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Keith Ellison is Interviewed about Charges in the Floyd Death; Keisha Lance Bottoms is Interviewed about Atlanta Officers Using Excessive Force; Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired June 1, 2020 - 08:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It's not exactly clear why.

Joining me now is Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. He was just appointed by the Governor there as lead prosecutor in this case.

Mr. Attorney General, thank you for being with us. Can you tell us why this hearing for the officer was postponed?

KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA ATTORNEY GENERAL: You know, at this point, I only got on the case just last night. I'm not prepared to speculate on why that happened. It's not unusual, but I don't have a definitive answer for you at this moment.

BERMAN: Why was it necessary, do you think, to put you, the attorney general of the state, in charge now as a special prosecutor in this case?

ELLISON: Because I think that we need the resources of the entire state. I will be working with Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, who led the only successful prosecution for murder of a police officer. His office has valuable experience in these matters and we're looking forward to working closely with them.

But we need the resources of the entire state to make sure that we have a fair, just accountability in this matter.

BERMAN: One of the big questions that I know people around the country, including George Floyd's family have is, why haven't charges been filed against the three other officers?

Last night, in a dramatic moment on CNN, the Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said that he felt that they were complicit in the death of George Floyd.



MEDARIA ARRADONDO, CHIEF OF THE MINNEAPOLIS POLICE DEPARTMENT: Being silent or not intervening to me, you're complicit. So I don't see a level of distinction any different.

Silence and inaction, you're complicit. You're complicit.


BERMAN: Do you share his views? Were the other three officers complicit?

ELLISON: What I can tell you is that I'm in charge of the prosecution and am helping work on the investigation. I cannot really say things that could be used later to try to argue that this was not a fair prosecution.

I will say that I absolutely have -- credit the observations of the chief. He has the experience, the knowledge, the knowhow and the integrity to make that comment. He discharged those officers, which I think was incredibly brave and actually quite appropriate. And some people who saw the tape might say, what's so brave about that? I say, well, it's one of the first times that we actually saw a real accountability for behavior that was so unbecoming of a police officer and it really shows that if you see something, you've got to do something. You can't look idly by and just let those things happen.

But as for me, now that I'm in this role of prosecuting the case, I need to make sure that I'm not commenting on the evidence. I know it's very unsatisfactory for people who have seen the tape and are so outrage. I sympathize with that. But I'm just asking for them to trust me to make sure that I see this prosecution all the way through the right way.

BERMAN: All right, without commenting on this specific case then, as a legal matter, if someone is complicit in a murder, what legal -- what would be the legal ramifications that they would face?

ELLISON: Well, without regard to this particular case, they could sit -- they could face aiding and abetting liability. Their duties with people in special positions to have to render aid. If it's your job to render aid, you -- you must render that aid under certain statutes. There are a number of statutes that assign culpability among people who may have had varying levels of activity, but who were all in it together.

So this is not an unusual thing in American law. It is common when people commit crimes together, in joint group, or when one person commits a crime and the one kind of lets it happen and actually ensures or encourages it happen, you can be held culpable and liable for that. But on this point you're asking me about a point of law, which I'm explaining.

BERMAN: Right.

ELLISON: And I want to be clear that I'm not commenting on the case.

BERMAN: I understand that.

How long do people need to be patient? It has been a week since the death of George Floyd. There have been charges filed against the officer whose knee was on his neck. So how long?

ELLISON: Right. Well, you know, Martin Luther King asked, you know, how long? Not long, right? The fact is, let me be clear, we are moving as expeditiously, as quickly and as effectively as we can, but I need to protect this prosecution. I am not going to create a situation where somebody can say this was a rush to judgment because we're going to say, no, we didn't rush, we were methodical, we were careful and we made sure that we did everything that we needed to do to ensure that this prosecution is successful and that it sticks.


And let me just remind your viewers, look, we all saw what happened to Freddie Gray in Baltimore, and there were no convictions in that case. We all saw what happened to Walter Scott. There was a federal conviction later, but the one that went to the jury in South Carolina county court, there was no conviction.

BERMAN: Understood.

ELLISON: Rodney King, let me remind people, in the Rodney King case, the Simi Valley jury acquitted. So we've got to be careful, methodical, and we've got to make sure that we're playing the long game and that the -- and that justice prevails, not just in the short term, but in -- but permanently.

