said he led six ITTA trainings, said the course’s self-defense content is something the PNC was desperate for when the company arrived. Learning to evade knife or firearm attacks, or to escape from restraints, handcuffs, or the trunk of a car if kidnapped, is “very accepted” in the academy “because many colleagues have had experiences like this that they somehow survived. And maybe some other colleagues weren’t able to survive because they didn’t have certain knowledge,” he said.

The concern is what exactly ITTA trains regarding use of force, and what the federal agents and agencies informally connected with the company are doing in El Salvador.

Although ANSP leadership refused to discuss the company, the academy’s curriculum director acknowledged that the Salvadorans lacked crucial information. “It seems like no one has background records on ITTA, but instead, it was them who made the first approach and an offer that was accepted, given the difficult circumstances” faced by the police at the time, wrote ANSP curriculum director Luisa Carolina Arevalo Herrera in an e-mail to the Reader.

That lack of information—and of U.S. oversight on the company—is problematic, given the records of the U.S. officers who run ITTA.

‘A HIGHLY DECORATED OFFICER’

ITTA president Aaron Cunningham’s troubled history with the Chicago Police Department shows more civilian complaints than the majority of other officers, including repeated allegations of unconstitutional policing.

An alumnus of Loyola University with an undergraduate degree in Philosophy, 52-year-old Cunningham has been on Chicago’s police force since 1998. Cunningham has not shied from the public view, presenting at conferences and serving on the Fraternal Order of Police’s Lodge 7 public relations committee in 2017. He is married to another Chicago police officer, Sung Joo Lee, a vice president with ITTA. The couple selected Korean folk-art tigers for their individual Facebook profile pictures; such tigers are widely portrayed as symbols of superiority that ward off evil spirits. (ITTA itself has a spotty social media presence from Facebook to Pinterest, with disabled YouTube and Instagram accounts.)

Lee is also a 20-year Chicago police veteran with a significantly less-marred track record of only three complaints, two from civilians and one from another officer, none sustained or disciplined. Her track record in court, however, is more problematic.

While on-duty in 2001, Lee lost control of her unmarked patrol car on Chicago’s Eisenhower Expressway and collided with another car, paralyzing a man from the waist down. The case led to a $17.6 million settlement for the injured citizen and a jury finding that Lee was “willful and wanton” in her actions, a legal standard that exceeds mere negligence. Lawyers in the case argued Lee should not have joined in the pursuit because she was not assigned to the unit involved in the chase, and there were already 10-20 patrol cars taking action.

Cunningham’s own career mirrors the evolution of U.S. policing under the War on Terror. He describes himself in public bios as “a highly decorated officer” and counterterrorism expert who has worked extensively with federal agencies and holds accreditations from the FBI and Departments of State and Defense, and has “directed and trained basic and advanced courses in firearms use in numerous national and international conferences.”

Along with his wife, Cunningham has also worked with a purported NRA-member training program, Spartan Tactical Training Group, located in a Chicago suburb. The outfit is run by ex-CPD cop John Krupa who was fired in 2009 for planting drugs and disobeying investigators’ orders. Krupa’s official blog for Spartan is called “Will Shoot.” The group claims to have trained members from hundreds of law enforcement offices and federal agencies across the country, including ICE, DOD, and the Secret Service.

Another ITTA vice president, Lawrence Lujan, also has federal training—and a colorful complaint history. Currently a lieutenant, Lujan describes himself as a “public servant,” past SWAT team leader and graduate of the FBI national academy. He has also served as a chief tribal judge and was appointed to the Texas Supreme Court’s Permanent Judicial Commission for Children, Youth and Families. Over his 30 years with the El Paso Police Department, his complaints from fellow officers have ranged from harassment, stalking, bullying, and altering reports. Lujan was exonerated of these claims.

Cunningham also has faced misconduct complaints from colleagues. The allegations include missing court appearances, for which he was suspended two days, and losing his CPD gun, for which he was reprimanded, according to city data. In one incident, cocaine was found in Cunningham and another accused officer’s squad car. Cunningham and the officer told investigators they never saw any contraband. The investigator, a sergeant assigned to the officers’ unit, wrote in his report that it was “possible that a civilian placed the contraband in the vehicle sometime during the night between shifts” and found that Cunningham and the other co-accused officer “performed their duties according to department policy.”

