Skeptic by Nature: Jeff Proctor, Criminal Justice Reporter

Investigative reporter Jeff Proctor has written about some of the most notorious criminal justice cases in New Mexico.

“Writing has always been the way that I access the world,” Proctor said.

Proctor says he has been writing ever since he could remember — about anything that intrigues him.

Before deciding to go back to school in his mid 20’s, Proctor was making a living by writing as a memoirist and as a poet, but said the money wasn’t enough to support a career.

Proctor says that he has been an avid news consumer his whole life, so it was a natural choice to study journalism. He began his career at the Daily Lobo in 2002, where Proctor began to learn about investigative journalism. He credits his college editor and mentor, the late Hank Trewhitt, who taught the journalism students to be skeptical and fair.

“He was a brutal editor. He’d spread that week’s paper out on the conference table in his office and it would look like he slaughtered a pig on the newspapers. They were so covered in red ink,” Proctor said.

After leaving the Daily Lobo, Proctor became a crime reporter with the Albuquerque Journal, where he wrote about one of worst unsolved serial killings in the nation. The “West Mesa Murders” became a high-profile murder case in 2009, and Jeff Proctor was the main reporter on the scene.

“I visited people on the worst day of their lives, when I was covering crime,” Proctor said.

There were many times when Proctor would talk to the families of victims when covering homicide cases to try and get the most accurate information possible.

Proctor has lived in Albuquerque for 15 years. Though there have been plenty of opportunities to move away, he says that journalism is the way that he is able to give something back to the place he lives.

Albuquerque Journal reporter, Dan McKay met Proctor five years ago* when an attorney for the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department publicly accused Proctor of inaccuracies in a story he had written. McKay was asked by the Albuquerque Journal editors to take a second look at Proctor’s notes and recordings and he determined that Proctor got every word right.

(*Correction: Jeff Proctor and Dan McKay met in 2002, prior to this event.)

“Jeff didn’t need any excuses. He got it all right, and his story withstood scrutiny. Jeff is incredibly focused. When he starts digging on a story, he will keep going, long after other reporters lose interest,” McKay said.

Proctor covered mostly crime early in his career but is now covering stories related to the broader criminal justice system. Proctor is employed as an investigative reporter by the online news outlet New Mexico In Depth (NMID) where his work is organized under “The Justice Project.” Proctor and New Mexico In Depth won top honors in the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) regional journalism contest this year.

Proctor says there is a lot of work to be done to reform the criminal justice system.

“I think there are parts of the system that are fundamentally broken,” Proctor said.

New Mexico has the second highest rate in the country for fatal police shootings and there are problems with prison health care, solitary confinement, and underfunded courts.

Proctor says he is not qualified to do anything else in the world but there is nothing else he would want to do.

“I’m not a particularly religious person,” Proctor said. “Journalism and the 1st Amendment is as close as I have to religious beliefs.”

Proctor says most of his friends are journalists and is involved with the local chapter of the SPJ.

“He’s not afraid to request a lot of records and go through them line by line. It helps him produce powerful journalism that sheds new light on what public officials are up to,” McKay said.

Proctor says he does not like being told what to do and has an anti-authoritarian streak in him.

“I’m a skeptic by nature,” Proctor said. “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

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