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The continued arrests of a group of Texas cop watchers is raising serious questions about how the law is applied to citizen journalists. In this episode of the Police Accountability Report, hosts Taya Graham and Stephen Janis investigate two recent arrests of Corners News, whom police charged after he tried to film a series of accident scenes. We discuss the applicable laws and rising legal threats against YouTube activists, examining the implications of the push by Texas police to charge people exercising their First Amendment rights.

Pre-Production/Studio: Stephen Janis
Post-Production: Stephen Janis, Adam Coley


Taya Graham:     Hello. My name is Taya Graham, and welcome to the Police Accountability Report. As I always make clear, this show has a single purpose: holding the politically powerful institution of policing accountable. And to do so, we don’t just focus on the bad behavior of individual cops. Instead, we examine the system that makes bad policing possible. And today we will achieve that goal by showing you this arrest of a cop watcher in Texas for trying to protect his First Amendment rights. But it is also another attempt by Texas police to curb the freedom of citizen journalists, a move that comes shortly after they charged the same man with organized crime for a similarly peaceful use of his camera.

But before we get started, I want you watching to know that if you have evidence of police misconduct, please email it to us privately at And please like, share, and comment on our videos. You know I read your comments and that I appreciate them. And of course, you can always reach out to me directly @tayasbaltimore on Facebook or Twitter. And of course, if you can, please hit the Patreon donate link pinned in the comments below, because we have some extras there for our PAR family. Okay, that’s out of the way.

Now, one of the trademarks of this show is that we follow up. Meaning we don’t just cover a story once and then just walk away. Instead, we pride ourselves on continuing to investigate police misconduct when the situation warrants it. And boy, does the arrest of the Texas cop watcher Corners News warrant another closer look. As you might recall, Corners news, HBOMatt, and two other cop watchers were not even filming police when they were accosted by a Laredo Texas cop who grilled them as they sat in the parking lot of a convenience store. Let’s watch.


Speaker:          No, no they’ve been following me around. They’re suspicious as far as I’m concerned. I don’t know if they’ve got partners that are committing crime somewhere else and they’re keeping an eye on our location. So you’re going to give me your ID or I’m going to arrest you for failing to ID.


Taya Graham:        Well, despite the relatively conflict free encounter, the officer later charged Ismael and another cop watcher, HBOMatt with organized crime. And not only did they slap these felonies on all four of the citizen journalists, but they also added a roughly $100,000 bail to each, entangling all of them in a dicey legal situation that continues to ensnare them to this day.

But that’s not the end of police targeting this group of YouTube activists for crimes that seem questionable at best. That’s because we were recently sent this video of another encounter between Ismael of Corners News and Texas cops that warrants further reporting. Encounters with police over his right to film that led to not just one, but two arrests. The encounter started April 1 this year, when Corners News was attempting to film a group of police officers who had deployed what are known as tire shredders to stop a speeding driver who had fled law enforcement after a traffic stop. As you can see here in this video, Ismael has positioned himself well outside the range of a hundred feet often required, though not legally prescribed by law enforcement, to film an accident scene. Let’s watch.


Officer Lopez:           Sir, I’m afraid the lane is closed, okay.

Ismael Rincon:         What’s closed?

Officer Lopez:           All this. So we’re going to have to, you’re going to have to go, all right, sir?

Ismael Rincon:         Okay.

Officer Lopez:          All this is closed off.


Taya Graham:         But as the encounter unfolds, the officer decides that, in fact, a hundred feet is not sufficient, and begins to order Corners News to stand back even further. A request he complies with. Take a look.


Ismael Rincon:      [crosstalk] This is open now, just public. [crosstalk] It’s not taped up.

Officer Lopez:         We have it. We have it closed up.

Ismael Rincon:        It’s not closed.

Officer Lopez:       It doesn’t matter, but I’m telling you, sir…

Ismael Rincon:         That’s not the way it works.

Officer Lopez:          It’s real simple, sir.

Ismael Rincon:         That’s not the way it works, man.

Officer Lopez:         You move over there.

Officer Florez:          You just step back, sir.

Ismael Rincon:           You going to prevent me from recording?

Officer Florez:             Sir, you can record from that side of the patrol car.

Ismael Rincon:         Okay. So what’s your name?

Officer Florez:        Florez.