Civilian complaints against Cunningham demonstrate allegations of violating citizens’ constitutional rights with illegal search and entry. In 2000, a complaint record reported that Cunningham and another officer pulled over two Black women, ages 73 and 74. The complainants said both officers verbally abused them, which the officers denied, and searched the glove compartment without warrant or permission. Cunningham then told one of the women to pull up her shirt, “so he could observe the waistband of her pants,” according to CPD records. The reporting sergeant who investigated the complaint determined there was probable cause to search the women because the driver had an expired license. The various allegations associated with this complaint were either not sustained or exonerated—a common outcome as 93 percent of allegations against police officers do not result in disciplinary action, according to public misconduct data spanning three decades.

Cunningham’s other complaint records include many accusations of false arrest. In October 1999, a 53-year-old man filed a complaint against Cunningham and another officer for placing him under false arrest by planting drugs on him and saying, “you’re Black, tell us where are the drugs and guns and we’ll let you go.” The complaint was not sustained, favoring the officers’ account.

Chicago is “under-incarcerating” Black youth, Cunningham wrote in a Facebook post. “The vast majority of Chicago’s gang members reside in these neighborhoods [Englewood, Garfield, Austin, Lawndale]. Young African-American males who rarely graduate high school and find themselves in prison by age 30. Most are serial criminal offenders with lengthy criminal histories. Are we under-incarcerating, over-incarcerating, or ‘mass incarcerating’ this population effectively? I think I have made it abundantly clear that we under-incarcerate violent crime in Chicago. Most victims will never be rendered justice in our courts.”

But Cunningham himself is no stranger to the justice system. He’s been a defendant in five lawsuits between 2005 and 2013, with a mixed bag of outcomes, including two jury verdicts in his favor, two settlements, and one dismissal. In the lawsuits, Cunningham is accused of participating in a hate crime, physical assault, verbal abuse, unlawful entry, stolen property, and property damage.

The daughter of one complainant from a 2006 lawsuit, which was settled for about $20,000, remembers Cunningham specifically. A teenager at the time, she said she was in the middle of playing the video game Mortal Kombat when “a big swarm, a gang of them” burst into their home in Robbins, Illinois, a Chicago suburb.

Complainant Roseshell Brown recalls thinking, they’re going to “kill us up in this apartment. They were terrorizing my place.”

The lawsuit alleges that the officers did not have a proper search warrant and that there was no evidence of illegal activity at the residence when they destroyed, damaged, and stole property. In an interview for this story, Brown remembers the officers yelling and pointing their guns at the heads of everyone in the house, including children. One of the kids had a prosthetic leg, according to Brown, and she remembers the officers stepping on it.

In another 2008 lawsuit, for which the victims also received a settlement, Cunningham was among a group of officers accused of breaking into a woman’s house and using pepper spray, which leaked into her four-month-old daughter’s nursery. When she requested medical attention for her daughter, officers denied her, according to the complaint.

“I couldn’t breathe,” the plaintiff, who asked not to be named for safety reasons, remembers. “I was shaking and crying. But I kept telling the cops that my baby was inside.”

The police searched the residence and threatened to take the woman’s child away to the Department of Children and Family Services, according to the lawsuit. “They told me, ‘Anything we find, we’ll charge you and your baby will go to DCFS,'” she remembers.

After the officers left, the plaintiff and her daughter’s father started cleaning up the apartment and noticed the $8,000 cash they earned after selling one of their cars was gone, according to the lawsuit. The plaintiff then said she saw that her purse had been rummaged through and six dollars she had in her wallet, saved for some weekend ice cream, was gone.

“I said, ‘They took my fucking six dollars! My petty six dollars, what do they need with that?'” she said.

They also unlawfully searched her car and took her keys and a gold ring from her home, according to the lawsuit.

