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More Cases Of Deadly Police Encounters Caught On Camera; High School Football Coach Remembers George Floyd. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired June 9, 2020 - 07:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY: Last night, hundreds more gathered at a candlelight vigil at Floyd's high school.


This morning, the attorney for one of the officers accused in Floyd death is offering up this jaw-dropping defense as the conversation grows louder over race in America.

CNN has learned that the U.S. Army is considering removing the names of nearly a dozen confederate leaders from bases, including Ft. Bragg.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN NEW DAY: And, John, new cases of deadly police encounters are coming to light. This just-released body cam video captures an incident in Austin, Texas, from March of 2019. It shows a black man being tasered while being restrained, and the man can be heard saying, I can't breathe, two times. He later died.

Many U.S. cities now taking sction to reform their police departments.

So, let's begin our coverage with CNN's Omar Jimenez. He is live in Houston, where it will be a big day in that city. Omar?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Alisyn. We've gone from Minnesota to North Carolina, and now here in Texas today, George Floyd heads to his final resting place.

And for family, friends, and even the City of Houston, the mourning continues, but so too does the movement toward police reform in Floyd's memory.


JIMENEZ: 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: Aand 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. PHILONISE FLOYD, GEORGE FLOYD'S BROTHER: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Ahmaud Arbery, it just hurts. Breonna Taylor, everybody, Thank you all. We will get justice. We will get it. We will not let this door closed.

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, 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.

LISA BENDER, PRESIDENT, MINNEAPOLIS CITY COUNCIL: 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, MN): 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 six- year-old daughter, Gianna.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: 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 just treating people with dignity.

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

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): 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 you all.


JIMENEZ: And today, the funeral service begins at 11:00 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 ceremony as 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, John?

BERMAN: I'll take it, Omar. Omar, thank you very much.

You know, in so many ways, we can see the impact of George Floyd's death. One of them is all the video from incidents that happened some time ago coming to light and raising new questions. We have new video of an incident in Texas from one year ago, but the video was just released.

In this, a 40-year-old black man is heard on a body camera telling police he couldn't breathe. Javier Ambler died shortly after. And all of this happened during the taping of a popular reality T.V. show, Live P.D.

CNN's Ed Lavandera live in Houston with more on this. Ed?


Well, the lead prosecutor in Austin, Texas, says that one of the reasons why it's taken so long to see the videos of this altercation is that the district attorney in Austin says the investigation has been stymied by the law enforcement agency that responded to the call.


Javier Ambler died a little more than a year ago. We warn you that the video you're about to see is deeply disturbing.


LAVANDERA: On March 28th, 2019, Williamson County sheriff's deputies are pursuing 40-year-old Javier Ambler, just after 1:00 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 officer's body camera footage captures how the arrest turned deadly.

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.

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

Several minutes into the arrest, officers realize Ambler is unresponsive. You can no longer hear him talking on the video. Officers then unhandcuffed Ambler and can be heard administering CPR compressions until medical units arrive on the scene. (END VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA: Javier Ambler's death was ruled a justifiable homicide, and an internal review from the Williamson County Sheriff's Department also found that the officers with the office of professional standards ruled 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 used objective reasonableness in the level of force that was used in that incident.

The district attorney in Austin says they had hoped to present evidence in this case to a grand jury back in March, but because of the COVID pandemic, grand juries were not allowed to meet. The D.A. says that they will try again to present this evidence to a grand jury sometime in July or possibly August. Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: That's a horrible video to watch, Ed. We'll see what happens in the justice system. Thank you very much.

Joining us now to discuss all of this, we have CNN Legal Analyst Laura Coates and CNN Political Analyst David Gregory.

Laura, let's begin with what we heard last night on CNN, when one of the officers in the George Floyd case, his attorney appeared with Chris Cuomo, and he trotted out a defense that neither John nor I have ever heard before. So, listen to this moment.


EARL GRAY, ATTORNEY FOR FORMER MINNEAPOLIS POLICE OFFICER: If all of these people say, 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.


