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Funeral Service for George Floyd in Houston Today; Lawyer for Rookie Cop Blames Bystanders for Not Helping Floyd; Man Heard Saying 'I Can't Breathe' During Fatal Texas Arrest. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired June 9, 2020 - 06:00   ET



SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A somber homecoming for George Floyd in Houston.


PHILONISE FLOYD, GEORGE FLOYD'S BROTHER: Thank y'all. We will get justice. We will get it.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): George Floyd is going to change the arc of the future of the United States.

LISA BENDER, PRESIDENT, MINNEAPOLIS CITY COUNCIL: We need to make sure that every single person in our community feels safe. But we have a crisis of confidence in our police department.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Disbanding the police doesn't make any sense. It's an invitation to chaos.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What we heard from the Democrats in terms of a national agenda around police reform is very important.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I don't support defunding police.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Tuesday, June 9, 6 a.m. here in New York.

Today is George Floyd's funeral in Houston, Texas. Floyd's death sparked global outrage and could change the role of law enforcement in this country.

Thousands came to pay their respects to Floyd and his family at the last memorial yesterday in Houston. Many waited in line for nearly -- well, for hours, in nearly 100-degree temperatures.

Last night, hundreds more gathered at a candlelight vigil at Floyd's high school.

And in a few hours, there will be an invitation-only funeral, featuring members of Congress and boxing great Floyd Mayweather, who reportedly picked up the bill for the service.

Yesterday, the former police officer charged with Floyd's murder appeared in court for the first time. The attorney for one of the other officers charged in the case is now offering up a surprising defense.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: As George Floyd is laid to rest, new cases of deadly police encounters are just now coming to light.

Video has just been released of an incident from Austin, Texas, from March of 2019. Bodycam video shows a black man being tasered while being restrained. The man can be heard saying, quote, "I can't breathe" twice. He later died.

And we're just seeing video now from an incident in New Mexico. An officer there is charged with manslaughter after being caught on camera using a chokehold on a man under arrest. This incident from February.

These cases obviously adding to the nationwide conversation about police tactics, as cities big and small are taking action to reform their police departments.

Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Omar Jimenez, live in Houston where the final memorial service will be held today -- Omar.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. From Minnesota to North Carolina, now here in Texas, today George Floyd heads to his final resting place.

And for the city of Houston, his family and friends, the mourning continues, but so, too, does the movement toward police reform in George Floyd's legacy.


JIMENEZ (voice-over): Thousands stood outside in Houston's blistering sun, waiting for their chance to pay respect to one of their own, whose life was cut short and reignited a worldwide movement.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I see that unity, and I see a bunch of people that's tired of, you know, the system.

JIMENEZ: Inside the church, both black and white, young and old, attended the public viewing for George Floyd. Outside, his family standing alongside others whose loved ones were killed.

P. FLOYD: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Ahmaud Arbery. It just hurts! Breonna Taylor. Everybody. Thank y'all! We will get justice. We will get it. We will not let this door close.

JIMENEZ: And while many here mourn the man who grew up in Houston's Third Ward and died in Minneapolis police custody just over two weeks ago --





JIMENEZ: -- it didn't slow down the massive protests demanding change to honor Floyd and others who died at the hands of police. Those calls reaching Minneapolis. The city council vowed to disband their police department.

BENDER: We have started a lot of the work to help build new systems in our city that are keeping everyone safe.

JIMENEZ: Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey says he hasn't changed his opinion.

MAYOR JACOB FREY (D), MINNEAPOLIS: You know, if we're talking about massive cultural shift in the way our police department does business, I'm on board.

If we're talking about abolishing the entire police department, I was honest. That's not where I am.

JIMENEZ: Meanwhile, at Monday's visitation, former Vice President Joe Biden met privately with the Floyd family, including with Floyd's 6- year-old daughter, Gianna.

BIDEN: I think what's happened here is one of those great inflection points in American history for real in terms of civil liberties, civil rights, and -- and just treating people with dignity.

JIMENEZ: So did Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who pledged to back police reform legislation in his state.

