Return to Transcripts main page


Eric Holder Speaks About Visit to Ferguson; Interview with Ferguson Resident Shane Flowers

Aired August 21, 2014 - 09:30   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Who knows what goes on in the minds of ISIS terrorists? I don't know. Michelle -- but I get your point. Michelle Kosinski, thank you. Barbara Starr, thanks to you, too.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM --



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, how you doing, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are the man.


COSTELLO: One top cop to the top lawyer. Attorney General Eric Holder meets the man in charge of keeping peace in Ferguson, Missouri.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

COSTELLO: All right. Just moments ago the U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, who's back from Ferguson, Missouri, and back in Washington, D.C., made a statement on Ferguson and what's happening there. Let's listen.

ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The investigation that I launched more than a week ago. During the course of my visit, I met with law enforcement, as well as community leaders. We had, I think, constructive discussions about the importance of maintaining peace, averting future acts of violence or vandalism, and ensuring public safety, as well as the need for outreach and engagement to rebuild a fractured trust between the community and the law enforcement community that it serves. Going forward, I will continue to get regular updates and to closely monitor the situation as it unfolds.

Now although our investigation will take time, and although I cannot discuss the specifics of this case in greater detail since it remains open and very active, the people of Ferguson can have confidence in the federal agents, investigators and prosecutors who are leading this process. Our investigation will be fair, it will be thorough, and it will be independent. On a personal note, I've seen a lot in my time as attorney general but

few things have affected me as greatly as my visit to Ferguson. I had the chance to meet with the family of Michael Brown. I spoke to them not just as attorney general, but as a father of a teenage son myself. They, like so many in Ferguson, want answers. In my conversations with dozens of people in Ferguson yesterday, it was clear that this shooting incident has brought to the surface underlying tensions that have existed for many years. There is a history to these tensions and that history simmers in more communities than just Ferguson.

Law enforcement has a role to play in reducing tensions as well. As the brother of a retired law enforcement officer, I know firsthand that our men and women in uniform perform their duties in the face of tremendous threats and significant personal risk. They put their lives on the line every day and they often have to make split-second decisions. The national outcry we have seen speaks to a sense of mistrust and mutual suspicion that can take hold in the relationship between law enforcement and certain communities.

I wanted the people of Ferguson to know that I personally understood that mistrust. I wanted them to know that while so much else may be uncertain, this attorney general and this Department of Justice stands with the people of Ferguson. I hope the relative calm that we witnessed overnight last night can be enduring. To a person yesterday, the people I met with, take great pride in their town and despite the mistrust that exists, they reject the violence that we have seen over the past couple of weeks.

In that sense, while I went to Ferguson to provide' assurance, in fact, they gave me hope. My commitment to them is that long after this tragic story no longer receives this level of attention, the Justice Department will continue to stand with Ferguson. We will continue the conversation this incident has sparked about the need for trust building between law enforcement officers and the communities that they serve, about the appropriate use of force, and the need to ensure fair and equal treatment for everyone who comes into contact with the police.

All right, thank you.

COSTELLO: All right, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder talking about what he experienced in Ferguson just yesterday. Let's head there right now and check in with Chris Cuomo.

Did Mr. Holder's presence help?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": I think you have to say, yes, Carol, and here's why. He is a leader. He is someone who is able to express to this community that they are being respected, that change needs to happen, that their grievances are real, that he identifies with them as a person of color and his own personal experience. You're dealing with a community who hasn't heard that from people in leadership as far as they're concerned, who do feel disenfranchised. These are not unique issues to Ferguson it goes without saying.

However, here's the balance for Eric Holder. Can the attorney general deliver on these sympathies with what people here want to see as justice? Very difficult for him as attorney general, more possible for him as a monitoring agent of local prosecutors. And the local government system here is going to be what decides this. And in terms of keeping the peace here right now, that job has fallen to a local state police captain here who we've all become familiar with. He is in charge of making sure that the peace is kept. Don Lemon got to do a drive-along with the captain and here is some sound from that.

COSTELLO: Chris, I'm sorry to interrupt, Eric Holder is now taking questions about Ferguson at the U.S. Justice Department, so let's listen in before we get to that Don Lemon piece. Here he is.

HOLDER: I think that seemed to satisfy a great number of people. It will take time for us to develop all the facts, develop all of the evidence and see where the case will ultimately go. And as I've shared that, I think people were concerned that there was not going to be the kind of investigation that I have promised and that, in fact, will occur. We have been working, I think very diligently, out there. I've got a briefing from the FBI agents and the prosecutors who are involved in this case and I think significant progress has been made. But it will take - it will take some time, but I think patience is in abundance in Ferguson. It doesn't mean that this thing should drag on. We will try to do this as expeditiously as we can. On the other hand, at the end of the day, it's most important that we get it right and that means that thoroughness, completeness is what we will emphasize.

QUESTION: Each of these settlements comes with an assurance that they do not preclude --

COSTELLO: All right, we're going to - we're going to step away.