BERMAN: The president is blaming ANTIFA for the violence we've seen around the country and, in some case, in Minnesota. Have you seen any evidence that any of the demonstrations - the ones that have turned violent are inspired by ANTIFA?

ELLISON: I have not seen any evidence like that. I don't regard that as a helpful comment. I think we need to investigate these suspicious characters who have been seen breaking property causing - and committing acts of arson.

I have seen evidence of people doing that, but I don't have evidence as to where they're from or what their ideology may be.

BERMAN: It is notable, or it is of note, I should say, your son, who is a Minneapolis City Councilor said, I just want people to see this so people don't think we're glossing over this, said, I hereby declare officially my support for ANTIFA, he says, though, unless someone can prove to me ANTIFA is behind the burning of black and immigrant-owned businesses in my ward. I'll keep focusing on stopping the white power terrorist that are actually attacking us, he said.

So you think this whole issue of ANTIFA is a distraction.

ELLISON: Yes. I -- I think that is much more -- I think that is -- I think that that was a comment about the absurdity of the president's comment more than anything else. We don't see what the president's talking about. I don't think the president sees what he's talking about. It's just him trying to - may I just point out that there's not been one single pattern of practice lawsuit against any municipality in America since the president became the president.

In fact, he called them back. He tried to roll them back in various jurisdictions, including Illinois. Lisa Madigan had to pick that up and pursue it, who is the attorney general there. So, look, I'm not -- I'm not trying to get into anything. I'm not going to be distracted or deterred from justice for George Floyd.

I will say, there are more productive and helpful things for the executive, for the -- for the administration to be doing than putting out those kind of distracting tweets.

BERMAN: And just in terms of insider versus outsiders, the people on the streets are from Minnesota or Minneapolis and St. Paul or not. Have you determined that at this point?

ELLISON: You know what, there -- there's very -- I mean we know that there have been acts of arson, vandalism, and other criminal acts that have been happening while the noble, just, proper First Amendment protected protest have happened. And my fear is that the -- the demonstrators who are trying to raise a just cause have seen -- and these people are trying to tarnish what they're doing.

Where these people are from, I actually don't know. I'm trying to operate on the basis of evidence. It is something that needs to be investigated. It needs to be investigated urgently so that we can stop this criminal behavior.

But the protestors are people who are well-intentioned and overwhelmingly peaceful. And so I -- that -- that is the comment that I would make about that. We need to investigate it, get to the bottom of it.

There has been a lot of video. I urge people who are peacefully demonstrating to videotape with your phone these people committing criminal acts. They're trying to tarnish the reputation of your righteous protest. Protect your protest. Don't let them do it.

BERMAN: Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, we appreciate you being with us this morning. We wish you the best of lucky. You have a big job to do and you know that everyone is watching at this point, so we appreciate it.

ELLISON: Thank you.

BERMAN: Two police officers in Atlanta have been fired for allegedly using excessive force on protesters. You'll see that video and we're going to speak with the mayor of Atlanta, next.



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: CNN has obtained body cam video of an incident that led to two Atlanta police officers being fired for using excessive force against two college students during weekend protests. It shows the couple being tased. We want to warn you, this video is disturbing to watch.




CAMEROTA: The officers say they thought this couple was armed.

Joining us now is the mayor of Atlanta, Georgia, Keisha Lance Bottoms.

Mayor Bottoms, thank you very much for being here.

What did you see when you watched that video that led to such swift action being taken?

MAYOR KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS (D-ATLANTA, GA): What I saw was a use of excessive force. And I'm a lawyer and I was also a judge. So I looked at it from that eye as well. I spent several hours yesterday watching several videos, because there were several officers involved and several body cam videos.

But the reality is this, we are all at a tipping point in this country. And Atlanta is no exception. And so there was a lot going on this weekend in Atlanta. We had very peaceful protests, but there were a lot of disruptions.

And even in the midst of watching the video - the body cam video, you can hear in the background gunfire, and you can hear the fireworks. And it was a very volatile evening and, unfortunately, it resulted in what you see on this video.


But, thankfully, these college students didn't suffer a worse fate.