ABBOTT: This is the most horrific tragedy I've ever personally observed, but George Floyd is going to change the arc of the future of the United States.

JIMENEZ: As night fell, hundreds gathered at Floyd's high school for a candlelight vigil.

RODNEY FLOYD, GEORGE FLOYD'S BROTHER: Everybody waking up and let's keep this energy going. It's a beautiful day. And let's keep it healing. You know, love all y'all.


JIMENEZ: And today the funeral service begins at 11 a.m. local time. It will be limited to 500 people, but afterwards, the Houston Police Department will escort Floyd to Pearland, Texas.

And then the last mile of the procession will be by horse-drawn carriage that people can watch as it passes by, all of it culminating in a private burial service, where Floyd is expected to be buried next to his mother, the same mother he cried out for in his final moments under the knee of a police officer a little over two weeks ago today -- Alisyn.


CAMEROTA: Omar, thank you very much.

The former Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on George Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes made his first court appearance Monday. Derek Chauvin is being held on $1 million bail on second-degree murder and manslaughter charges.

The attorney for one of the other officers in the case debuted a surprising defense for his client on CNN last night.

CNN's Josh Campbell live in Minneapolis with more. What have you learned, Josh?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Alisyn.

As we've been covering this case, as this prosecution gets under way, we've wondered whether we would get a sense of what the defense strategies would be for these officers, and we certainly have.

In this extraordinary interview last night between Earl Gray, the attorney for former Officer Lane, one of the officers that's charged with second-degree murder, we certainly got a sense of his defense strategy.

In fact, one thing that he said, which we have heard before, is that during that encounter, he alleges, Lane, that he called to Chauvin, the senior officer, and asked him whether they should turn George Floyd over. He appeared to be in some kind of distress.

Now, the attorney also questioned whether or not Chauvin's knee was actually on Floyd's neck at the time.

Now, of course, we know that many of the protests that started here at the Third Precinct, and of course, across the country, have focused on that video showing this officer's knee on George Floyd's neck, and that was obviously later ruled a homicide.

But one thing that this attorney said, which I can tell you I've heard a lot of unconventional defense strategies over the years -- I've never heard anything like this -- he appears to be blaming the bystanders and saying that if they were so concerned about what was going on, you know, why didn't they try to stop it? Listen here to what he told Cuomo.


EARLY GRAY, ATTORNEY FOR OFFICER LANE: My client's at his feet. He doesn't have a real good view of Mr. Chauvin -- or excuse me, Mr. Floyd, of what Chauvin's doing. But if all these people say, why -- why didn't my client intercede,

well, if the public is there and they're so in an uproar about this, they didn't intercede either.


CAMPBELL: So this attorney saying that these bystanders, I assume, should have tried to intervene where these four armed officers involved in this encounter seems to be saying that, if you were so concerned about what we were doing, why didn't you try to stop us?

I don't know if that strategy will continue. We'll wait and see if they actually use that in court, but obviously just an extraordinary interview there. And we're getting, again, a sense of what their view is on what happened that day with George Floyd, guys.

CAMEROTA: He wants the bystanders to tackle the armed police officer who has a knee on the neck of George Floyd? That -- that one was jaw- dropping.

But there's also, you know, video. There's surveillance video of this whole event. And so, we do know some of what the bystanders were saying and trying to do. So let's play a portion of that.





UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is wrong with y'all? What the (EXPLETIVE DELETED)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He got maced. He got maced.


CAMEROTA: I mean, I actually had forgotten that moment. And you see Chauvin reach into his pocket for something and gesture at them.

CAMPBELL: Yes, that's right. And the question was, was he possibly pulling out some type of pepper spray or mace or some crowd control dispersant?

Again, as you mentioned, this video shows a number of people clearly concerned about what was going on.

But the question comes down to, when you have four officers that are armed, that are, you know, in the middle of an encounter, the idea that bystanders should have rushed them and tried to stop this is, again, just truly extraordinary.

