Mississippi Today’s “Unfettered Power: Mississippi Sheriffs” investigation has been named a finalist for the 2024 Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting.

The 2023 investigation from the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting at Mississippi Today and The New York Times revealed how Mississippi sheriffs rule like kings, wielding vast power, exploiting and abusing the very people they are called to protect with no one stopping them.

The series included new details about the Rankin County “Goon Squad.”

“I feel so blessed to see our work investigating sheriffs in Mississippi recognized by the Pulitzer Prize Board,” investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell said. “This honor doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to the people who dared to stand up and share their stories — victims of violence, sexual assault and many other abuses.”

This is Mississippi Today’s second consecutive honor from the Pulitzer Prizes. The newsroom won the 2023 Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting for its “The Backchannel” investigation into key players in the welfare scandal, making it the seventh Mississippi news outlet to win in the history of the prizes.

“This series shocked the conscience of Mississippi, and the impact this group of incredible journalists had is enormous,” said Adam Ganucheau, Mississippi Today’s editor-in-chief. “Anyone who has read the stories can see how much time and energy they put into serving the state, and they are so deserving of this recognition.”

READ MORE: The complete “Unfettered Power: Mississippi Sheriffs” series

The seven-part “Unfettered Power” series documented in vivid detail the stunning abuse of residents by officers across Mississippi for more than two decades. Officers spied on and tortured suspects and used their power to jail and punish political enemies.

The reporting was based on difficult-to-get interviews and a deep examination of records, including thousands of pages of Taser logs. Using other department records, the reporting team determined which device was assigned to each deputy, allowing reporters to substantiate allegations of torture by victims and witnesses.

“None of this would have happened without the hard work of our three tremendously talented investigative reporters, Ilyssa Daly, Brian Howey and Nate Rosenfield,” Mitchell said. “They are a model for what dedication, determination and perseverance can accomplish. Because of them, we know that the future of investigative reporting is in great hands.”

The impact of the series was profound. The reporting prompted federal investigations and the drafting of several pieces of Mississippi legislation to limit the power of sheriffs.

“In a short time Mississippi Today has built a prize-winning newsroom that has produced a string of accountability stories,” said Dean Baquet, executive editor of The New York Times’ Local Investigations Fellowship. “Our combined coverage of horrific abuses by sheriffs in the state is an example of the power and importance of local investigative reporting. It has yielded results, and the work continues.”

The Pulitzer Prize is the most prominent award earned by Mississippi Today, the state’s flagship nonprofit newsroom that was founded in 2016. The newsroom and its journalists have won several national awards in recent years, including: two Goldsmith Prizes for Investigative Reporting; a Sidney Award for thorough coverage of the Jackson water crisis; a Collier Prize for State Government Accountability; and the John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting Award.

Mississippi Today and its staff have also won dozens of regional and statewide prizes, including dozens of Society of Professional Journalists Green Eyeshade Awards; several Mississippi Press Association awards for excellence, including a Bill Minor Prizes for Investigative Reporting; and the 2023 Silver Em Award at University of Mississippi.

“We as Mississippians are so fortunate to have strong investigative journalism in our state,” said Mary Margaret White, Mississippi Today CEO and Executive Director. “This level of reporting takes a great deal of focus, determination and grit. The journalists being honored today are public servants in the truest sense, catalyzing accountability and change and standing up for, and with, those whose voices are otherwise ignored.”

This is Mitchell’s second time to be named a Pulitzer finalist. He was previously named a finalist in 2006 for his relentless reporting on the successful conviction of Edgar Ray Killen, who orchestrated the killing of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia in 1964. 

The ongoing work on the sheriffs series is far from done, he said.

“We’ve just begun to shine a light into the darkness in Mississippi, and we can already see the roaches scattering,” Mitchell said.