CAMEROTA: I mean since it was a very volatile weekend, do you think that the officers were at all justified in thinking that this couple could be armed?

BOTTOMS: Well, it's very clear in watching the body cam videos, at least one officer, you do hear one officer yell gun, gun, gun. And so -- but there was so much more that led up to it. This was after the fact, that after the couple had been tased. And it escalated very quickly.

And the reality is this, our officers have strong -- have shown by and large great restraint over the past few days. We saw what happened in Atlanta on Friday, knives were being thrown at them. They've been working unending shifts. And so everyone is fatigued, everyone is on edge. And this is the reason that we called for a curfew in Atlanta because my fear was that things like this would begin to erupt in the midst of all of the other things that we have seen happening on our streets.

CAMEROTA: For sure. I mean and I think that this video is actually a smaller symbol of the bigger powder keg possibilities. The woman in that video who was tased, the student, she's a junior at Spellman College, and she said that it was, quote, the worst experience of her life and all she was thinking was how not to die.

And so, just, how do we get out of this loop right now of black folks being traumatized by their interactions with police, and police being, I guess, fearful and thinking that black folks have weapons on them? And it just seems like we're watching this same cycle play out.

BOTTOMS: Well, and this is the reason that we have called in Atlanta and across this country for people to just take a step back. The protests are understandable, the anger and the frustration is understandable. We all watched a man be murdered in broad daylight. And -- and it's not just about his murder, it's about so many others.

My fear is that the message and the need for change will get lost in the destruction. And it is difficult when you have officers on the street who are human and they are fatigued and they are stressed. It's difficult sometimes for them to separate what -- what's -- what's -- what should be peaceful behavior and what should not be peaceful behavior.

When you listen to the body cam and watch those videos, it's like you're in the middle of a war zone when you hear all that's happening in the background, and that's the reason we've asked people to, please, peacefully protest, and then please go home at 9:00 o'clock so that we can restore some order.

CAMEROTA: As you know, President Trump, over the weekend, tweeted that if mayors, well -- like in cities like yours, can't restore order, that he is going to send in the military, was basically his message. And you, after hearing that, basically said, sometimes he should just stop talking.

What do you mean?

BOTTOMS: He's not helping. Leaders lead, and he is not leading. He is causing further disruption to our cities. Just give us the support that we ask for. If we don't ask for it, we don't need your input and -- and your advice and your rhetoric, because it's not helping us manage this crisis in our cities that we're experiencing across America.

CAMEROTA: What about the debate that we are told is going on in the White House as to whether or not the president should, at this moment, make some sort of national statement and call for unity. Would you like to see that?

BOTTOMS: Not if his statement will be similar to the one that he gave during the Charlottesville uprising. No, that -- that would not be helpful.

Unless he is going to speak unity and respect and reconciliation and reform for our communities, then I -- I don't think that he should make a statement at all. It will only make matters worse.

CAMEROTA: Do you think President Trump is capable of making a statement calling for unity?

BOTTOMS: I think that he is capable of reading one.

CAMEROTA: So, in other words, if there is something on a teleprompter written for him, you would like to hear from the president or even that isn't going to work?

BOTTOMS: Listen, if there is something that he has to say that can help heal this country, then he's the president of the United States and he certainly has the right to speak it.

But if he is going to do what he is prone to do, and to speak further hatred and division over our cities, then in the midst of this already untenable situation that we're facing across this country, it would be better if he not said anything at all.


CAMEROTA: What has this been like for you to have to deal with over the weekend in Atlanta? This is your city. You know, obviously we have -- we feel a personal investment at CNN and the CNN Headquarters became the site of this riot and vandalism. And so what has this weekend been like for you?

BOTTOMS: As just like -- like so many across this country, it's -- it's almost like -- it's like watching a nightmare. And I often speak of the context of things in which I see things as a mother, but my mother called -- my mother called me on yesterday, and I have heard my mother cry maybe a handful of times outside of the death of a loved one. My mother sobbed yesterday when I spoke to her about what she's witnessing. And this is a woman who lived through the civil rights movement in America. And I think her emotions really speak to what's being felt, not just from our young people in this country, but people of all ages.