I don't think we saw that defense strategy coming. I certainly didn't. We've covered this case from the beginning. But again, it's just kind of jaw-dropping to think that that is a claim from one of these officers is using, that putting it basically back on the public, saying that if you were so concerned about our actions, maybe someone should have tried to stop us.

BERMAN: It isn't really much of a strategy, is it? It may just be words out loud on top of a bunch of other things he was trying out, Josh, but fascinating to hear it.

CAMPBELL: But it's interesting. Can I --


CAMPBELL: Let me -- let me point out. I mean, Cuomo gave him the opportunity to clean it up. He said, Are you saying that this is -- the bystanders are to blame?

And the attorney, rather than cleaning it up, said, I just wanted to point that out. So it appears to be something that, you know, he didn't want to correct.

BERMAN: It really is interesting. We'll talk more about it coming up. Josh, as always, terrific reporting. Thanks for being with us.

So, we have a new arrest video -- this one from Texas -- that's raising all kinds of questions this morning. This incident happened last year, but the police bodycam video was just released.

A 40-year-old black man is heard on the video telling police he couldn't breathe. Javier Ambler died shortly after. The whole incident happened, actually, during the taping of a popular reality TV show, "Live P.D."

CNN's Ed Lavandera live in Houston this morning with the latest on this. Again, an old incident, but only now are we seeing the video, Ed.


Well, the district attorney in Austin, Texas, says that one of the reasons why we haven't heard much about this case or seen the videos from that night is that the investigation, the district attorney alleges, has been stymied by authorities in Williamson County, Texas, just north of Austin.


I warn you: the video you're about to see is deeply disturbing, but the death of Javier Ambler was ruled initially a justifiable homicide. But after seeing the video, the attorney for the family says that ruling is outrageous.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): On March 28, 2019, Williamson County sheriff's deputies are pursuing 40-year-old Javier Ambler just after 1 in the morning. According to a sheriff's department incident report, Ambler failed to

dim his car's headlights as he drove past a deputy. The report says Ambler tried to flee, leading officers on a 22-minute pursuit that ended up in the city of Austin.

The incident report says Ambler crashed his car five times during the pursuit, and that's where the officers' body camera footage captures how the arrest turned deadly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I need double cuffs.

JAVIER AMBLER, KILLED IN POLICE CUSTODY: I have congestive heart failure!

LAVANDERA: According to the documents obtained by CNN, Ambler exited his car with his hands up. He was not intoxicated and unarmed. Officers tried to handcuff Ambler but say he resisted and pushed back on the officers as he refused to follow the verbal commands. But the body camera footage captures Ambler in distress.

AMBLER: Sir, I can't breathe!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Flat on your stomach.

AMBLER: I can't breathe!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Flat on your stomach.

LAVANDERA: Multiple times on the video, Ambler is heard saying he can't breathe and that he's not resisting.

AMBLER: I can't breathe!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop resisting.


AMBLER: I'm not resisting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop resisting.

LAVANDERA: Several minutes into the arrest, officers realize Ambler is unresponsive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sit up, bud. Hey. Wake up.


LAVANDERA: You can no longer hear him talking on the video.

Officers then unhandcuff Ambler and can be heard administering CPR compressions until medical units arrive on the scene.


LAVANDERA: And John, we've reviewed documents that were filed with the state attorney general's office. In those documents, the William County Sheriff's Department said that this incident was reviewed by the department's office of professional standards and found that "After reviewing the video evidence, OPS concluded that the primary and assisting deputies acted in accordance with the guidelines of the sheriff's department," and then went on to say that the officers "used objective reasonableness in the level of force that was used" in that incident with Javier Ambler.

We have reached out to the Williamson County Sheriff's Department for comment but have not heard back. The D.A., the district attorney in Austin, Texas, says that they hope to present this evidence to a grand jury sometime in July, possibly August.

It was supposed to have been done a few months ago, but because of the COVID pandemic, the grand juries were not allowed to meet, so they are still waiting to present that evidence. But as I said, the D.A. also says that much of the evidence in this case and access to it has been stymied by investigators in Williamson County -- John.