“It’s something that’s going to stay with me,” the complainant said. “You can never forget something like that.”

But to Cunningham, an outspoken critic of Chicago’s gang violence, his activities are part of maintaining civil order—principles he has transported to ITTA’s work in El Salvador. On social media, he consistently broadcasts content that blames a rise of violent crime in Chicago on weak political leadership, gang activity, and the restrictions placed on police. In a July 2016 post, Cunningham writes that criminal gangs do not outmatch the police but “persist only where the political will to make them back down is absent.”

HEROES VS. TERRORISTS

To address the crisis of officer desertion from the police force, Salvadoran authorities landed on a geopolitically savvy fix: In 2015, the country’s Supreme Court declared gangs to be “terrorists,” while a simultaneous PNC campaign marketed the police as “heroes.” The U.S. Embassy aided in this campaign.

Cushioned by that bellicose framing, the PNC has killed more than 2,000 civilians since 2013, according to Arnau Baulenas, a human rights lawyer at the University of Central America. Statistics were particularly concerning in 2016—one year into ITTA’s use-of-force trainings—when 59 alleged gang members were killed for every one police or soldier. “This unusual disparity in casualties can only point to a disproportionate use of lethal force,” wrote security analyst Jeannette Aguilar. A UN Special Rapporteur said the statistics “could be considered as extrajudicial killings.”

On his Facebook page, ITTA president Cunningham has repeatedly praised the PNC. He has written that Salvadoran gangs are “akin to a criminal insurgency with aspirations to power not unlike the Taliban of Afghanistan. These gangs are equally brutal and are rapidly acquiring the tactics and methods of terror organizations.”

Such language “exhorts the use of extralegal practices” while making the problem far worse, said analyst Aguilar in an interview with the Reader. “The grave human rights violations the police commit in stigmatized communities, and the terror they sow, makes these communities reject the police and the government just like they did during the [Salvadoran civil] war.”

Congressman Jim McGovern also compares the situation to the war, which ended in 1992. “We’re seeing today excesses that should cause all of us great concern,” he said in an interview with the Reader. “And when you raise issues to our government, it’s like back in the 1980s when we raised abuses to our Embassy and our State Department: they’d explain it away.”

The result is an internal police culture in which officers see themselves as heroes hunting terrorists. Under that worldview, the job of ensuring respect for the rule of law—as Carla Ayala was tasked with doing before her murder—becomes very dangerous.

On Sept 11, 2018, after nearly one year of searching, officials confirmed that they had unearthed Ayala’s remains. Samurai is believed to be in hiding in Mexico or Guatemala, and his motive for allegedly killing his colleague is still unknown.

Ayala’s mother, Maria Isabel Palacios, believes her daughter died for her integrity. “Why did they do it? She was an investigator in the police. They say they set a trap for her, they set her up,” Palacios said in her cinder-block home in urban San Salvador, where she is raising Ayala’s two teenage sons. “There’s not even a word for what they did to her,” she said. “I won’t stop suffering until I die.”   

Danielle Mackey is an independent investigative journalist based in El Salvador and New York. She also teaches in the journalism department at the City University of New York. Her reporting was made possible by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism and a fellowship with the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, with support from the Ford Foundation.

Alison Flowers is an investigative journalist and producer at the Invisible Institute. She is the author of Exoneree Diaries: The Fight for Innocence, Independence and Identity and a two-time winner of the Hillman Foundation’s Sidney Award.

Dana Brozost-Kelleher works as a reporter for the Invisible Institute, where she has helped investigate and report on human rights and police accountability issues. Specializing in social justice and investigative reporting, she earned a master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism in 2019.

Ellen Glover is a Chicago-based reporter covering police accountability issues and investigating wrongful conviction cases. Her work has appeared on WNYC and in USA Today, Science Node, and Indianapolis Monthly.

Annie Nguyen is a producer at Snap Judgment’s podcast Spooked. Prior, she reported on local politics for City Bureau and investigative journalism for the Invisible Institute.

Additional reporting by Sam Stecklow and Matilda Vojak

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