Return to Transcripts main page

At This Hour

Four Dead, 159 People Unaccounted For in Condo Collapse; Derek Chauvin to be Sentenced for George Floyd Murder. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired June 25, 2021 - 11:30   ET


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN AT THIS HOUR: When I heard that you were saying that your mom and your grandmother were set to be taking your son out to lunch yesterday afternoon. Just the fact that it's just like life was happening, life was going on. And we're seeing these sweet pictures of your mom and your family, it's just -- can you tell me more about your mom and your grandmother and you have told your son about what has happened?

PABLO RODRIGUEZ, SAYS MOTHER WAS WOKEN BY CREAKING SOUNDS NIGHT BEFORE COLLAPSE: My son saw the -- my son saw the footage in the morning when it happened and we were trying to piece together some information and he knows the name of the building, so he knows the building fell. He's told us that the building fell. But he wants us to call them and see. We haven't told him yet until we have official word. We don't really have a lot of hope. But until we have official word, we don't want to fully tell him.

As you mentioned, life was going on. They were going to pick him up to buy a new bicycle and take him to lunch every Saturday since he was born. Basically, they've come over and spent the whole day with him. So he's already asking me if their coming tomorrow to come into the pool to hang out and take him to breakfast, like they do every Saturday. That is his routine.

And so he's asking us and right now we are not sure what exactly to tell him. He may understand. I don't know if he's processed it completely, but we're trying to hold off until we officially know before we make it clear to him.

BOLDUAN: Yes, and to be strong for him and to be strong for yourself and to try to process something that you can't process. You cannot process what happened in these images. I'm just -- I'm so sorry. We will hold out hope with you but I totally understand, as you said, that you're trying to come to terms with what could be reality. But I'm so sorry, Pablo, thank you for coming on.

RODRIGUEZ: I appreciate it, Kate. I just want to get her story out.

BOLDUAN: Her and her sweet face. If we could, let's put those pictures back up of your sweet mom and your grandmother. Thank you so much. That is so sweet.

All right, so we're going to have more of our breaking news coverage from Florida ahead from these tragic, tragic stories trying to hold out hope.

But also we have more breaking news that is happening today, turning to another story. Former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, he will be sentenced in just hours after being convicted, of course, of murdering George Floyd. I'm going to speak with the Floyd family attorney, Ben Crump, about what this day means, next.



BOLDUAN: In just a few hours, former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, now a convicted murderer, will be sentenced in just hours for the brutal killing of George Floyd. State prosecutors have requested a 30-year prison sentence but the judge does have quite a lot of discretion here.

CNN's Omar Jimenez is live in Minneapolis with more on this. Omar, what are you expecting for today?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, for starters, Derek Chauvin is already inside of the Hennepin County Government Center behind me where proceedings will take place in a few hours, as we mark the close of the one chapter, but far from the end of this story.

Now, as far as what we could expect, you look at, for starters, the sentencing penalties for the charges he's been convicted of. The most serious, of course, second-degree murder, carries a maximum penalty sentence of 40 years, third-degree murder, a max sentence of 25 years, and second-degree manslaughter, a max sentence of 20 years and/or $10,000.

But the sentences will most likely run concurrently. So, really, the one you really want to pay attention to is that second-degree murder charge. And while the max is technically 40 years, he's likely not going to get that since the sentencing guidelines with someone like him with no criminal history actually put him between 12 and 15 years.

But, critically, I should note the judge ruled on a number of factors that could boost that number. And as we learned a few moments ago, the judge denied Chauvin's request for a new trial, which is different from an appeal, Kate.

BOLDUAN: And an important step in how this is going to play out. Omar, thank you very much for that update.

Joining me now for more on this is Benjamin Crump. He is the attorney for George Floyd's family. Thank you for being here, Mr. Crump, as always. What sentence is the family hoping for today?

BENJAMIN CRUMP, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Well, the family has always articulated that they will want Derek Chauvin to be sentenced the same as if the roles were reversed and the judge was sentencing George Floyd for doing a terrible thing to Derek Chauvin. That, to them, would be accountability. They understand that they can't get justice because justice would be bringing George back. So they are striving for full accountability today. And somewhere, that would be some measure of justice.

BOLDUAN: The law permits for the judge, as Omar was laying out, to sentence up to 40 years. Do you think the prosecutors did the right thing in requesting a sentence of 30 years?

CRUMP: Well, Attorney General Ellison and his staff explained to the family of George Floyd that under the sentencing guidelines, that the second-degree murder conviction, he would get 15 years. However, because of exacerbating circumstances and aggravating circumstances, that it could be an upward departure to get up to 40 years. But they have requested 30 years based on what they see as the normal, typical sentence.

But, remember, Kate, nothing about the torture and the killing of George Floyd is typical. So his family is keenly aware that this should not be a typical sentence.