BERMAN: I've got to say, it raises a ton of questions, Ed. Thanks so much for bringing this to light. Again, only seeing it now, a year, more than a year after the incident itself.

So, in New Mexico, a now-fired police officer is facing manslaughter charges in connection to a deadly arrest back in February. Christopher Smelser put the suspect, Antonio Valenzuela, in a chokehold after he fled a traffic stop.




BERMAN: Paramedics tried to revive Valenzuela, but he was pronounced dead at the scene. His death was ruled a homicide.

The Las Cruses Police Department says it banned the use of vascular neck restraints after Valenzuela's death.

All right. Again, raising so many questions about police practices across the country.

Plus, we have the attorney for one of the officers charged in Minnesota with this stunning new defense. Should eyewitnesses, bystanders, citizens, have stepped in and stopped the police in the middle of this? Should they have tried to save Floyd's life? We'll discuss, next.




GRAY: If all these people say, why -- why didn't my client intercede, well, if the public is there and they're so in an uproar about this, they didn't intercede either.


BERMAN: That just outer-space defense from the attorney for one of the fired Minneapolis police officers charged with aiding and abetting in George Floyd's death. It seems to be that the bystanders are at fault for not stepping in.

Joining us now, CNN political correspondent Abby Phillip and Cedric Alexander. He's the former president of National Organization of Black Law Enforcement and an executive -- served as the public safety director for Dekalb County in Georgia.

And Cedric, to you. What do you make of that, that the public, the people watching, they should have stepped in and stopped the police mid-arrest?

CEDRIC ALEXANDER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF NATIONAL ORGANIZATION OF BLACK LAW ENFORCEMENT: Well, that's the most ridiculous thing that anyone has ever heard.

Let me tell you something. Those folks on that sidewalk did everything that they could do to stay within the framework of the law. They know if they had intervened, they would have took the risk themselves of getting hurt and certainly would have end up catching a felony case of intervening with the actions of a police officer.

This is horrific, if that's the best defense that that man can come up with. I've been in this game for a very long time, Berman, over 40 years, and never have I heard such a silly, silly defense. It is -- it's just unbelievable.


But I will tell you this: in an attempt to retraumatize those witnesses that were on that sidewalk again is shameful on the part of that attorney. Those folks did exactly what they were supposed to do. They yelled, they screamed, they cursed, "Let him breathe." They did everything that they could do.

To physically involve themselves in that, they knew would cause them some danger, potentially, or at a minimum, they would have end up catching a felony charge.

CAMEROTA: That is really interesting to hear from you, Cedric. And I mean, it did sound last night, when Thomas Lane's lawyer was talking to Chris Cuomo, as though he was casting about a bit for a defense.

One of the things that he said, I want to bounce off of you, because it may have some legitimacy. So, here is another thing that the lawyer said last night.


GRAY: While Mr. Floyd was moving, Lane asked, "Should we roll him on his side?" Then Officer Chauvin said, "No, staying put where we've got him."

Now, you've got a 20-year officer here, and you've get a four-day officer in my client.


CAMEROTA: OK, a couple things. Is it protocol, Cedric, for when they have a suspect like this, to lay him on his side and hold his legs as that officer, Thomas Lane, was doing? Is that the standard protocol?

ALEXANDER: I don't know what their protocol is, the force in Minneapolis, but here's where I take issue with that attorney in terms of what he's saying.

He's trying to rationalize and justify the fact that his client, Mr. Lane, had only been on the job for four days. He's been on the job longer than that. He had an academy period. He had a field training officer period. He probably had been released on his own for the last four days.

But at the end of it all, each one of those officers that stood there or knelt there and did nothing had a moral responsibility to see that a man in front of them was dying and to stop Chauvin by any means necessary from hurting him or creating any further injury.

Even when they saw at the point that George Floyd had passed out, he was no longer breathing, but that knee remained on his neck, they still had a responsibility to do whatever they could do to revive him and to take Chauvin off of him.

Now, they have risked their own livelihoods, which is gone, and they're now facing criminal charges. But in an attempt to justify, rationalize the behavior of those officers that stood there and did nothing, you can't rationalize it to the American people. We all saw it.

