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At This Hour

Police Chief: Video As Bad As Rodney King Beating "If Not Worse"; U.S. Arrests 3 In Iran-Backed Plot To Assassinate NY Journalist. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired January 27, 2023 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. At This Hour, we're going to be starting in Memphis. That city and far beyond that city are now just hours from waiting for and receiving the release of around an hour's worth of videos that capture of the police beating of Tyre Nichols. What has been described by every person who has seen it so far as a brutal attack that prosecutors say led to his death three days later.

All five of them, we will show you these now fired officers, are now charged with murder and other serious crimes. In an exclusive interview with CNN, the Memphis police chief says that the video is perhaps worse than the police beating of Rodney King caught on grainy camcorder video decades ago. Nichol's mother today described in gut wrenching detail the injuries that her son suffered at the hands of police.


ROWVAUGHN WELLS, MOTHER OF TYRE NICHOLS: They had beat him to a pulp. He had bruises all over him. His head was swollen like a watermelon. It's horrific. And the humanity of it all, where was the humanity? They beat my son like a pinata.


BOLDUAN: Tyre Nichols' mother there was talking to my colleague, Don Lemon about all of this. We're going to have more on that conversation that Don had with her in a moment. I also want you to listen, though, here right now to more of the exclusive interview also with the Memphis police chief. Listen.


CHIEF CERELYN "CJ" DAVIS, MEMPHIS POLICE DEPARTMENT: I was outraged. It was incomprehensible to me. It was unconscionable. And I felt that I needed to do something and do something quickly. I don't think I witnessed anything of that nature in my entire career.


LEMON: That bad?

DAVIS: It was that bad.

LEMON: What are we going to see then?

DAVIS: You're going to see acts that defy humanity. You're going to see a disregard for life, duty of care that we're all sworn to and a level of physical interaction that is above and beyond what is required in law enforcement. And I'm sure that, you know, as I said before, that individuals watching will feel what the family felt. And if you don't, then you're not a human being. And we all are human beings. And I think there will be a measure of sadness as well.

LEMON: How long do these incidents go on? We heard from the district attorney yesterday and from the head of the TBI that there were two separate incidents, right?


LEMON: How long do they go on and when -- what was the worst part of it because it has been said that the officers became charged during the second incident that they got more rounded up.

DAVIS: Well, from the very beginning, to me, they were round up, you know. I don't think they were as amped up as they were on the second -- at the second scene, but just the stop, the nature of the stop, very aggressive, loud, you know, communication. And it was -- it just rose from there. It escalated from there. Mr. Nichols was able to get away from these officers and they found him again at another location.

And at that point, there was an amount of aggression that is unexplainable, you know, in any instance where you're apprehending someone. Even in the worst situations, when there is resistance, officers still have the responsibility to exercise care and regard for any individual that's in custody or they're attempting to apprehend. And they're trained to do that.


LEMON: And to deescalate.

DAVIS: And to deescalate. And that's a piece, I think that is in question. But I think the escalation was there from the officers before training even needed to come in as it relates to deescalate. The escalation was already at a high level.

LEMON: So you're saying they did everything wrong, nothing that -- you think this was outside of their training, everything?

DAVIS: Oh, absolutely.

LEMON: So you mentioned, you said the nature of the stop?


LEMON: Can we talk about the nature of the stop? Why -- what was the nature? Why was he stopped?

DAVIS: Well, I'm going to be honest with you about the stop itself. What is -- what was said was that there was a witnessing of what was considered reckless driving. We've looked at cameras. We've looked at body worn cameras. And even if something occurred prior to this stop, we've been unable to substantiate that at this time.

LEMON: So you haven't been able to substantiate a reckless -- the reckless driving at all?

DAVIS: No, we have not been able to substantiate the reckless driving.

LEMON: And that was why he was supposedly stopped?

DAVIS: That was why he was supposedly stopped in the very beginning. And that was a concern. So, of course, in an investigation, we began to look at what was the probable cause for the stop, where were the cameras? Was there some evidence on the body camera, on other cameras along those thoroughfares? And we've taken a pretty extensive look to determine, you know, what that probable cause was. And we have not been able to substantiate that. It doesn't mean that something, something didn't happen. But there's no proof.

LEMON: I've heard about from you, from every single person that I've spoken to that said, the buck stops with you. Do you feel that you have any responsibility in this failure, in this unit?