This should be a sentence that sends a message that is not allowed for the police to brutalize black people and other marginalized people and just because they have the authority to use necessary force, and that is what this is about. The whole world is watching. This could be a turning point for America to where we can get accountability in the civil matter for a black life, accountability on the criminal level and then we want to get accountability on the policy level with the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. So his family is completely focused on being able to help make America better.

BOLDUAN: Victims statements are going to be allowed in court, as you well now, of course. Will any of the family be speaking?

CRUMP: Yes. Family members of George Floyd will be speaking, delivering their victim impact statements and how his tragic death has impacted them and impacted their family and most profoundly, impacted the community.

BOLDUAN: You know, everyone came to know and love George's daughter, Gianna, so much in the whole -- in everything that she has gone through and the family has gone through. Is there any chance that Gianna would speak?

CRUMP: Well, everybody is trying to protect her mother and all making sure she's protected because she's still only a child. But there is a chance that there will be some statement from her with respect and his other family members, his brothers and sisters and people who know him best, you know? To us, it is a hashtag, a case, a cause, to them, that is their flesh and blood. The person who is begging for breath is their flesh and blood.

And so I think that is the message, Kate, that they're going to convey and, prayerfully, the sentence will pay respect to the fact that George Floyd was a human being and he was worthy of humanity.

BOLDUAN: Ben Crump, thank you for coming on.

CRUMP: Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

Still ahead for us, rescuers desperately searching for survivors in the rubble in South Florida of this collapsed condominium building. We're staying close to it. We are watching live picture. We are going to go back to take you live to the scene. Our breaking news coverage continues next.



BOLDUAN: We are continuing to follow the breaking news out of South Florida. CNN has just confirmed three of the four people who were confirmed to have died in the collapsed building in South Florida, three of the four have been identified.

34 hours about has now passed since the unthinkable happened, a 12- storey condominium building just collapsing in the middle of the night. The urgent and intense and dangerous search effort is happening at this hour, as we speak. Crews are looking for survivors in the rubble. 159 people remain unaccounted for right now.

CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is with me back with me. He's been on the scene in Surfside, Florida. Sanjay, what are you learning from the medical examiner?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, so they are preparing for obviously what might be something they have to deal with, and they've had, as you mentioned, four people who have come to the medical examiner's office. Three people have been identified.

One person they have not been able to identify, and this is something that they also planned for. And this is grim, I'll tell you, Kate, to talk about. But at reunification center right now, they go to families and they ask, are there any distinguishing characteristics, tattoos, dental abnormalities, orthopedic implants, they can take an X-ray of scars, they would look for fingerprints and DNA all of that sort of stuff. But that is the sort of identification which they're planning on doing here because it just may be difficult to identify some of the bodies.

In fact, the medical examiner said the last time something sort of this magnitude happened was a plane crash. It was the ValuJet plane crash in 1996. 110 people died at that point, a different situation. But that is the sort of approach that they're taking here.

They also point out, Kate, that there was one person of the four who was alive at the time that they were actually rescued, went to the hospital, but then subsequently died. So you're starting to get a picture sort of how things are transpiring here.

BOLDUAN: That is heartbreaking, Sanjay. I had not heard that detail, that one person was removed alive and then passed away in a hospital. That is just crushing.

I was actually just speaking with a family member of two people who are missing, Pablo Rodriguez. And he said that he had heard at the reunification center now asking for DNA swabs for family members for identification purposes, Sanjay. I assume that is part of a standard protocol when you're talking about some of the victims like you're just talking about.

GUPTA: Yes, I mean, it is. And you typically think about this again for things like airplane crashes. So this magnitude, a building collapse, is something many places here in the United States had not really dealt with. It has happened around the world. But, yes, you start to gather clues, you talk to these families. You find out are there distinguishing characteristics, trying to find things like DNA.

But also even where in the building were they likely to have been, what unit number and where is that unit with respect to the rest of the building. They star to recreate and construct where people likely were and where they were found and see if there's any correlation. So far, it's really hard to bring any of these details together except for the ones I shared with you.

Most people or many people, as you said, at least initially can be identified just by facial characteristics and things like that.


But with time - and, again, it is just grim stuff to talk about, but with time and the elements, it becomes harder and harder to identify, which is why they are now starting to collect this other sort of information to try make those identifications easier when the time comes.

BOLDUAN: It is. And everyone appreciates, Sanjay, that you are passing along the information and the reporting with all the sensitivities that we know that this -- families are watching and waiting and hoping that they will find their loved one alive.

I mean, I'm also just sitting here listening to reporting on this, Sanjay. And, look, you've reported all over the world covering the aftermath of major natural disasters, like the earthquake in Haiti is coming to my mind right now. This does not happen in the United States. I mean, how are you reflecting on being on the scene of something like this?