Ismael Rincon:          Your name?

Officer Lopez:           It’s Lopez.

Ismael Rincon:          Lopez. You’re preventing me from recording, right?

Officer Florez:        You can record from that side of the patrol car, sir.

Ismael Rincon:           If I don’t?

Officer Florez:         Interference.

Ismael Rincon:          You know what interference is?

Officer Florez:       I’m telling you –

Ismael Rincon:     I know it by heart.

Officer Florez:           We are processing a crime scene here, sir.

Ismael Rincon:         Okay.

Officer Florez:         So I need you to step back behind that patrol car.

Ismael Rincon:          Or else?

Officer Florez:         You will be arrested.


Taya Graham:            As Corners News points out, police have not established a crime scene. And of course, he’s standing on public property. As you can see here, there is no doubt he’s filming quite far from the accident scene. Far enough that it is truthfully difficult to see what’s going on, which is of course the point of journalism. Still. Despite the fact Ismael is clearly acquainted with the law and clearly exercising his First Amendment rights, the police threaten him with criminal charges. Finally, after refusing to relinquish his right to record, police turn to the most destructive, yet commonly used tool: an arrest. Let’s watch.


Ismael Rincon:       What was that?

Officer Florez:        You see that patrol car, right?

Ismael Rincon:            Who was that making the threat?

Officer Florez:      Don’t worry about it. You see, behind that patrol car?

Ismael Rincon:         Who was that making the threat?

Officer Martinez:     I’m Officer Martinez [inaudible] police motorcycle division. Put your hands behind your back.

Ismael Rincon:      Oh, it’s you –

Officer Martinez:    This is an active investigation.

Ismael Rincon:            He already told me behind the –

Officer Martinez:      Hands behind your back.

Ismael Rincon:         He told me behind the unit.

Officer Martinez:        Yeah, but we’re working the whole scene.

Ismael Rincon:         He told me –

Officer Martinez:      Hands behind your back.

Ismael Rincon:         Who has higher rank?

Officer Martinez:       I’m telling you hands behind your back. [crosstalk].

Ismael Rincon:          Who has higher rank? [Inaudible].

Officer Martinez:     Put your hands behind your back. [inaudible]. Do not reach for it.


Taya Graham:           So as we can see, a cop watcher attempts to exercise his First Amendment rights by filming police. He maintains a reasonable distance from the crime scene, and he then commits the heinous crime of pushing back against these same police officers, demanding that his First Amendment rights be respected. But this was not the only incident that reveals just how difficult the fight to maintain the right to record in this part of Texas has become. Just nine days ago, Corners News was again trying to record a vehicle accident outside near Laredo, Texas, when a police officer asked him to move. Again, he complied with the officer. Watch.


Police Officer:         You need to get out of here, sir. You need to get out of here.


Taya Graham:        And then the officer asked him to move back again.


Police Officer:        Sir, that grass fire is going to cross. I need you to move your car. Move your car over there. The grass fire is going to cross. Move your car over there. You can videotape from farther and farther away.


Taya Graham:         But even after he moves for a second time, the officer asked for his ID, although he has not been accused of a crime. And then again resorts to another arrest.


Police Officer:        Hey sir, I told you twice.

Ismael Rincon:           Twice what?

Police Officer:        I need to see your driver’s license.

Ismael Rincon:           No, you’re not.

Police Officer:        I need to see your driver’s license.

Ismael Rincon:          You’re not.

Police Officer:        I’m not requesting that, sir. You’re failing to ID. I need to see your driver’s license right now. I told you clearly, to move out of the way.

Ismael Rincon:         I’m out of the way.

Police Officer:      You weren’t out of the way, you stayed right there. You stayed really close to the fire. It could have crossed –

Ismael Rincon:         You told –

Police Officer:        So right now –

Ismael Rincon:         Come on. My safety is my, my own concern. I just need –

Police Officer:          Yeah.

Ismael Rincon:     My safety is my own concern. You’re not concerned.

Police Officer:        [crosstalk] because we have to work –

Ismael Rincon:        I moved already.

Police Officer:        I need your driver’s license.

Ismael Rincon:       No, you’re not getting anything, man.

Police Officer:            Look, last time, sir. Are you going to give me your driver’s license?

