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Carjacking Victim Mistaken For Suspect Dies After California Deputy Violently Remove Him From Car; Veterans Taking Their Unique Skills Learned In Combat To Serve Their Country; The British Monarch Admit, 2019 Was A Bumpy Year. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired December 24, 2019 - 13:30   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: A California Sheriff's Deputy has been placed on leave and could be fired after a body cam video showed him violently removing a driver from his own car. Now that man was taken to the hospital where he later died. And just a word of caution here, this is graphic. This video is difficult to watch.


KEILAR: Now, the police video that was taken the day before Thanksgiving here shows Deputies pulling the driver from the car. One officer appears to slam his skull into the door jamb, put him in a chokehold as the other officer tazes him. The officer saying that he tazed him twice.

CNN's Dan Simon is joining me now. Dan, this man was actually the victim it turned out of a carjacking, and not the carjacker. Explain what happened to -- explain what happened here to us.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Brianna. That's what makes this all the more tragic. Here you have, you know, police chasing what they think is a stolen vehicle. The man driving the car leads them on a high speed chase, goes for several miles and then once it stops, you have the body camera video where you clearly see a Deputy using what appears to be very strong force.

As you said, he takes the driver's head slams it against the car door. He is also tazed and then he puts them in a chokehold, and the driver dies.

Now, as we said, days earlier, he had been the victim of a carjacking. He had reported his car stolen. Somehow, he got it back. We don't know how he got it back. But he did. And obviously Deputies did not know that.

Now, as we said, one of the deputies here, his name was Charlie Blount. He has been on the force for 20 years. He has been given notice of termination. I want to read a statement from his lawyer where he is contesting all of this. It says, "Deputy Blount did not cause David Ward's death. Frankly, Mr. Ward caused his own death by inexplicably taking a number of bizarre actions that confirmed in the Deputies' minds that he was an armed carjacker rather than the victim of that crime ..."

"It is my understanding that the medical evidence will show that Mr. Ward had a serious preexisting condition and had methamphetamine in his system. Most significantly, there were no indications of trauma to his neck."

Now, we should point out that the Coroner's Office has not said whether or not drugs or alcohol were in Mr. Ward's system. We also don't know if he had any kind of preexisting condition. We know that's all being investigated.

One other perplexing thing in all of this, Brianna, is we do not know why the victim here decided not to stop. Why didn't he obey police's commands? That's one of the open questions with respect to this case -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, big question there. Dan Simon, thank you so much. Veterans taking their unique skills learned in combat to serve their country. The nonprofit, Spirit of America will show us how.

And ahead, a family that makes Christmas pudding together stays together, right? How 2019 tested the Royal Family bonds.



KEILAR: Supplying Syrian refugees with much needed footwear for winter, rushing dog food and metal detectors to Kurdish K-9 units in Iraq who work alongside U.S. troops. Those are just some of the projects that a nonprofit called Spirit of America is undertaking.

The organization is powered by veterans on a mission to support military and diplomatic efforts in hotspots around the world.

Josh Brandon, who is the Middle East Project Manager for Spirit of America is joining us now. Josh, thank you so much for coming in.


KEILAR: So tell us a little bit about what kind of projects Spirit of America does? Because this isn't your normal nonprofit.

BRANDON: Yes, so I think -- Spirits of America provides targeted assistance to support the local partners of U.S. soldiers and diplomats. So what that means is we kind of fill the gaps where U.S. government resources can't be applied.


BRANDON: So I'd like to break the work down into two major themes so it's easy to understand. The first is providing rapid and targeted assistance. And this is your equipment, your training, your experts putting that on a problem to support local U.S. partners. Let me give you a good example of that. Recently, U.S. Special

Operations Forces in Kurdistan contacted me, they then identified the problem that the Peshmerga, the Kurdish militia that they're working with was having trouble communicating well in the fight against ISIS.

And so within a matter of like three weeks, we were able to determine what kind of radio they could use, get that radio shipped over to them, and then kind of get them back in action.

KEILAR: And that's the kind of thing that maybe doesn't move as quickly when you're talking about the acquisition process and everything with the Pentagon.

