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Investigative reporters Kathleen “Kat” McGrory ’05 and Neil Bedi of the Tampa Bay Times were honored with a Pulitzer Prize on June 11 in the Local Reporting category for a series on a powerful sheriff whose secretive operations harassed Pasco County, Fla., residents.
The Sheriff’s Office used data to make lists of people it considered likely to break the law and sent deputies to harass them and their families. “We also learned the agency was using data from the school system to make a list of children it considered likely to become future criminals,” McGrory said.
The pair started reporting in fall 2019 and returned to it in late spring 2020. The investigation had three main parts and used body-camera footage to show what it was like to be targeted, McGrory said. More than a dozen stories followed.
“This was certainly some of the most challenging reporting I’ve ever done,” she said. “Neil and I worked very hard to understand how the program worked and what it meant to be targeted. It felt particularly important amid a national conversation about abusive policing practices.”
Old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting spurred on the team. “We logged thousands of miles in the car. And as we got closer to publication, it wasn’t uncommon for me to be at my laptop in my home office until 2 a.m.,” she said.
As a result of the series, the U.S. Department of Education launched an investigation, and the Sheriff’s Office and the school district scaled back their practices, McGrory said. “Some 30 civil rights groups demanded greater transparency and accountability from the sheriff, and several Pasco County citizens filed a lawsuit in federal court,” she said.
It was not the first brush with a Pulitzer for McGrory and Bedi. In 2019, the investigative team were named finalists for a series about surgical mistakes at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. As deputy editor for investigations, McGrory leads a four-reporter team in a role she plans to continue to nurture post-Pulitzer.
“I’d like to think people still look at me as someone who is hardworking and gives her all to her stories. That certainly hasn’t changed from last week to this week,” she said after receiving news of the award. “It’s a huge unimaginable honor winning. I don’t want to sound saccharine, but it’s not the reason we do the work.”
Yet she swatted away with humility any notion that her award dominates her waking life. “I woke up this morning at 5:30 a.m. as a mom feeding a 3-month-old,” she said.
At Hamilton, McGrory majored in economics and Spanish and wrote for The Spectator. She earned a master’s in journalism from Columbia and worked at the Miami Herald for nine years before moving to Tampa six years ago.
Hamilton has had other ties to the coveted Pulitzer Prize. This year, Michael Breslin ’13 was named a Pulitzer finalist in drama for Circle Jerk. Past winners include Jim Willse ’67 (2005 as editor of the Newark Star-Ledger); Henry Allen ’63 (2000 for criticism); Melinda Wagner ’79 (1999 for music); and William Loden ’42, Vincent Jones ’28, and William Woods ’22 as supporting staffers for the 1959 Pulitzer in Public Service to the Utica Daily Press and the Utica Observer-Dispatch for coverage on organized crime.