Ismael Rincon:         I don’t need to give my license.

Police Officer:        What I was going to do, I was going to close the road, but since you did not cross –

Ismael Rincon:         Ah, come on.

Police Officer:         You did not listen to me and I had to come over here.

Ismael Rincon:         I already dealt this with, with you at once. Stay back from me. Get away, get away from me. You’re getting close.

Police Officer:          We don’t have to get away from you. You walk up to here and you’re like, oh, now you’re in my space.

Ismael Rincon:         That’s my truck. This is my door.

Police Officer:         That’s like right here. Oh, oh, you’re in my space, bro. You’re in my space. [crosstalk] Go back, please. Go back, go back, man. We’re not talking to you anymore. Hey, I could, if I would, man, we’re helping this guy. It’s obvious.

Ismael Rincon:       I told you twice, you took me away from everything. The traffic. You see where my truck is, right?

Police Officer:        No, that’s the second time. Put your stuff over there.

Ismael Rincon:       Okay. [inaudible]

Police Officer:       No, put your stuff right there. I’ll put it away right now for you.

Ismael Rincon:         Okay.

Police Officer:        Hands behind your back.

Ismael Rincon:          All right.

Taya Graham:      Which is why we decided to dig deeper into the details of the case and also explore this idea of organized crime and this attempt by authorities to limit cop watching, not just in Texas, but across the country. I mean, there is nothing more essential to the future of journalism than the ability to film matters of public interest and disseminate them to that same public. And nothing is more of a threat to that right than the indiscriminate use of police power to make exercising that fundamental right to record impossible. And that’s why, shortly, we will be joined by Corners news to discuss these arrests in detail. But first, I’m joined by my reporting partner Stephen Janis, who’s been looking into the case, and also what the law says about filming police. Stephen, thank you for joining us.

Stephen Janis:        Taya, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Taya Graham:           First, what are the latest developments in the organized crime case? What have you learned?

Stephen Janis:       Okay, so the update on those charges is that I contacted the Livingston Police Department, I specifically emailed the chief asking him if he was proceeding with these charges, and also how the charges apply to the law, which seems to me to be legally insufficient because there’s no underlying crime. I also contacted the Polk County Prosecutor’s Office, which is a county where this crime allegedly occurred, and I asked them the same question. They said to me specifically, we don’t talk about cases. So I would recommend anyone else calling the Polk County prosecutors if you have concerns about this, because I don’t think that’s a sufficient answer.

Taya Graham:       You found an interesting exemption from the interference law in the Texas state code. Can you talk about what it is and why it shows a bias against citizen journalism?

Stephen Janis:      Well, it’s really interesting because the Texas state code actually goes about determining who’s a journalist and who has the right to film these accidents up close and who doesn’t. It specifically carves out an exemption for people who either A, work for a TV station that has an FCC license, or a newspaper that publishes weekly. So what it’s basically saying is the First Amendment right to be free press comes with ownership of something, either a newspaper, the ability to publish it, or a television station. I think it’s highly problematic.

Taya Graham:        And finally, why is it important to cover the effort by YouTubers to defend their right to record? What’s really at stake?

Stephen Janis:        Well, I think it’s problematic because the government should not be in the business of determining who is a journalist, ever. In other words, you know, it’s not up to the government to make the law that says I’m a journalist or you’re not, or a YouTuber is a journalist or a television reporter is… I don’t think the government should be in that business, regulating free speech, deciding who’s a reporter, or otherwise circumscribing people’s First Amendment rights. I think it’s very problematic. I think it’s scary. And I think all of us deserve the right to be free press if we’re willing to put in the work and the effort.

Taya Graham:           And now to get more on why he was arrested and what the action of the Laredo Police mean for cop watchers, I’m joined by Corners News. Ismael, thank you for joining me.

Ismael Rincon:          Thank you for having me here.

Taya Graham:         So tell me, what are we seeing in this video? You stopped to film a scene after officers deployed tire spikes or shredders to stop a car, right? From what I can see from the video, you certainly seemed to be over a hundred feet away. What happened next?