And there has to be a true plan for reconciliation and reform in this country. There was one that was -- was left on the president's desk by the Obama-Biden administration. And I guess it got filed away in the same way that the pandemic handbook was thrown away.

But if this is -- is not a lesson for all of us and a message to all of us that we are at -- beyond the tipping point in this country, I don't know what else -- I don't know what else can be said and done.

CAMEROTA: What was your mom saying to you specifically, and what conversations are you or she having with your own children?

BOTTOMS: What my mother said to me last week was that this felt like something before 1965 to her. She said this doesn't feel like 1965. She said this feels like America before 1965. And when she called me yesterday, she talked about the feelings and the emotions she felt watching George Floyd being murdered.

And what she thought of -- had that been my brother on the ground, calling out her name, and how frustrated and helpless she feels for all of us and the fear that she has for her grandchildren. And the conversation that I'm having with my children, it ranges from fear, to sadness, to just sometimes downright anger.

My son also sent me the clip of college students, and he said to me, this I why people are tearing up the streets of America. This is it right here.

So, it's happening to all of us. We're all experiencing this and all trying to figure out, where do we go from here. But, again, the message can't get lost in the destruction. And when you have Donald Trump continuing to throw matches on the flames, it's not helpful to any of us, and it continues to divide us as a country.

CAMEROTA: Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, we really appreciate your personal perspective on all of this, as well as your perspective as a mayor in America.

Thank you very much.

BOTTOMS: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: John, look, we're all having these tough conversations with our kids right now and it's really interesting to hear the mayor try to navigate this -- through this with her own kids and her mother.

BERMAN: Yes, I -- you know, although it is worth noting, I think the conversations that the Atlanta mayor needs to have with her kids are different than the ones that I do or you do.


BERMAN: You know, absolutely. It just is -- it's a stark reality at this point that I think people need to understand. But what she did say is we are all experiencing this right now in our own ways.

Chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, we've been talking to you every day now. Now we're talking to you as an Atlanta resident, among other things, who has been witnessing all of this play out before your eyes as you've been covering an unprecedented, historical pandemic.


BERMAN: It's just a lot.

GUPTA: No question. And I think it, you know, it means something that the -- the American Medical Association, the American Pediatric Association coming out and talking about police brutality, talking about racism as a public health issue. Right now, that's the statements they're releasing in the middle of this pandemic.

That was -- you know, it's very interesting to hear your interview with Mayor Bottoms, you know, and her having her conversation with her kids and then reflecting on conversations her mother had when she was a child.

[08:55:08] I always wonder, in situations like that, do people realize how historic something is at the time that they're actually going through it. Like right now we're going through some really historic times, obviously, like 50, 100 years from now people are going to reflect on this time. The gravity of this, I think, is obvious. But, you know, it's just -- it's quite striking how -- how significant it is right now and we'll -- how will it be remembered, you know, decades from now.

I agree. And the confluence right now of historic events. And, you know, they're connected. I mean it may at first blush have seemed, oh, well, first there's this pandemic, and there's coronavirus, and now we're pivoting to talk about the violence.

GUPTA: Right.

CAMEROTA: No, I mean, obviously we've heard from the black community this is all connected. They are the ones on the front lines. They're the ones who have been hardest hit in both of these.

GUPTA: Right. Right. And, you know, I mean -- people have been asking me all weekend, you know, I mean, obviously, this is going to potentially create increased spread of coronavirus. And the answer is -- is, yes, probably will. We don't know for sure. I mean there's other mitigating factors. People wearing masks being outside. But, I mean, the protests are important. I mean, you I know, there's a significance about this.

And I don't know what the right answer is. I mean, as a doctor, you say, obviously, you want to do everything you can to keep safe and there's obviously guidance for that sort of stuff. But, man, this just feels -- this -- the gravity of this feels so significant. This was the topic of conversation I think certainly just being here in Atlanta. It was -- everyone was talking about it. There was a fear, I think, you know, the CNN building, seeing that, what happened there, it was -- was just, you know, it was heartbreaking, but -- but the importance of it, I think that was -- that was superseding everything else.

BERMAN: All right, Sanjay, thank you very much for being with us this morning, talking about all of this.

A lot of news developing as we speak. We have reporters all across the country.

CNN's coverage continues, next.



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.