BRANDON: That's exactly where we fall in. A lot of times, U.S. government funds can take a year to get some sort of much needed equipment in there. And because we're completely privately funded, we can get that equipment to our soldiers and diplomats when they need it.

KEILAR: So you are former Army Infantry Officer.


KEILAR: You spent 10 years in the Army. Multiple tours in Iraq. You have a Silver Star. Is that right or two?

BRANDON: Silver Star.

KEILAR: You have a Silver Star and two Bronze Stars.

BRANDON: Yes. Silver Star.

KEILAR: And there are many people basically similar to your shoes, they are former military and they're taking their skills to Spirit of America. Why did you decide that this was something you wanted to do?

BRANDON: Yes, so a little bit of background after I got out of the military, I worked in the outdoor industry around veteran mental health issues, kind of spent a lot of time mountaineering, like living a really good hippie lifestyle.

About four or five years into it, I started to look around and see like problems in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Central Asia, and I felt that I kind of had a skill set that might be able to help these problems in some form.

And so I got back to grad school and find out about Spirit of America through a friend of mine and what drew me to Spirit of America is it wasn't necessarily going back into service or going into government. I look at them as the future because there -- it is civil society contributing to U.S. foreign policy.

And for me, that's moving forward. It's not, you know, joining the government or something like that.

KEILAR: There are dozens of projects that Spirit of America does. I think most people have no idea that this is something that's going on, but they're all over the world. Some of them are specifically tailored to counter Russian influence in other countries.

But there's also -- there's been a lot of focus on the Middle East and U.S. partners there, including the dogs, right, of some U.S. allies. Tell us about that.

BRANDON: The K-9 project is absolutely one of my favorites. So the background on that is a good friend of mine, an Army officer, gave me a call with a problem and he said there's this fantastic K-9 Unit with full of explosives and mine detection dogs. They're well-trained, but they're not able to operate right now. They need body armor. They need mine detectors, some dog food and dog medicine.

KEILAR: Dog food. They needed dog food.

BRANDON: Yes, yes.


BRANDON: And you know, you have to kind of to keep the dogs happy. So within a matter of about a month, we were able to work with the U.S. forces on the ground, the Peshmerga to figure out exactly the equipment they need, then I was able to fly over with the metal detectors, the armor as well and set up the food and the medicine, to get them operational.

KEILAR: So there is very important expertise that you and others bring to Spirit of America to carry out these projects. But there's also as I understand it, a bit of a legal hurdle to doing this kind of work because you're doing it very much in tandem with the U.S. military. That's not normal nonprofit stuff. How does Spirit of America navigate that?

BRANDON: So in 2018, we signed an MOU -- Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Defense that specifically outlines how we can work with the DoD.

Additionally, that year, the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, we were named as a partner to support the Department of Operations -- Department of Defense Operations abroad and for me personally, and it's an excellent document because it gives those diplomats and soldiers on the ground in the midst of the problem, the legal cover that they can come in, and we can work with them and hear their problems and find solutions to support them. So --

KEILAR: And finally, this is the Holiday season. And, you know, as someone who I'm sure spent time and important days away from your family, and we sort of think about people who are overseas and they're away from their families, what do you want to remind people?

BRANDON: So I think, I'd like to remind them that, you know, for me, Spirit of America is emblematic of citizen service. And so while many citizens serve in many different ways, we can't all really impact U.S. foreign policy, or more importantly, you know, the troops or the diplomats that are out there enacting it. And I'd like them to consider you know, Spirit of America is a tool

for them to kind of demonstrate their civilian service -- citizens service and use us as a tool to actually support and influence that.


KEILAR: Josh, it's such a pleasure having you here. Thank you so much.

BRANDON: Yes, thanks for your time. I appreciate it.

KEILAR: Happy Holidays.

BRANDON: Happy Holidays.

KEILAR: From Brexit to bombshells -- through it all, the Queen remained on the straight and narrow, although the British Monarch did admit, 2019 was a bumpy year.


KEILAR: It was a rough year for Britain's Royal Family following the intense political debate over Brexit, the Queen also had to contend with Prince Philip's failing health, a strained relationship between her two grandsons and the fierce controversy surrounding Prince Andrew and his association with convicted pedophile, Jeffrey Epstein.