DAVIS: Well, I can't remove myself from responsibility. And of course we can't always be with our officers, but it's incumbent upon us to act and have checks and balances in place. But we have to rely on those individuals that are also in supervisory positions and commanders positions. But the accountability is throughout the police department all the way up to the chief.

LEMON: Let's talk about the video.


LEMON: It has been said that it is reminiscent, perhaps worse than the Rodney King video. Is that your assessment?

DAVIS: It's my assessment. I was in law enforcement during the Rodney King incident. And it's, you know, very much aligned with that same type of behavior.

LEMON: But then it's worse?

DAVIS: Sort of group think. I would say it's about the same, if not worse.

LEMON: If not worse. In this video, it has said that Tyre Nichols cries for his mother. Did you hear that?

DAVIS: I did. I heard him call out for his mother, for his mom. I did.


DAVIS: That's why this incident not just that, but just the disregard for humanity as I mentioned before, I think that's what really just pulls at your heart strength and makes you wonder why was a sense of care and concern for this individual just absent from this situation by all who went to the scene?

LEMON: A policy for the Memphis Police Department requires officers to intervene, stop excessive force, and report these incidents immediately. Did anyone on that video, will we see that? Did anyone do that? Or we see that on that video at all?

DAVIS: You will not see that on that video.

LEMON: There are two members of the Fire Department who are involved. What do about them and who are they?

DAVIS: I don't know them specifically. I know there are two officers or two firefighters that were paramedics, and I believe that the fire chief quickly started an administrative investigation into their actions or inactions at that scene as well.

LEMON: What's their involvement? Do they fail to render proper care?

DAVIS: Based on the video, they fail to render proper care.

LEMON: They just standby?

DAVIS: Based on my assessment, yes, yes. They just stood by.

LEMON: And didn't render care?

DAVIS: They began to render care and concern, but it was long after several minutes and, which was, you know, concerning for all of us, that we see a number of failures where individuals did not exercise the amount of care that we are responsible for, you know, no matter what -- no matter what the cause is, we are responsible for exercising care.


LEMON: I want to go back just real quickly and ask you, so do we know what sparked the confrontation at the initial stop?

DAVIS: I think that's the piece that is just unknown.

LEMON: No one knows.

DAVIS: No one knows. And it's obvious when you see this video that it begins at a high level. Typically when we have traffic stops, something sparks, or at least you're able to see what sparks this amount of aggression and physical, you know, activity with a driver. We cannot tell based on video what that was about. LEMON: I have to ask you, it's five black officers, a black police chief and black community, what do you make of the race of the officers and what that says to the community and to the country about the policing, the care?

DAVIS: Well, I think it does -- it takes off the table that issues and problems in law enforcement is about race and it is not. It's about human dignity, integrity, accountability and the duty to protect our community. And as this video will show you, it doesn't matter who's wearing the uniform, that we all have that same responsibility. So it takes race off the table. But it does indicate to me that bias might be a factor also in, you know, in the manner in which we engage the community.


BOLDUAN: So the family of Tyre Nichols talked about that very issue as well, the impact of learning that all five of the officers were black, are black. More on that in just a moment. Ahead of the videos released tonight, Tyre Nichols parents are also making a plea to the public. Listen to this.


WELLS: So I want each and every one of you to protest in peace. I don't want us burning up our cities, tearing up the streets, because that's not what my son stood for.


BOLDUAN: Joining me now is Bakari Sellers, a CNN political commentator and an attorney who has represented victims in police brutality cases. Redditt Hudson is also with us, the cofounder of the National Coalition of Law Enforcement Officers for Justice Reform and Accountability, also a former St. Louis police officer, and Tracie Keesee, she's the cofounder of Justice Initiatives at the Center for Policing Equity and a 25-year veteran of the Denver Police Department. Thanks guys, for being here.

I want to talk through pieces of this, including of what we have heard from the family. But first, Bakari, I just wanted to get what you think and hearing from the police chief this morning.

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it's refreshing to have that level of honesty, accountability, transparency. I think a lot of the reason that we had such a swift action taken by law enforcement is because this police chief understands this community, she understands the pain of this community and she's able to empathize what this community is going through, and so kudos to her for that.

But, you know, for many of us, we're here again. I mean, Kate, you and I have had more than enough discussions on this air on your show as thought provoking, as emotional as they may be. I think today it's even more exhausting. One of the last points that I'll make about what we just saw is you saw the police chief, but you also saw his mother. And I'm a little bit sick and tired of it being on our backs and on our shoulders to go through this pain and trauma and then have to come to the forefront and quell a community. If you don't want people in the streets, then stop killing us.