CAMEROTA: I'm sorry, Laura, we as the public are supposed to tackle an armed police officer when we object to something they're doing?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Not just one, but you're supposed to attack four armed officers? The reason they didn't intervene is the same reason that citizens don't normally intervene when you see a high-speed chase. They don't automatically go into the line in the caravan of officers pursuing somebody. The role of a public safety officer and a law enforcement officer is, in fact, to keep the public peace. The reason we're looking at cases of citizens arrest claims from the Ahmaud Arbery case and beyond is because we do not want people usurping the role of a legitimate law enforcement officer or intervening in investigations.

However, having said that, they did intervene because they could do so. They pleaded with the officers, more than one, and they were prevented with the words and the presence of force of these officers not to intervene. The onus was never on these bystanders, Alisyn, to try to intervene. The onus was on four sworn peace officers to do the right thing and demonstrate humanity. BERMAN: Laura, we actually have that moment where you can see hear people probably going further than may be safe trying to intervene. Watch this.

So they did. They said, look, you can't do this.


There's something going on here. And then you see Derek Chauvin, the officer there, reach into his pocket for something. That was a dangerous moment for those bystanders who did try to step in, and I don't even know what the legal argument that this lawyer is making would be here.

COATES: The legal argument is CYA. It's distance myself as far away as the person who's persona non grata right now and to try anything, the kitchen sink. They also tried saying things kike, well, he's only four days on the job. And to the average person, that sounds like, wow, only four days? This is Ethan Hawke, Denzel Washington in Training Day. But in reality, these officers had been in a probationary period. They had been hired the year before. They were following, now they were full-time officers.

And even if they were only police officers for four days, John, guess what, they were human beings for a lot longer than that. And if everyday bystanders were sitting there watching this thing unfold and said, do something, only to be confronted by police officers who, at least one of whom was willing to put his knee on the neck of a human being for over eight minutes, well, what chance would these particular bystanders have had?

The only thing they could have done was to appeal to the common sense, the humanity, and perhaps the other officers there to say, can't you do something? Us confronting this officer has a very -- could have a very lethal consequence of us approaching you, and they didn't do anything. And that is the most unfortunate and tragedy in all this. Every single bystander probably wishes they could have done more and the officers should have done more.

CAMEROTA: David Gregory, as you know, that entire incident has led the Minneapolis City Council to say that they want to disband, dismantle, defund their police department. They don't think that that police department can be effective even with reforms.

So, that caused, you know, some outcry or at least got everybody's attention yesterday morning. Do you think if former Vice President Joe Biden has done an adequate job of addressing some of those proposals, and, I guess, dispensing with it?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we're going to find out. I mean, he's walking a very careful line here. Mainstream Democrats do not support this defund movement, not in Congress, not as a presidential candidate. even the mayor of Minneapolis does not support it. The mayor of Washington, D.C., Muriel Bowser, does not support defunding the police. So, this is going to very quickly become a big wedge issue. And we talk about doing something constructive to reform police departments and to try to end the brutality that we're seeing around the country.

It will be very interesting to see what Minneapolis comes up with as a reasonable alternative, how you police without having armed police. There are ways to demilitarize police departments. There's a lot of interesting ideas that are out there.

But I think for now, national Democrats, particularly in an election year, do not want to create a wedge issue with Republicans, where Republicans can turn toward Democrats and say, see, this is simply overreach. There are a lot of good ideas and it's been overtaken by a debate over whether to defund all police departments.

BERMAN: Yes. National Democrats aren't part of this debate. They're just not. Joe Biden is not in favor of defunding or dismantling the police. House Democrats, who just put an extensive proposal on the floor, are not in favor of it.

What's I think, frankly, the more relevant discussion is something Abby Phillip brought up last hour, David, which is that the default position, the national default position right now in a bipartisan way, it seems, at least with some Republicans too, is reform, that there is a default position for reform right now, and that's significant.

Look, you saw New York State overnight voting on a bill to ban chokeholds. The Denver Police moving to ban chokeholds. And you have a lot of these proposals, and I do expect some Republicans to support some of these proposals in Congress.

GREGORY: No, I've been struck by that as well. I mean, in part, I've been struck by some of the silence on the part of national Democrats -- excuse me, Republicans who are in Congress. But you see the governor of Texas, who you alluded to, Greg Abbott, speaking about how George Floyd is going to change the country. I think there's a basis of real bipartisan support. And the defund, the police debate can get in the way of that.