It had nothing to do with the fact of him being four days on the job. And he's had life experience. This wasn't a young 17-year-old kid. This was a 37-year-old man, Lane. So, he still, both of them, all three of them had some responsibility to stop Chauvin.

Now, if they can't stop Chauvin, why did the attorney even allude or state the fact that the public should have stepped in? No. The officers that stood there and did nothing should have stopped that event from occurring, and George Floyd would possibly be alive today.

BERMAN: I've got to say, Cedric, we've had a chance to talk to you a lot over the years. I've never seen you so upset as I see you this morning as the arguments that have been made by that lawyer.

Abby, what's going to happen in the courtroom's going to happen in the courtroom. There's this larger discussion going on around the country that, frankly, is vastly different and has shifted substantially.

And I do want to note, just in the last day, the state of New York passed the Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act, which Governor Cuomo says he will sign, which is going to ban chokeholds in policing here.

In Denver, the Denver Police Department announced a chokehold ban.

You are seeing changes, which are not insignificant changes already, and you have Congress now, you have the Democrats in the House proposing a number of new reforms.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. There's no question there's a lot of movement toward reform. In fact, reform has become, in some ways, the default position, which is a huge change.

I mean, I think we talk about it as if this is sort of -- of course, this is happening in response to protests, but this country has seen protests in response to police brutality before, and it has not produced this kind of movement on a bipartisan level.

There's often all this, you know, talk and acrimony at the presidential level, on social media, but I think what you're seeing when you actually drill down to what's happening in individual states, what individual senators and lawmakers are saying, you're hearing people like Florida Senator Scott Walker talking about whether or not there ought to be reform and putting reform in contrast with a more kind of left -- leftist, defund the police movement.


But the fact that reform is even the default position is a change. You're hearing the Texas governor, Greg Abbott, talking about -- about needing to address racism, about needing to address police brutality. These are massive shifts in rhetoric coming from the right, where there is a lot of concern about alienating police. And I think it's a response to a massive shift in public opinion.

You have more than two-thirds of the country believing that the law enforcement system favors white Americans over blacks. You have more than two-thirds -- three-quarters of the country saying they believe that peaceful protesters are justified.

So there is a sea change really happening here in the American public in their view of law enforcement. And the smart politicians, the ones who -- who want their political careers to survive beyond this immediate moment, know that they have to respond to that.

CAMEROTA: And Abby, quickly, Vice President -- former Vice President Biden did yesterday talk and say clearly that he does not want to dismantle the police departments, as we had heard yesterday come out of Minneapolis. But does he need to be a little bit careful in threading this needle, in that there is such a groundswell of activists who are calling for something more than just the old reform talk?

PHILLIPS: Well, this is, in some ways, very similar to the balancing act that Biden has been playing this entire campaign. How far left does he really have to go in order to be a viable candidate for the Democratic Party? And the argument had been Joe Biden needs to appease people who want

him to be in favor of Medicare for all. Joe Biden needs to go all the way to the left on some of these issues. And he resisted doing that for the entirety of the campaign.

And I do think that this may be a similar situation, where you have an activist base who really wants defunding police departments and completely rethinking police departments to be the position of the Democratic Party.

But you have the rank-and-file Democratic voters, who are more in a centrist position, and that position, actually, is one that is bringing in independent voters.

So, I think that you're going to see Joe Biden trying to thread that needle, dealing with, really, what's going to be, I think, very loud voices on the left, calling for him to take a position that is further left.

But I suspect that you will see him staying as close to the center- left as he can be, because his argument all along has been, this is where the American public is, and this is the path to defeating the president. It is going to be a tough balancing act, but I do think there's a difference between loud voices and where a majority of the party might be and where a majority of the country might be.

CAMEROTA: Abby Phillips, Cedric Alexander, thank you very much for the conversation.

ALEXANDER: Thank you. Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Another outbreak of coronavirus forcing Israel to hit the emergency brake on its reopening plans. We have the latest from Jerusalem, next.