BOLDUAN: I was sitting thinking about that and hearing Tyre's mother speaking this morning as well, Bakari, just thinking, another mother, another father, having to get just the fact of having to get dressed up and sit down and speak before cameras and tear their hearts out and lay them bare before the public once again, in order to get attention, in order to get justice, in order to also then have to lead the effort to try to quell the violence. Again, as you said, and here we are again. Tracy, what stood out to you from the police chief?

TRACIE KEESEE, CO-FOUNDER & SENIOR VP OF JUSTICE INITIATIVES, CENTER FOR POLICING EQUITY Well, again, I agree with my colleague that it was very refreshing to have a chief immediately take action. Historically, that would have not happened. But also, one of the things that we have to remember, the question was asked, you have a black chief, you have five black officers that are involved. And, again, we have to talk about where the training, where the culture, where, you know, the lack of advance ability to duty to intervene.


All of those things are on the table here. And I think it's absolutely important that the chief said if it's that horrific that she, you know, fired them immediately. But there's something else going on. And you have to be able to understand what's going on in that culture. And the culture of policing, and I think, as it was said, again, here we are again. Here we are having the same conversation, another set of black parents having to grieve their child. And then what next?

We were here before with George Floyd. We were here previous that with Breonna Taylor. I mean, we've been through this before. So the question is, what in the culture of policing? What in the structural pieces of racism there? Are we going to begin to honestly approach and honestly begin to do what we need to do?

BOLDUAN: All right, Ben Crump was on this morning, and the way that he put it in talking about the chief and how the city's handling is, he says this is now a blueprint for departments across the country, just kind of going off exactly what Tracie is leading to. What do you see here?

I agree. Accountability is the best training tool available, notwithstanding all of the other issues --

BOLDUAN: Redditt I'm sorry. I do need to jump in because we have breaking news coming from the Justice Department, the Attorney General speaking about Tyre Nichols.

MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: A horrific from the descriptions I've been given. I want to give my deepest condolences to Tyre Nichols family. I can't imagine the feelings that parents must feel under these circumstances. The United States Attorney has met personally with the family to express department's condolences and express his own. We have opened last week a federal civil rights investigation with the color of law statute, which we will be investigating. We have been working in support of the state and local law enforcement in this matter, and we will continue to do so.

I do want to say, and I want to repeat what the family has said, that expressions of concern when people see this video. We urge that they be peaceful and nonviolent. That's what the family has urged. And that, of course, is what the Justice Department urges as well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anything you can detail more about this Eastern European criminal organization in Iran, taking him out as the leader, does that effectively decapitate the organization?

BOLDUAN: All right, we're going to jump out of this. We're going to have more on the other topics that the Attorney General is speaking to in just a little bit. But I do want to stay here and focus here because this is the first time we're hearing the Attorney General, of course, speak about the death and about the police beating of Tyre Nichols. My panel is back with me. Reddit, we all heard that together. The Attorney General is saying he's deeply -- describing it as deeply disturbing and also speaking to how the civil rights investigation is now open. What do you think?

REDDITT HUDSON, NATL. COALITION OF LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS FOR JUSTICE, REFORM & ACCOUNTABILITY: Well, first, finishing my answer to your prior question, I think this was the right response by the Chief. Accountability is the best training that is available, notwithstanding all the other issues that were correctly identified by the other panelists relative to culture and everything else.

In lieu of that, what you want to see is a swift response to people who violate the human rights, civil rights, and civil liberties of the people that they are sworn to serve. That's the starting point. I do commend the chief for her swift response. I do differ some when she says the race is now off the table relative to criminal justice, especially as it relates to policing. I think there's a difference in the way that black communities are policed by police.

It doesn't matter what the color the officer is. But I also think there's a difference, clearly, in the response to police who violate their oath and violate the rights of the people they serve. These officers were swiftly dealt with and will likely, if everything that we are hearing is correct, go to prison. You look at Mohamed Nur in Minneapolis a few years back who said he was in fear for his life when he shot the white tourist swiftly sent on the criminal justice track to justice. That is the correct response, and she is correct. It should be uniform across the board.

BOLDUAN: I want to play as I mentioned, Tyre Nichols parents spoke. Stay with me, guys. We're going to go back to this press conference. The FBI director is now speaking about this as well. Listen to this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what is your message to the American people about where this department, is this department ready? Should there be mass protest? Is the FBI ready? Is DOJ ready? Should things get out of control this weekend?