I mean, what you're seeing is also people who are stopping short of that, who are in Los Angeles or New York talking about cutting back police departments. I was very interested in listening to Washington, D.C.'s police chief yesterday saying, you know, a lot of the problems in the past that we've seen with excessive force in police departments can arise from not properly funding the police, because they can't fund de-escalation programs, community policing programs, other kinds of training that you would want to de-escalate situations.


I mean, I look at that video we showed this morning, and it's appalling, in part because where do we start? There was not violence. There was someone who was fleeing police, which you should not do, putting police in that position, but there's no reason it should get to that level of escalation where you don't have the ability as an officer, as a human being, to say this person says they can't breathe. We're not in a violent situation. There's no evidence that our lives are in danger. How do we de-escalate this quickly to make sure this suspect at this point is actually still living?

CAMEROTA: Yes. I mean, Laura, look, we've learned so much over the past two weeks. We've learned just how often police officers have to respond to mental health calls. They're not equipped for that. That's not their training. It stands to reason that if there could be some kind of redirection towards experts responding in a different way. I mean, all of this is on the table, and I think that people are trying to debate a better way to use the police departments for what they're actually training for.

However, there's also a lot of talk of police unions and how what impediments they have been to any talk of reform in the past. And so, we just don't know how far these proposals are going to go this time.

COATES: Well, certainly, part of the issue here is that the actual tag line, defund police, begs for an explanation. Does it mean the abolishment of police departments or does it mean the reallocation of resources towards quality-of-life issues in communities that have been overpoliced and often oversurveilled?

If it's the latter issue, it's about the redirecting from places like L.A. to New York, already focusing on that very issue. If it's about the abolishment, it's difficult for people to wrap their mind around who they will be able to call when they do need assistance, not for the overwhelming number of things from school resource officers to mental health, to drug court, to domestic violence issues that officers are supposed to do, the overall panacea, but there has to be clear, clear messaging about what it really means, because people need to understand that if it's simply the reallocation of resources, then the ideas of funding and the proportion spent on things like training or body cam or de-escalation or equipment or any number of issues is on the table for debate. Simply an umbrella term that says defund is not sufficiently explanatory on this issue.

So, I think messaging has to be clear before anyone in the political world can get behind it or to vilify it.

BERMAN: So, David Gregory, different subject here. If you have the attorney general, William Barr, on your bingo card as the official who would shine the light on a lie from President Trump, you are the surprise winner this morning.


BERMAN: I want to play what President Trump said to Brian Kilmeade about his trip to the bunker in the White House a week ago. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: I went down during the day, and I was there for a tiny, little, short period of time, and it was much more for an inspection. There was no problem during the day. They said it would be a good time to go down, take a look, because maybe sometime you're going to need it. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So, the president said he went down during the day for an inspection, okay? That's not what the attorney general said last night on Fox T.V. Listen.


WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL : Things were so bad that the Secret Service recommended the president go down to the bunker. We can't have that in our country.


BEERMAN: Uh-oh. Uh-oh. So, David Gregory, this exposes two things. One of them is what Colin Powell spoke about with Jake the other morning. Listen to this.


COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: The one word I have to use with respect to what he's been doing for the last several years is a word I would never have used before, I never would have used with any of the four presidents I've worked for, he lies. He lies about things. And he gets away with it because people will not hold him accountable.


BERMAN: He lies. That's one part of it. The other part, David, which is the part that risked lives is the fact that those, you know, law enforcement cleared out the protesters so the president could walk across the street and hold a bible because he didn't like the fact that people said he looked weak going to the bunker.

GREGORY: Yes. I mean, this is a ridiculous manhood test for the president, that that would get him so irritated, that he would act and do something with that photo op that has been just so roundly criticized. And it is one of the low moments of his presidency, I think, by all accounts.

And that there was nobody there to stop that impulse. You know, he didn't like that reporting. Nobody could stop him from doing that. It just became, you know, a follow the leader sort of parade over there.

And then you have Bill Barr, who is trying to justify some of the decisions that were made to clear these protesters, and the heavy- handedness of that. He's then, you know, telling the truth by saying they put him in the bunker because things had gotten so bad because things were out of control.