Ismael Rincon:      So I got out of the car, started filming. Two officers approached me, which, one of them happened to be an investigator, and the other one was a sergeant, one of the sergeants on scene. They walked over from more than a hundred feet away from me just to tell me to get back from the scene, which I never was in. After that, I kind of challenged their orders, but eventually I went back, I would say 20, 25 feet, even more back. Then one of the officers that had previously threatened me before stopped what he was doing in the investigation. He was a regular officer, he was not a supervisor. So he walked over from more than a hundred feet even, and then told the sergeant to arrest me because I was interfering with his investigation. Then he made it his goal to approach me and arrest me even though the sergeant had already told me to move and he told me I was fine where I was at.

Taya Graham:         So, the officer said you were inside a crime scene and that you would be charged with interference unless you walked to the other side of the patrol car. You walked back as was directed. And then you heard an officer yell. What did he say?

Ismael Rincon:           He yelled, no, you need to arrest that guy. He’s interfering with my investigation.

Taya Graham:      So then suddenly officer Martinez charges towards you and puts you in cuffs. And in the video you can hear the cuffs, and it looks like you were tackled. What happened next?

Ismael Rincon:         Right. In his sworn affidavit he stated that I said no twice, which I never said no on the video. I’ll send you that affidavit later if you want. I never said no. The only thing I responded to him is, who has higher rank? Which, it was obvious for the sergeant that had already told me where to step and told me I was fine right there. And then an inferior officer comes and tells me that I’m interfering and tells the sergeant to arrest me. It was like he was giving orders to a sergeant instead of the sergeant giving orders to him. So I think that was kind of weird. So I said, who has higher rank? And then he is like, well, this is an investigation, and he threw me to the ground. Broke my body camera, cracked my phone. And then they just, he kept pressing on my head real hard on this side right here, which I requested EMS. I didn’t know if I was bleeding or anything, which they went, they checked me out and everything was okay. But I still felt that for a week or two.

Taya Graham:          Now, what we saw in this video happened over a month ago. And this video here of the car fire we’re showing happened roughly two weeks ago. Now, this car was on fire after the car tires have been purposefully spiked by police, right?

Ismael Rincon:        That is correct. And at the time I didn’t know any of that information. All this information I started getting when he was talking to his fellow officers, when the trooper that arrested me started, as we call it, copsplaining or explaining the incident to his fellow officers, to his superior, to the ABA. So that’s how I noticed that the car got spiked and the car was involved in a high speed chase.

Taya Graham:     The officer accused you of interference, but you moved your car each time the officer asked. You moved twice, and you also stood quietly by your car and filmed from across the street. And yet the officer said, the grass fire was coming for your car across a three-lane highway. What interference is the officer referring to?

Ismael Rincon:          The interference he mentioned is that I, because I was there, I took his attention from his scene to come over to me and give me orders. So that’s the interference he is talking about.

Taya Graham:           So to some of the people who watched your video, it seems that the officer came to interfere with you, and was more concerned about your camera than the fire. Why do you think the officer was so intent on controlling your actions?

Ismael Rincon:        I can’t say why, but I can surely speculate why the car had just been involved in a high speed pursuit. And then the car caught on fire. And there’s been so many chases involved with the DPS that when the chase terminates, somehow all the cars are catching on fire. It’s not the first one. It’s not the second one. I’ve seen a couple of them, especially here in Texas, they’re involved in [smuggling]. So it’s very weird that they end up on fire. And that’s super weird. We don’t know why. I don’t know why. But maybe they know why, and maybe they’re trying to hide something.

Taya Graham:       What were you charged with, and what is the status of your case?

Ismael Rincon:       Right. So my charges, there were interference with public duties, and they added a second charge, which would be unlawful carrying of a weapon, which here in Texas, it’s open carry. It’s an open carry state. I carry everywhere I go. And they added that charge simply the fact that I was legally armed while I was recording. So, every time you get charged with a class B or above, they have to charge you if you have a firearm.

Taya Graham:      So you were involved in the case we covered with HBOMatt, where a warrant for the rest of you and your fellow YouTubers was given because you were accused of organized crime. If I understand correctly, it was because your YouTube channels are monetized and there were two or more YouTubers in the same place at the same time, so it was considered an organized criminal action. What is the status of these cases?

Ismael Rincon:         Right. So at this date, we don’t have any updates. We don’t have any court dates. We’ve never had a call from the district attorney, from the county, from the Livingston police department. I’ve tried calling everywhere, Polk County, the police department, no answer. I leave voicemails, nobody returns a phone call. So we don’t have anything to this day. We don’t have any updates.

