Below you'll find a sampling of my work. Follow me on Twitter @levipulk to catch the latest.
This story grew out of an unusually direct, if expectedly self-serving, statement Amazon founder Jeff Bezos made at a conference -- “If big tech companies are going to turn their back on US Department of Defense, this country is going to be in trouble.” It became a deep dive into an emerging computing-industrial complex, playing across questions about the power Amazon wields in the world.
True crime gets a bad rap. Here, I used two Seattle dreamers — a joyful young Montana man looking for inclusion, and a damaged Eastern Washington escapee who became Capitol Hill’s opioid king — to examine a new iteration in the drug trade without losing sight of the tragedy that came to both men.
Killing Bullwinkle: Big money and controversy surround Western trophy hunts — High Country News
Wealthy hunters pay top dollar for desired hunts, padding Fish and Game budgets and prodding resistance. To tell that story, I looked to a controversial Central Washington hunt that saw a notorious trophy hunter shoot a much-loved giant of an elk, Bullwinkle.
‘We Are Collateral Damage’: More, Louder Jets Roil Military Communities — Bitterroot magazine
Electronic warfare aircraft have frequented Puget Sound skies almost as long as electronic warfare has existed. But something has changed, and is changing across the West, as the Pentagon transitions to louder jets and returns its focus to major power conflicts.
I started my career aiming to cover the environment. While I edited our environmental writer at SeattlePI, most of my environmental coverage there stemmed from breaking news or legal action. I welcomed the opportunity to return to the work covering the tragedy on the Salish Sea for The Guardian.
This was my attempt at using journalism to make something amorphous -- a feeling of loss in Seattle -- concrete for readers who would never experience it. To achieve this, I balanced personal experience against academic insight, and stirred in some silliness.
SPJ Region 10 honors — Runner-up for short feature, open division
In 2016, I led our staff in a broad look at mental illness in Washington state. The constellation of stories we turned on the topic formed our first large project since the Seattle P-I’s closure, and the first heavy journalistic lift for some of my colleagues. As part of the project, I used a pair of deaths at a rural Washington state jail to illustrate the total lack of mental health care standards for county jails. I also wrote a vignette on Chad Crooks, a Seattle man whose suicide illustrates just how far we have left to go.
My contributions to the project included: No place to be sick: When jail cell becomes a death chamber; Chad Crooks didn't have to die; and Washington caregivers rebuilding in the ruins of a broken system
Koula Sylla came by his U.S. citizenship the hard way – he waited. Having received asylum four years after his arrival in 1994, Sylla applied for citizenship in 2006. It came seven years later. Now, because Sylla didn’t tell a Brooklyn immigration judge that he had twice used other names in asylum applications, he is on track to lose his U.S. citizenship. Federal prosecutors have petitioned to have Sylla’s naturalization undone and will likely prevail. While immigration authorities don’t share the number of citizenship revocations they process, I was able to use the federal court information system to hunt them down. I found that they’re on the rise.
SPJ Region 10 honors -- First place for health reporting, large newsroom division
Kai didn’t have long to live when I met her at her mother’s apartment. She spent the last months of her life at home, though, in part because of the work we did together. She and dozens of other ventilator-dependent children faced institutionalization in nursing homes or hospitals because Medicaid reimbursement rates were too low to attract nurses. Her fight raised those rates, and got those children home.
SPJ Region 10 honors — Runner-up for crime and justice reporting, small newsroom division
A Seattle police detective let dozens of sexual assault investigations go cold, and department leaders were poised let that misconduct slide quietly by without disclosing it to the public or the victims. The detective had been promoted to sergeant and was managing an internal affairs squad by the time I spotted one of years-old cases on a new filings list. My experience working with court information systems enabled me to discover the failure. I turned this story inside of a week, guessing (correctly) that the police hadn’t bothered to tell the victims either. Three women have since let me know they were surprised to learn their rape claims had not been blown off entirely.
Biftu Dadi’s death made national news because of her killer’s antics – he drove to a state mental hospital with her body in the SUV. In truth, though, she was the most interesting part. A Seattle-born member of a close-knit Eritrean community, Dadi was remembered at a hundreds-strong gathering. My photojournalist and I were the only journalists to attend, and the only ones to try to tell her story fully.
This coverage was the first vigorous inquiry into the conduct of a new large governmental institution, King County’s Office of Public Defense. We were the first news organization to publicize this public defender’s firing, and were only able to do so after reviewing thousands of pages of heavily redacted correspondence.
Some stories just stick to you. Kai’s stuck to me. It also shows what I try to be about journalistically. Here, I was able to push the state to fix a dumb problem -- because they were underpaying nurses, they were overpaying hospitals to care for ventilator-dependent children. My reporting helped keep Kai home for the last days of her life.
SPJ Region 10 honors -- First place for business reporting, small newsroom division
Seattle is home to some of the world’s most boring billionaires. Bill Gates cures malaria. Jeff Bezos builds giant glass orbs, and gets testy if anyone calls them balls. Howard Schultz just wants to be president and mean well. Paul Allen is the exception. Allen does billionaire stuff – he owns an NFL team, finds sunken warships, finances museums only he could enjoy. He may be trying to live forever. He and his closest confidante, his sister, are also hell on the help. So much so that a collection of ex-Navy SEALs, FBI agents and police officers hired to protect them deserted en masse claiming the Allens demanded they cover up crimes. The allegations came to include African bone smuggling and involuntary, yacht-board swimsuit modeling.
Pinning ousted teacher Dan Richman down involved a public disclosure fight with Seattle Public Schools. The district and Richman had agreed that he would quietly resign after allegations of misconduct surfaced. I broke the story in 2014, and followed up two-months later after obtaining the records I needed to confront him on his claims of innocence.
SPJ Region 10 honors -- First place for watchdog reporting, small newsroom division
Aaron Swanson did the right thing. A trainee with the city electric utility, he saw a bit of old-time nepotism. He said something, and it nearly cost him his shot at a middle-class career. He later told me that my work essentially ended the retaliation that had been plaguing him.
SPJ Region 10 honors -- First place for breaking news, small newsroom division
Breaking news coverage is about reporting the event and bringing as much context as possible to bear as fast as one can. When shots rang out at a rural Washington high school, I drew on my experiences covering violence to get the facts straight as well as my time covering tribal communities to nail the context.
Stiffer criminal penalties – child prostitution in this case – are well loved by elected officials, in part because they don’t really require anyone to do anything. Through this investigation, I found sex buyers targeting children were avoiding harsh penalties provided in new laws meant to crackdown on child prostitution. Pimps, who were also targeted by the legislative effort, were not getting the same pass.
And, just so I don't seem like a bummer, here's my defense of the Seattle Freeze -- As famously frosty Seattle thaws, defending the Seattle Freeze -- and a deep dive into Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back" -- Dissecting Seattle's greatest rap. - LP