So, Chris Cuomo, back to you. You heard what Eric Holder said. He said this thing won't drag on but it is likely to drag on, at least until October, right?

CUOMO: His investigation of Trayvon Martin, you know, hasn't come to any resolution yet and that's because it's a very high bar for a civil rights case. I think the more immediate judgment for the attorney general's usefulness is, how does he do in monitoring the ongoing investigation on the local level? The balance is this, Carol, he appealed to the people here who feel disenfranchised and there's a vacuum of leadership, period. He helped in that way.

But this situation can't be judged on the basis of race. It has to be facts and circumstances. It has to be thoroughly investigated and it has to be put through the system the right way. Can he ensure that? If that's not done right, the peace cannot be maintained in this community and many others across the country. So that's the real test.

COSTELLO: All right, we also have our justice correspondent, Evan Perez, on the phone.

Evan, do you think that Eric Holder will return to Ferguson at some point?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Carol, I don't think that will probably happen any time soon. I think one of the things that he was trying to do was, as Chris pointed out, was to send the message to the people, especially to the young people here in this area that, you know, look, I've been through what you're going through with the police, and I was able to -- obviously he's risen to the highest ranks in the government here. And, you know, so not only is he asking for patience, but he's also telling them that, you know, essentially that, you know, they can try to overcome this.

I would tell you that, you know, as you know, Carol, I mean the story of Eric Holder is one where, you know, he was down and he went through a lot of controversies. And yesterday was probably the high point of his time as attorney general because not only did he come there to try to reassure the police that, you know, that we've got your back on --

COSTELLO: All right, Evan. Evan, we're going to break away to go back to this press conference. He keeps taking questions about Ferguson. He was asked, what did you learn. Here's how he answered.

HOLDER: Desire to be seen as equals. A real desire to have healing. There is a real fracture out there now. I think people are really trying to work their way through. And as I indicated to them, I think this is -- out of this tragedy comes a great opportunity for reforming that community. But I think that's something that we can do nationwide. This has engendered a conversation that I think we ought to have. But we can't stop at that conversation. It's time to take concrete steps to make real the promise that I think now exists. And the Justice Department is hopefully going to be a leader in that effort, but citizens and state and local officials have to be a part of that effort as well.

QUESTION: Do you have any concerns that the local prosecutors will be impartial and their ability to do so is of concern to the Justice Department?

HOLDER: Well, as I said, our investigation is independent. It's going to be thorough. It's going to be fair. We have worked with the county prosecutor in developing evidence and sharing, done some interviews together, but I'm really confident that at the end of the day the investigation that we are going to be doing will be thorough and will be fair.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) any concerns personally when you were there that immediately struck you that you would have some concerns about?

HOLDER: Not as yet, no.

QUESTION: Mr. Attorney General, Mike (INAUDIBLE) with CNN.

I'd like to ask you about the murder of journalist James Foley and I was interested in what role the Justice Department plays in the investigation of that, if you are trying to identify the specific individual, if there are any suspects, if you are looking at the leadership that might be involved in this. And also I was interested in what justice -- what role the Justice Department may have played, if any, in the negotiations for Mr. Foley's release and the rescue efforts. HOLDER: Well, first, let me just say that we are as appalled - I am as

appalled by the brutal murder of Jim Foley as I think all the rest of us are. It was heartbreaking to see his parents yesterday, who showed a composure that, from my perspective, was almost incomprehensible, and my hearts go out to them.

The Justice Department is actively pursuing justice in this case. We have an open criminal investigation. And those who would perpetrate such acts need to understand something. This Justice Department, this Department of Defense, this nation, we have long memories and our reach is very wide. We will not forget what happened and people will be held accountable, one way or the other.

I'd also want to take note of the fact that, you know, that Jim was a journalist and he made tough choices to do the kinds of things that make our society great, information, information gathering, sharing with us, giving us a view of the world in very dangerous circumstances. And I think that in part that's what led to his death. He was a journalist, and he was a symbol of what's right about the United States. But as I said, the matter is an open investigation and one that we will be pursuing very vigorously.

QUESTION: Was the Department of Justice familiar - was the Justice Department familiar with the efforts to free him through negotiations?

HOLDER: I don't want to really comment on a -- what I would consider a national security matter.

QUESTION: Did you watch the video and what was your reaction if you did?

HOLDER: I don't want to comment on that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, thank you.




COSTELLO: All right, Eric Holder is wrapping up this news conference right now.

Let's talk a little bit more about Ferguson and head out to Ferguson and check in with Chris Cuomo.

You heard Eric Holder say that he stands with the people of Ferguson. Some might say, what about the police officer, because we have yet to hear his side of the story. What about him?

CUOMO: I think that's an excellent point, Carol. I think that, in these situations, you tend to play to the victim, because you want to make sure that this taking of life wasn't somehow -- in some way justifiable, right, because the last thing you want is a wrongful taking of life by a police officer or anybody else. But for Eric Holder, the bar is fairly simple but very difficult to achieve, and that is the fair administration of justice under the law. Will he pay attention to this prosecution with his office? Will he make sure it's done the right way?