GUPTA: Yes. I mean, that's exactly what I was reflecting on, Kate. I remember when I was in Haiti, and saw these buildings topple to the ground, and you knew that the -- whether it was building codes, regulations, whatever, you don't imagine that sort of thing would happen in the United States. There's obviously a lot of details we still don't know. There's all sorts of speculation that's going on. And I think there's obviously going to be a big investigation.

But I think what is the hardest, Kate, I don't even know if you can see, really -- and I know everyone has seen these images, but it is just very hard to reconcile construction equipment, these big cranes, and reconcile that with the fact that there are people that are buried in that rubble. I mean, it is -- I think it's just -- again, everyone conceptually understands this, they know this, but when you're actually here, you feel it. You talk to family members. There's a smell in the air after a big collapse like this. It's tough. It's obviously tough for everyone.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. I'm so thankful you're on the ground though, Sanjay. Thank you for being here. I really appreciate it.

Also joining me right now is Jose "Pepe" Diaz. He's the chairman of the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners. Pepe, Commissioner, thank you for being here.

We know that right now, there are 159 people unaccounted for. That number was 99. Oh, I think we -- I think we just lost the connection with the commissioner. We may have just reconnected. Commissioner, can you hear me?

JOSE DIAZ, CHAIRMAN, MIAMI-DADE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS: Yes, Kate. I am sorry. We're having a little --

BOLDUAN: I mean, we're going to try to power through and see if the connection sticks. You know what, we're going to try to reconnect with the commissioner, because I believe that the connection is not holding right now. We're going to try to reconnect with the commissioner.

But in the meantime, I also want to focus in on search and rescue and what we're looking at on these live pictures on your screen right now. Joining me right now is someone who knows this better than anyone, Retired Miami Dade Rescue Chief Dave Downey. Chief, thank you for being here.

What I'm looking at on my screen, I'm sure you probably -- I don't you might not be able to see it, is we have a line of crew members, a line of rescuers, rescue workers. They are all working together with these red buckets. We can see them pulling out debris by hand, this kind of bucket line, if you will. Talk to me about what that signals to you, what they are doing, why they would be focusing in on this area, if you will.

DAVE DOWNEY, FORMER CHIEF, MIAMI-DADE FIRE RESCUE: Well, what they're doing now is they're trying to, as precisely as possible, begin to delayer this collapse. And so they're going to do it with some heavy equipment, but, mostly, they're going to do it by hand. And that's where these buckets are coming in.

You know, they have to be careful not to disturb the structure because any movement could impact the building that still exists, the debris that's hanging off of that building, and any potential void spaces that could be located. So it's a very meticulous, very methodical but very deliberate way of removing this debris. And it's going to take some time.

BOLDUAN: Does it indicate at all -- would this indicate that they believe there is a person they are -- they think someone is in this area or is that me kind of hoping and praying? DOWNEY: It could be that they detected a void space. It could be that they detected something that might lead them to believe there's somebody there. I am not looking at the video, so it's hard for me to tell. But if they're working in a specific area, they either have located a void space, a potential space, or potential victim or survivor there.

So there could be a lot of reasons, because they're essentially looking for a needle in a hay stack right now. And they're trying to zone in on where survivors could be located.

BOLDUAN: And, look, this structure just pancaked. That's how everyone has described it.


Knowing that, seeing how this came down, what are the challenges for search and rescue, specifically when a building, a 12-storey building like this, has pancaked?

DOWNEY: Well, the number one challenge is maintaining the safety of those rescuers and making sure that there's no further collapse, that there's no further injury. But, specifically, the challenges that they're dealing with are trying to get some of the larger pieces of concrete moved, get some of the larger debris moved and make sure that they're not disturbing what's laying underneath.

And so it's -- it takes some time. I've learned over almost 40 years that sometimes the only way to move big pieces of concrete is making little pieces of concrete. So it takes some time to do this. And that's what they're going to do. They're still in rescue mode. They're still operating survivors. And so they're taking the risks necessary to locate those survivors, and they're doing the work to ensure that no harm caused -- is caused to the survivors.

BOLDUAN: 34 hours in, does the focus, does the operation, does it shift or is it remaining the same? It is still painstaking. I mean, I'm watching these guys throw out little pieces of concrete by hand when they have got this mountain in front of them. It's just amazing.

DOWNEY: Well, they have not changed. They're refining their operation. They did void searches yesterday and through the night. They removed some of the debris that was hazardous through the night. And now what they're doing is meticulously working through the levels. As you said, you had 12 storeys of building that came down. And so what they have to do now is gently remove each of the levels and work their way down.

BOLDUAN: It is just really remarkable watching this. We are looking at live pictures from our affiliate, WSBN, in Miami, down in Miami, down in Surfside, as this is playing out before our eyes. And we see right here, Chief, the painstaking nature of this urgent, urgent, urgent search and rescue effort now underway. Chief, thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate it.

DOWNEY: Thank you. BOLDUAN: And thank you all so much for joining us today At This Hour. Our breaking news coverage continues after this break.