KEILAR: In her Christmas Day message to be released tomorrow morning, she acknowledges this, quote, "How small steps taken in faith and in hope can overcome long held differences and deep-seated divisions to bring harmony and understanding. The path of course is not always smooth and may at times this year have felt quite bumpy, but small steps can make a world of difference."

Sally Bedell Smith is the author of "Elizabeth, The Queen," and she joins us now to discuss this. Some of the Royal watchers out there will actually compare this to the year we were just talking about in the break, 1992. This was three Royal marriages that fell apart, including Charles and Diana; a fire almost destroyed Windsor Castle, the Duchess of York was involved in a sex scandal. Was this really as bad as that?



SMITH: I think that was a really sort of almost existential threat to the Royal Family particularly because what led to Charles and Diana's separation at the end of the year was the Andrew Morton book, which basically portrayed Britain Prince Charles as unfit to be King. So it was a threat to the Monarchy. It was a threat to his future as a King. And it resulted at the end of the year in their separation.

KEILAR: How important was it -- is it for the Queen to acknowledge, hey, this year was tough. This was a bumpy year.

SMITH: Yes, I think it is. And in 1992, you know, she gave a speech actually not her Christmas speech, she gave a speech to mark her 40 years on the throne. That year was supposed to be a celebratory year and it turned out to be a disaster. And that's when she called it her annus horribilis.

And then she made a little reference to it in her Christmas broadcast that year. The Christmas broadcast is always a personal statement by her and she writes it and you know, it has a lot of meaning. It always has a lot of religion in it. Her invocation of Jesus and learning from the example of his life, reconciliation and using faith and hope to move forward is something she has done previously.

I think it's reasonable to say that she is referring to England's or Britain's difficulties this year with Brexit and a very contentious and often ugly, General Election, and at the same time, probably a reference to the problems in her own family.

KEILAR: As you look, this is the end of the decade for all of us, for the Royal Family as well. As you look into the next year and the next even few years for the Royal Family, what are you looking to see will happen?

SMITH: Well, I think maybe 2020 will bring some reconciliation. There was a division -- there was a rift between William and Harry and Harry and Meghan had been off on six weeks, they've hopefully taken some time to reflect on their role and how they can be most helpful.

And so I am looking at, you know, at them as reconciling. I think we've seen in the last week that Prince Philip has been hospitalized for a preexisting condition, which is probably an infection he has had before and could be treated very well in the hospital.

And there was no sense of panic on the part of the Royal Family when he was in the hospital. So, you know -- but he is 98 and a half, and we just don't know.

I mean, a month ago, a friend of mine said he was out driving his carriages around the Sandringham Estate and going to lunch at friend's houses. But things can happen fast. So that could be, you know, something to be concerned about in 2020, his health and whether he will maintain his sort of extraordinary robust constitution. You know, for someone of his age, whether he will get ill.

The other thing that nobody is really mentioning, is the Queen is going to have -- she is going to mark 68 years on the throne in February, two years from now. If she is still in the same kind of good shape that she is now. We could be seeing a Platinum Jubilee.


SMITH: That is 70 years on the throne, which has never happened.

KEILAR: Unbelievable. Thank you so much, Sally. Really have your perspective here on the Royal Family. SMITH: You're welcome.

KEILAR: Sally Bedell Smith, we appreciate it.

SMITH: Thanks.

KEILAR: On New Year's Day, a new CNN film has the inside story of the life and career of the first female pop icon, Linda Ronstadt. Here's a sneak peek.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She came to Los Angeles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Linda Ronstadt.

LINDA RONSTADT, AMERICAN SINGER (voice over): I was 18 years old and we formed a little band and called ourselves, the Stone Poneys.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The LA scene was in gear and the whole damn thing broke loose.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was a lot of music, folk music commingling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How can we define what this is going to be?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Linda was the queen. She was like what Beyonce is now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was the only female artist to have five Platinum albums in a row.

RONSTADT (voice over): "I can't help it if I'm still in love with you" was a hit on the country charts. You're no good without a hit on both the R&B chart and the pop chart. I became the first artist to have a hit on all three charts.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was the first female rock and roll star.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of my Voice." New Year's Day on CNN.