WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas — Editor's note: The video above is regarding the Javier Ambler Law.
KVUE Senior Reporter Tony Plohetski has been named the 2021 broadcast recipient of a prestigious national award recognizing investigative reporting that results in positive community reforms for his work in the death of Javier Ambler II and the Williamson County Sheriff's Office.
The Hillman Prize honors "journalists, writers and public figures that pursue investigative journalism and public policy in service of the common good."
Plohetski won in the broadcast category for his work with KVUE, which he reported in partnership with the Austin American-Statesman. Awards are also granted in categories that include books, newspapers, magazines, digital and opinion and analysis.
"Tony Plohetski's investigations are changing the world," said KVUE News Director Christina Ginn. "He consistently digs to find the stories that shine light on corruption and hold the powerful to account. KVUE and TEGNA (the station's parent company) are proud to support Tony and local journalism."
Statesman Executive Editor Manny Garcia said the impact of Plohetski's reporting –both on-air on KVUE, in print in the Statesman and on the websites of both outlets – highlights that "there is strength in unselfish collaborations and that our community is better for it. Tony's investigation is the very definition of public service, local journalism."
In June, Plohetski was the first journalist to reveal details of Ambler's death after Williamson County sheriff's deputies chased him in a pursuit that started because he failed to dim his headlights in March 2019. The chase ended in North Austin with deputies using Tasers on Ambler several times as he shouted that he could not breathe and had a heart condition – all while crews from the reality TV show "Live PD" filmed.
His subsequent reporting on policing practices in Williamson County helped trigger investigations that led to the indictments of former Sheriff Robert Chody and an assistant county attorney on evidence tampering charges and the proposed Javier Ambler Law, which bans Texas law enforcement agencies from partnering with reality TV shows. The bill overwhelmingly passed the Texas House last week, and the two deputies involved in the encounter were indicted in March on manslaughter charges.
Previous Hillman Prize winners in the broadcast division have included numerous local reporters and marquee shows including PBS's "Frontline," ABC's "Nightline" and NPR's "All Things Considered."
The $5,000 prize is given through a foundation in New York named for Sidney Hillman, an architect of the New Deal who fought for protections for factory workers in the clothing industry. The award is in its 71st year and nominations are judged each year by a group of industry leaders.
"This year's Hillman Prize winners remind us that public-interest journalism can still change lives and spur desperately needed reforms," said Hillman juror Katrina vanden Heuvel, editorial director and publisher of The Nation.
Last month, Plohetski also received the inaugural Dan Rather Medal for News and Guts for the same body of work. He also was a semi-finalist for the Goldsmith Award for Investigative Reporting given by the Harvard Kennedy School and was a finalist for the John Jay College/Harry Guggenheim Award for Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting.
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