GARLAND: I think I can answer all those questions, and I don't think anybody is -- in that case.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: Yes, what happened in Memphis is obviously tragic. I have seen the video myself, and I will tell you I was appalled. I'm struggling to find a stronger word, but I will just tell you I was appalled. The FBI, working with the Justice Department, takes great pride in our color of law investigations, and we will pursue, as has already been announced, an investigation here. And we'll do it professionally without fear or favor, by the book, as I think is expected of us.


As far as preparation, all of our field offices have been alerted to work closely with their state and local partners, including a particular course in Memphis in the event of something getting out of hand. But I would just add my voice to the Attorney General's and to the families to whom my heart goes out that there's a right way and a wrong way in this country to express being upset or angry about something. And we need to make sure that if there is that sentiment expressed here, it's done in the right way.


BOLDUAN: All right, we're going to jump back out of that now. Hearing for the first time from the FBI Director as well, who said he has also seen this video that will be released this evening, saying that what he saw said he was appalled by it, and saying he's having a hard time finding a stronger, probably even more appropriate word for what he saw on that tape.

We are going to -- thank you to the panel. We've got to continue following this breaking news. I really appreciate it, guys. Thank you so much for being here.

There's one thing that we also heard from the police chief today, a comparison between the beating of Tyre Nichols and the infamous police beating of Rodney King back in the early 90s. Coming up, still this hour, Rodney King's attorney is going to be joining us to talk about these comparisons and where we are today.

Also ahead, we have more breaking news coming from the Justice Department that we're going to jump into for you. The Attorney General announcing new arrests in a foiled plot to assassinate a New York based journalist, and he says it was directed by Iran. Details next.



BOLDUAN: And we do have more breaking news into CNN. The Justice Department just announced that they have made new arrests in an Iranian-backed plot to assassinate a journalist on U.S. soil. DOJ saying they now have three people in custody. The Attorney General says the three men were targeting a New York based journalist and human rights activist who has long been outspoken against the Iranian regime's human rights abuses. CNN's Paula Reid is live in Washington. Paula, bring us up to speed. What did the Attorney General announced?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kate, some incredible details coming out of this newly unsealed indictment. This was a plot to allegedly assassinate a New York-based journalist. This is a U.S. citizen of Iranian origin who has been highly critical of the Iranian regime. And in this indictment, they describe how three men who are, quote, part of an Eastern European criminal organization, were all working together to assassinate her.

Now, all three of these men are in custody, but it details how last summer, one of these men obtained an AK-47 style rifle and surveilled this woman's home in an attempt to lure her out and assassinate her. Now, he was arrested last summer. The other two men are now in custody. But, Kate, the Justice Department was a little vague on exactly how that happened, saying that one of these men is simply in custody in New York. The other one has been arrested in the Czech Republic.

Now, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco described why this case is so critical. Let's take a listen.


LISA MONACO, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: Today's indictment exposes a dangerous menace to national security. A double threat posed by a vicious transnational crime group operating from what it thought was the safe haven of a rogue nation.


REID: Now, the Justice Department has long tried to show that foreign actors who commit crimes against U.S. citizens or U.S. interests will be brought to justice inside a U.S. courtroom. But that has proved to be challenging, particularly when people are acting on behalf of adversarial foreign regimes like China, Russia and Iran. So here they have three successful arrests, and now it is their task to get three successful convictions. Kate?

BOLDUAN: That's exactly right. Paula, thanks so much for jumping on it and bring us up to speed on that. I appreciate it.

Joining me now for more on this is CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger. He's a White House and national security correspondent for The New York Times. Of course, David, I'm so glad you're here because you have such deep reporting when it comes to Iran and its efforts here in the United States. What's your reaction to this announcement from the Attorney General on these arrests and the plot against Masih Alinejad?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, one of the first thing I think it tells you, Kate, is that the Iranians are continuing to use a pretty bold effort that they've had underway for many years. You may remember that back in 2011, there was an Iranian plot to blow up a restaurant in Washington, D.C. when the Saudi ambassador was supposed to be dining there. It was stopped as well, and the participants convicted.

But we've seen these on regular occasion, and it tells you that all of the efforts in the decade, more than a decade since the Iran nuclear deal in 2015 that President Obama reached, which, of course, was later scuttled by President Trump and other outreach really hasn't stopped Iranian intelligence who are working through syndicates like the one that was announced day from attempting these.


We also have a much broader Iran problem. You know, we've got them supplying drones to Russia and, of course, the nuclear program.