Taya Graham:      Do you think this tactic could be emulated by other police departments to stop cop watchers and other YouTube activists?

Ismael Rincon:        I really don’t think, or I really sure hope not, because there was just a Supreme Court ruling last week, that’s Thompson v. Stark, which would be like any Fourteenth Amendment claims by the police department or by the district attorney. They would no longer have qualified immunity because of the malicious prosecution. So Thompson v. Stark will eliminate the qualified immunity on malicious prosecution. So I really sure hope they will not try and do this in any department in the US, cause they will be held liable for that.

Taya Graham:         Now, if you think efforts to suppress the First Amendment rights of cop Watchers is limited to a few officers in a Texas town, you would be mistaken. Take for example a new law just passed in the state of Oklahoma. The bill, known as Oklahoma 1643, was signed into law last year and prohibits citizens from posting a picture of a police officer with harmful intent. Supporters say the measure is only intended to prevent doxing of police officers, meaning posting their personal information. But the law has been controversial because its wording is so ambiguous. That’s because, in reality, any prosecutor could easily use the language embedded in the statute to prosecute someone who simply filmed a police officer, since the text that prescribes what constitutes a criminal posting only requires harmful intent.

Making matters worse, language slipped into a companion bill will make it a crime to simply publish, and I quote, “a photograph or any other realistic likeness of the person who also happens to be a cop.” Apparently, Oklahoma is a First Amendment free zone. But I guess you can see my point of why this measure is so concerning. Law enforcement authorities, fearful of the horrific act of filming cops executing their public duties, have decided it’s time to crack down. Just like the police in Laredo who are pressing an organized crime case against HBOMatt and Corners News, it seems that prosecutors have taken off the gloves and are ready to focus on the terrifying and reprehensible act of posting videos of cops on YouTube.

Thank God our massive law enforcement-industrial complex has started to address this existential threat of citizen journalists, also known as organized crime. But while we’re on the topic of organized crime, it might be worth giving a nod to a group of police accused of exactly that, and how their crimes compared to the First Amendment auditors authorities seem to believe are such a grave threat to American civilization.

Just recently, Baltimore police detective Keith Gladstone, a 25-year veteran of the department, admitted to engaging in decades of organized crime that seems far more disturbing than picking up a cell phone and filming. Gladstone was initially accused of helping Sergeant Wayne Jenkins, a member of the now notorious Gun Trace Task Force, to plant a BB gun on an innocent man who Jenkins had run over with his car. But recently, the veteran detective reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors, who granted him immunity so he could testify against a fellow cop. And just a note about the so-called Gun Trace Task force. They were a group of roughly nine Baltimore police officers who were convicted of robbing residents, dealing drugs, and stealing overtime. A stellar community of crooked cops who have not only cost taxpayers millions of dollars in lawsuit settlements, but while on duty, they were actually working to wreak havoc on dozens of innocent civilians, destroying their lives in the process.

But back to detective Gladstone. On the stand, Gladstone recounted some of these stellar achievements of his tenure as a career criminal. He admitted to stealing crack from drug dealers and giving it to informants to sell on his behalf. He admitted to planting guns on innocent citizens and transporting illegal drugs for sale, for his benefit, while armed. An act prosecutors pointed out is called drug trafficking. He also admitted to pretty much stealing whatever he wanted, no matter the value, including taking tools from a tool shop and stealing fireworks for a summer celebration. In other words, no crime was too petty for Gladstone.

But what’s really extraordinary about detective Gladstone’s case is how prosecutors were able to get his cooperation. That’s because all the heinous crimes he has admitted to will not result in additional jail time for the disgraced detective. No. Instead, Detective Gladstone received immunity from the prosecution for his role in terrorizing – And I do mean terrorizing – The people of Baltimore for dealing drugs, stealing, planting a gun on an innocent victim, and for basically operating as a crook with a badge. Gladstone will never serve a minute behind bars for literally ripping the fabric of a community apart and selling the pieces for his own personal profit.

