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Lucy Morgan, Florida journalist who investigated corruption, dies at 82

Lucy Morgan, a Florida journalist who started as a novice paid-by-the-inch reporter and built a reputation as a sleuth for exposing high-level corruption and abuse across the state, including an investigation into police cover-ups who received the Pulitzer Prize, died on September 20. in a nursing home in Tallahassee. She was 82 years old.

The cause was health complications after a fall, his family said.

Ms. Morgan’s investigative work – which once involved getting insider tips from a department store dressing room – won her praise from readers and sowed fear among officials for more than four decades at the St .Petersburg Times, now the Tampa Bay Times. . Darryl Paulson, a former political science professor at the University of South Florida, once described the worst moment for anyone in Florida business: “Getting a message that Lucy Morgan is online. »

His reporting brought down corrupt cops, uncovered dirty political deals, exposed the full scale of a drug ring and rewrote Florida’s journalist protection laws after he refused in 1973 to disclose an anonymous source to a major county jury. She was sentenced to eight months in prison, but the case was overturned in 1976 by the Florida Supreme Court.

In 1985, Ms. Morgan and a St. Petersburg Times colleague, Jack Reed, shared the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting on a series of deep-rooted failures within the Pasco County Sheriff’s Department, north of Tampa. . The articles detailed, among other revelations, how some Pasco officers lied about their criminal records before being hired.

During their research, Ms Morgan discovered a key source: a whistleblower within the ministry. To avoid any risk of being seen together, the police officer’s wife slipped confidential documents to Ms. Morgan under the changing room door of a department store.

When Ms. Morgan retired in 2013 — after leaving her job as Tallahassee bureau chief in 2005 — she wrote about her passion for peering into the “dark corners” of “this crazy state we covered.”

“Where can you find officials who behave so badly, write about them and force them to do the right thing? she wrote, the Tampa Bay Times reported. “I almost feel guilty for collecting a salary all these years. Almost.”

Ms. Morgan’s signature first appeared in the era of competitive typewriters and newspapers. It always retained a sort of throwback aura as the news industry entered a 24-hour shift and the Internet and other economic pressures forced many regional newspapers to close or reduce their coverage. personnel and their investigative ambitions.

She invited politicians, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, to meals to cultivate relationships and perhaps get a scoop in the process. “You’d almost think you’d made it in Tallahassee if Lucy invited you over to her house and made you dinner,” one of her former editors, Richard Bockman, told the Tampa Bay Times.

Ms. Morgan liked to play her Mississippi drawl as a disarming calling card in the capital, Tallahassee. Instead of regularly greeting politicians and others, Ms. Morgan often deployed her signature phrase that was both performance art and a warning: “Are you doing something wrong?

“I’ve always liked being underestimated,” Morgan said in 2005. “Being a Southern woman in a Capitol full of good ole boys is an advantage. By the time they find out I’m serious, it’s too late.

His watchdog stature became such a part of the political landscape that, in a rare move, the Florida House of Representatives was the site of a memorial service on September 29. The Florida State Senate Media Gallery is named in his honor.

Investigative journalism often arouses resistance from those being monitored. Ms. Morgan sometimes faced open hostility. During the Pasco County investigations with colleague Reed, the sheriff’s department sent officers to search his trash cans and handed out bumper stickers with a crude message: a screw next to his name. Ultimately, Pasco Sheriff John Short was removed from office and charged with corruption, but not convicted.

His investigations often left a trail of disgraced officials and calls for reform. In 1982, she studied widespread corruption linked to drug trafficking in Dixie County, on Florida’s Gulf Coast. (The series was a Pulitzer finalist.)

“Before I could finish there, a whole group of deputies, a school board member, a county commission chairman and 250 other souls went to jail because the feds were interested in my stories,” said Ms. Morgan in an oral address in 2000. history of the University of Florida.

A Gulf County sheriff, Al Harrison, was convicted by a federal jury of violating the civil rights of five former prisoners – charges detailed in Ms. Morgan’s articles. In 2010, she broke a story involving efforts to hide funding for a $50 million courthouse in a transportation bill. The disclosure led to new rules regarding courthouse projects.

“I went from observing drug dealers, public corruption and organized crime to government and state politics,” she said in the oral history. “In some ways it seems like a natural transition. Drug traffickers have been more outspoken than state officials.”

Lucile Bedford Keen was born October 11, 1940 in Memphis and raised in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Her parents separated shortly after her birth, and she was raised by her mother, who ran a pharmacy.

At age 17, Ms. Morgan married Al Ware, a high school football coach, and became a homemaker as the family grew to three children in Crystal City, Florida. Then, in 1965, Ms. Morgan was taken aback when an editor from the Ocala Star-Banner asked a question. Would she be interested in becoming a Citrus County correspondent?

“I never wrote anything,” Ms. Morgan told Florida Trend in 2014, recalling her response to the editor. “Why would you come to me?”

It turned out that a librarian told the publisher that Ms. Morgan had looked through more books than anyone else. The editor assumed that if Ms. Morgan liked literature, she could handle a news story. The pay was 20 cents per column inch. Ms. Morgan, who soon divorced, sometimes had to take her children to cover a fire or crime scene late at night.

“It wasn’t like today,” Ms. Morgan said in 2005. “I was at the scene of an arrest and a police officer was yelling, ‘Lucy, get the handcuffs and bring them to me.'”

She joined the St. Petersburg Times in 1967 and, a year later, married Richard Morgan, the paper’s editor. She was the newspaper’s Tallahassee bureau chief from 1985 to 2005.

Survivors include her husband; two children from his first marriage; a pretty girl ; nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. A son from his first marriage, Al Ware, was killed in a car accident in 1979.

As the new industry evolved, Ms. Morgan remained a staunch advocate of giving journalists the time and resources to dig deep.

“You don’t want to pull with rubber bands,” she said. “When the time comes, you want a loaded gun.”


Washington

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