You know, the truth is, is we know from covering presidents, the Secret Service makes decisions about threat assessments. There's usually not a lot of time for a discussion about that, if that threat is determined to be serious enough to move the president down there. So, really, it had nothing to do with him. It's not as if they say to the president, we're concerned about this, you know, what do you think about going down to the bunker, and he gets to decide. No, they say, go, we're going now. This is what we determined is necessary.

BERMAN: All right. David Gregory, Laura Coates, thank you for being with us this morning.

CAMEROTA: It was an emotional candlelight vigil at George Floyd's high school in Texas last night. We'll speak with his former football coach about the young man he once was, next.


BERMAN: Hundreds of people gathered at Jake Yates High School in Houston last night for a candlelight vigil honoring George Floyd. It took place on the very football field where Floyd once played.


Joining me now is Ronald Miller, a longtime coach at Floyd's high school. They were part of a team that went all the way to the state finals. Coach, it's great to have you here this morning.

I think you were there last night at the vigil with so many people. Just tell me what that was like.


The vigil last night just brought a lot of emotions out for a few people, because, basically, it's like a family member. The Third Ward is a close-knit neighborhood. People, you go to school where you went to school during his time at Ryan, then you moved on to Yates and then you moved on, hopefully, to college.

The goal as football coach, our goal was try to mold young men into great things. And George, you know, God gave him talent. You know, they exaggerated a little bit last night saying he was 6'6" at sixth grade, you know?

So, but he basically was a kid that was -- potential, the word, potential, was written all over him, because the one thing at Yates High School, we have an athletic tradition, we have an academic tradition. We have -- you know, we put ourselves in the position that we ask our kids to do a great deal.

And last night was a night of the community coming together. And they had an outpouring for the love of this young man and what has happened to him, and basically, we think we had an outstanding time last night while we were there.

BERMAN: I want to talk in a second about George Floyd as a football player. We saw him there wearing number 88, a tight end. But, first, tell me about him as a young man when you knew him. MILLER: George is the kind of kid -- he was -- I'm going to say this. He basically -- he hung with his friends. He stayed close to his friends. He was always -- that was his number one thing. He wasn't a loud kid. He wasn't a kid -- he was just a kid most people consider playful, sometimes too playful. But, you know, other than that, he was just a nice, young man who just hung in the neighborhood and just hung with his friends and stayed with his family.

BERMAN: And you could see him in that picture we're showing. He was tall. He was a tight end. I know that -- football wasn't his first sport. Basketball was. But he got onto the football team, you guys went to the state finals one year. What kind of a player was he?

MILLER: The scouting report on George was run blocking, we weren't running behind him, but the thing about his ability to get down the field quick, create a problem for the secondary. He created a lot of problems for the secondary, because we had two outstanding, small receivers who basically did a lot. But Floyd created a lot of problems with people because he was fast and he could get down field real quick and he could make -- he could give your secondary a lot of problems.

BERMAN: I read one place he didn't like to be hit. I mean, he actually did -- like you're saying, he wasn't necessarily a good run blocker there. He didn't necessarily like the push and pull, but he liked running down the field and catching the passes.

If people don't know, Jack Yates --

MILLER: -- this is a serious football school. You've put through a lot of players over the years, many of whom have gone on to the NFL, certainly in college programs.

Just bigger picture, and also Third Ward, largely African-American too, so you've put through a lot of black young men into society. And I wonder what it's like for you as a coach, as a leader, a mentor, dealing with the issues that the killing of George Floyd brings up. I mean, you are producing young men who you want to go lead and be part of the world. And yet, these men you're putting out there are at risk.

MILLER: We take a deep breath and think about what you're asking me. I will go, as always, to give young men a chance to better themselves for the rest of their lives. Education has always been that tool, that number one tool. Athletics were our vehicle. You know, a lot of U.S. chose -- I was also a Yates graduate. I went to college on a college scholarship with North Texas State. And --

BERMAN: I think we lost the coach there. But you hear from Coach Miller talking about George Floyd, a nice, young man, a good tight end, but most of all, you know, the loss that he feels now, the loss to the community, a tight-knit community in Houston.


And I think the frustration of trying to educate and successfully educating young men.