So let’s do a little comparison between the troublesome YouTubers and citizen journalists and the crimes committed by actual members of law enforcement, and see which group is truly worthy of the moniker organized crime. The YouTubers film police performing their public duties and upload them for anyone to see. The crooked cops use their badge and guns to transport harmful drugs into the community and then pocket the profits for themselves. The YouTubers cover accident and crime scenes and film them, a right, as Stephen reported, afforded to all members of the media, provided they are backed by a rich corporation. The crooked cops plant a gun on an innocent man who had been run over by another cop, consigning him to prison and destroying his life.

The YouTubers work together to drive to crime scenes and document what they see, sometimes pushing back against cops who attempt to limit their First Amendment rights. Crooked cops conspire to steal millions of dollars of overtime pay for hours they did not work, and then cost taxpayers millions or more in lawsuits over their misdeeds.

So, which group of people are the most destructive and pose the greatest threat to the health and safety of our community? I wonder. And I leave it to you to decide: A bunch of cop watchers who simply want a video police, or a group of drug dealing cops who hand out false charges, steal and deal drugs, all the while picking up stolen overtime to enrich themselves. Do you have any thoughts on who poses an existential threat to our fragile democracy, or any idea of which group is worthy of the charge of acting as organized criminals? I mean, if this group of overachieving cops had simply decided to take out their cell phones and take pictures and upload them online, would they be charged with organized crime? Would we even be having this one-sided conversation? I’ll let you think about it. And if you want, share your thoughts in the comments, because, as always, I would like to hear what you think.

I’d like to thank my guest Ismael of Corners News for taking the time to speak with us today. Thank you, Ismael. And of course I want to thank Intrepid reporter Stephen Janis for his writing, research, and editing on this piece.

Stephen Janis:       Taya, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Taya Graham:            And I want to thank the mods, Noli Dee and Lacey R for their support. Thank you both. And a very special thanks to our Patreons, especially our super friends Shane Bushta and Pineapple Girl. We really appreciate you. And I want you watching to know that if you have evidence of police misconduct or brutality, please share it with us and we might be able to investigate. Please reach out to us. You can email us tips privately at and share your evidence of police misconduct. Unfortunately, we’re only two investigators, so we might not be able to respond to every email, but we appreciate everyone who takes the time to reach out to us.

You can also message us at Police Accountability Report on Facebook or Instagram, or @eyesonpolice on Twitter. And of course you can always message me directly @tayasbaltimore on Twitter or Facebook. And please like, share, and comment. I really do read your comments and appreciate them. And we do have a Patreon link pinned in the comments below, so if you feel inspired to donate, please do. We don’t run ads or take corporate dollars, so anything you can spare really is appreciated. My name is Taya Graham, and I am your host of the Police Accountability Report. Please be safe out there.

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Host & Producer
Taya Graham is an award-winning investigative reporter who has covered U.S. politics, local government, and the criminal justice system. She is the host of TRNN's "Police Accountability Report," and producer and co-creator of the award-winning podcast "Truth and Reconciliation" on Baltimore's NPR affiliate WYPR. She has written extensively for a variety of publications including the Afro American Newspaper, the oldest black-owned publication in the country, and was a frequent contributor to Morgan State Radio at a historic HBCU. She has also produced two documentaries, including the feature-length film "The Friendliest Town." Although her reporting focuses on the criminal justice system and government accountability, she has provided on the ground coverage of presidential primaries and elections as well as local and state campaigns. Follow her on Twitter.

Host & Producer
Stephen Janis is an award winning investigative reporter turned documentary filmmaker. His first feature film, The Friendliest Town was distributed by Gravitas Ventures and won an award of distinction from The Impact Doc Film Festival, and a humanitarian award from The Indie Film Fest. He is the co-host and creator of The Police Accountability Report on The Real News Network, which has received more than 10,000,000 views on YouTube. His work as a reporter has been featured on a variety of national shows including the Netflix reboot of Unsolved Mysteries, Dead of Night on Investigation Discovery Channel, Relentless on NBC, and Sins of the City on TV One.

He has co-authored several books on policing, corruption, and the root causes of violence including Why Do We Kill: The Pathology of Murder in Baltimore and You Can’t Stop Murder: Truths about Policing in Baltimore and Beyond. He is also the co-host of the true crime podcast Land of the Unsolved. Prior to joining The Real News, Janis won three Capital Emmys for investigative series working as an investigative producer for WBFF. Follow him on Twitter.