Because his own case will probably not come to anything, and I'm not saying that to be critical. It's just realistic. The bar for a civil rights case is high. We see it with Trayvon Martin. He was supposed to be looking and investigating there. There's no real word about a case. That's not unusual. But can he stay on top of the process? That's what inspires confidence, and then you need the leadership vacuum to be filled and create the change within police culture that allows the community to interact better with the people who are supposed to be protecting them.

COSTELLO: Although, Evan Perez -- are you still with me, Evan?

PEREZ: I am, Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. Eric Holder is also careful to say he has family who are police, so perhaps he's throwing that out for a reason.

PEREZ: Right, exactly. I think that's one of the things that he was very trying -- obviously trying to walk a fine line with his visit here. He didn't want to seem that he's dumping on the cops and certainly not on this police officer, whose case is under investigation.

So it's a fine line but I mean, I think one of the things he wanted to make sure was to tell the police that he's got their back, he's going to try to improve the police situation here, offering support with training and so on. And at the same time, we fully expect that there was going to be more to come here. We expect that they're going to take a look at the policing tactics of the Ferguson Police Department, and whether there's a bigger problem here, which is what you are hearing from the community, as Chris has pointed out in some of his interviews.

You know, there's a lot of complaints from people here that, you know, that the police don't have a good relationship with the public, and so maybe I think you'll see in the next few weeks, you'll hear that the Justice Department is taking a deeper look at that, Carol.

COSTELLO: All right, Evan Perez, Chris Cuomo, both reporting for us this morning. Thanks so both of you. I'll be right back.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These young men are brave. They are the next freedom fighters and it's just, to me, it's refreshing to see young people get involved with this type of movement because this can spark a whole nation to look and say, hey, listen, it really is inequality in America.


COSTELLO: And young people are getting involved and they're asking a simple but alarming question: Am I next? This question came from a Ferguson teenager who knew Michael Brown. followed Shane Flowers on a recent night as he walked around his hometown trying to make sense of Brown's killing.


SHANE FLOWERS, FERGUSON RESIDENT: You can shoot somebody in the leg, stop them from running, but you ain't got to shoot them down. Like why you got to shoot him in the head. He ain't even had no gun on him. That's crazy.

I feel they should keep protesting until it's over with. If they don't get justice, then it's what's going to happen, man. We're going to be out here every day until something happens.

Let's keep walking. I saw Trayvon Martin, I saw George Zimmerman get away with it. Now it's another case. Now, if this police get away with it, now I'm telling you all, man, this ain't Florida, this is St. Louis, Missouri.


COSTELLO: Shane Flowers joins us now from Ferguson. Welcome, Shane. Thank you for being with me.

FLOWERS: You're welcome.

COSTELLO: Thanks for being here. I appreciate it. Shane, I was just curious, before Michael Brown was shot, how did you feel about police?

FLOWERS: I mean, it's -- I felt like do I really -- do I trust the police anymore? And are they -- are they here to protect us?

COSTELLO: Do you think -- I mean, what do you think the solution is? I know people have been protesting, including yourself. You've been peacefully protesting. But what do you hope will come out of this?

FLOWERS: I hope that Mike Brown's family gets justice.

COSTELLO: Do you think there is any possibility of the community mending fences with police?

FLOWERS: Can you say that again?

COSTELLO: Do you think there's any possibility of building a better relationship with police officers?

FLOWERS: I mean, some. It depends. Some police officers are good. Some are dirty cops. So like -- but I don't know.

COSTELLO: When you say some are good cops, why do you think they're good? FLOWERS: Because some cops are here to protect us and it's some cops

that are racists and they -- it's a lot of trigger happy cops.

COSTELLO: Do you plan to protest the rest of the week? Are you done with it?

FLOWERS: No, I'm not done protesting. I'll be out here sometimes, like one day I might not be, one day I might come out.

COSTELLO: All right. Shane Flowers, thank you so much for being with me. I appreciate it.

The next hour of CNN NEWSROOM after a break.


COSTELLO: Good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me. We begin in Missouri where, for the first time since unarmed teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed, protests remained relatively peaceful in the streets of Ferguson.

Just minutes ago, the Attorney General Eric Holder spoke about yesterday's visit to the community and he promised a fair investigation.


ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The national outcry we've seen speaks to a sense of mistrust and mutual suspicion that can take hold in the relationship between law enforcement and certain communities. I wanted the people of Ferguson to know that I, personally, understood that mistrust. I wanted them to know that, while so much else may be uncertain, this Attorney General and this Department of Justice stands with the people of Ferguson.


COSTELLO: All right, as I said, things were relatively calm in Ferguson last night, but police did make six arrests, but that's compared to 47 the night before, a sign that even though tensions remain high, calm is returning to the community at least for now.

Also this morning, we're hearing from a brand new witness. He is debunking the theory that Brown bum-rushed the officer who shot him.