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3 Ex-Officers Accused In Tyre Nichols' Death Seek Own Trial; Senate Launches Inquiry Into Coast Guard Serial Assault Cover-Ups Exposed By CNN Report; Close to 3,000 People Killed In Powerful Earthquake In Morocco; Cardiac Arrest Patients Recall Near-Death Experiences. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired September 15, 2023 - 14:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Just days after federal indictments came down against them, three former officers accused of beating Tyre Nichols to death have a hearing in a state courtroom right now.

They're all seeking their own trials, separate from the others. Tennessee prosecutors are planning to have one trial for all five former members of the Memphis police charged in the January murder of Nichols, who was just 29-years-old.

In the federal case, all the defendants have pleaded not guilty to deprivation of civil rights, witness tampering and other offenses.

CNN's Nick Valencia has the latest.

Nick, what are you learning from this hearing so far?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, in short, these officers are saying they're being charged for the actions of other officers, that their lack of action they feel they're getting trumped up charges basically is what they think and what this boils down to, Jim.

So these officers, Desmond Mills, Tadarrius Bean and Justin Smith, are all seeking to severe their cases from their colleagues, their former colleagues.

Here's what Tadarrius Bean is saying in part of the motion, and it sort of reflects the reason for all of them:

"The only way to ensure that each defendant has the right to a fair trial in front of an impartial jury of their peers is to grant severance for the defendants with considerations regarding the alleged involvement of each co-defendant."

So one of the attorneys for one of these former officers, Desmond Mills, his name is Blake Ballin, and he has been arguably the most outspoken of the defense attorneys.

And he has maintained, since the beginning when he started representing Desmond Mills, that his client never struck Tyre Nichols. And he believes that he was inappropriately charged.

Just to give some context to our viewers and remind them, these former officers were part of the since-disbanded SCORPION Unit that specialized in street crime.

They were so infamous that the district attorney's office investigated hundreds of cases they were involved in and they dismissed dozens of them because of a lack of credibility.

These five individuals were fired after Nichols' death. And they have since been charged as well, as you mentioned, Jim, with federal charges.

So they're not just facing the state charges but also witness tampering, obstruction of justice, as well as the violation of civil rights.

They pleaded not guilty not just to the state charges but also the federal charges. Now we have this hearing today. And if the judge decides to grant these severance motions, we could be looking at not just one but potentially four state trials.


There's a lot of moving parts here legally. We're following it all. We'll see what the judge decides later today. Shelby County district attorney, Jim, has been adamant he wants to keep them altogether and try them in one case-- Jim?

SCIUTTO: Nick Valencia, thanks so much.


VALENCIA: You bet.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: A new Senate investigation just launched into the Coast Guard cover-up of dozens of cases of sexual assault at the Coast Guard Academy that were kept secret for years.

And it's all happening because of a series of explosive stories by CNN chief investigative correspondent, Pamela Brown. She's with us live on this.

Amazing reporting you've done that continues to make a difference. Tell us what's happening.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's really been a team effort. We're seeing a fallout here.

Now the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations for DHS, which usually keeps its investigations under wraps, but in the gravity of this, it is making this investigation public.

As you noted, Brianna, CNN first reported a Coast Guard investigation that substantiated dozens of rapes at the Coast Guard Academy was kept hidden for years. It was dubbed Operation Fouled Anchor. And that's the impetus of this.

It found that some of the accused had moved into top roles at the Coast Guard or retired with full pensions and benefits.

Victims were even discouraged from pursuing the allegations, according to our reporting. And they still had to go to class and even work with the person who allegedly assaulted them. Some victims ended up dropping out of the academy.

But the assault and investigation was never reported to Congress or made public until CNN started asking questions. Now you have the Senate looking for answers.

In a letter sent to the head of the Coast Guard, Senator Richard Blumenthal cited CNN's reporting.

And said the leaders who oversaw or, perhaps, created the environment where misconduct occurred and did nothing much be held accountable and the public deserves to know why many reported cases of sexual assault and harassment were allowed to go uninvestigated for so many years.

Senator Blumenthal told us this was the most shameful incident of cover-up of sexual assault he has ever seen in the military.

Now this letter is asking for a slew of documents from the Coast Guard, including any information on every sexual assault at the academy from 2006 to present.

KEILAR: This is just one of the investigations into this cover-up, right?

BROWN: It is. It's just one. There's been a hearing on Capitol Hill. There's a call for an I.G. investigation. We've been trying to confirm whether that's been launched. So far, we haven't gotten any firm answers on that.

The Coast Guard also announced its own 90-day inquiry in July. The commandant of the Coast Guard has even publicly apologized to the victims and their families in the wake of the initial reporting.

KEILAR: What are the victims saying about this?

BROWN: I think it's so important to recognize that this is really at the heart of this, right?

KEILAR: Right.

BROWN: We've spoke to so many women, so many men who were assaulted. Some going as far back as the 1990s, some just recently.

And they all tell similar stories, Brianna. There's a pattern of them being discouraged from reporting their assaults, being told their careers would end if they came forward.

Most are still dealing with the trauma of what they experienced. And they're just looking for justice to be served. KEILAR: This is a career path where they're trying to attract people,

and it's like one in four people can qualify to be in the armed forces.


KEILAR: They need people. When you deal with people like this, you're not really bringing them in. This is essential to the health of the military.

BROWN: It is. And the irony is they -- according to our reporting, they wanted to keep this hidden because they didn't want to hurt the reputation of the academy. Now that it's all coming out, it's hurting them even more.

KEILAR: It certainly is.

Pamela, thank you. Great reporting.

BROWN: Thank you.

KEILAR: Boris?

SANCHEZ: One week after a devastating earthquake in Morocco, we'll hear from survivors who say they're now in limbo after losing their homes and loved ones. We'll have their stories next on CNN NEWS CENTRAL.



SCIUTTO: It's been one week since a powerful 6.8 magnitude earthquake violently shook the country of Morocco, leaving families and communities shattered.

The death toll continues to rise, nearly topping 3,000 now. Families are desperately searching for their still-missing loved ones amid miles and miles of rubble.

CNN's Nada Bashir is on the ground and brings us some of their harrowing stories.


NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER (voice-over): It took days for the winding mountain roads leading to this town to be cleared. Debris from the earthquake making it almost impossible for aid workers to reach this small town.

But a week on and it has become a hub for humanitarian aid.

Two days after the earthquake struck, a doctor with a team arrived from Casablanca.

But it's not just physical wounds they're treating. Some of these people have lost their entire families. Children come and tell us their parents or siblings have died.

This doctor tells me sometimes the emotional trauma they face is worse than their physical injuries.

In this town, the crumbling remains of life before the earthquake are a constant reminder of all that has been lost. Homes, livelihoods and loved ones all gone in an instant.

(on camera): Across Morocco's devastated mountains, there are countless stories of tragedy. Few people have been untouched by death. And there are towns like this one, which were cut off for days.

But amid the stories of destruction, there are also remarkable stories of survival.



BASHIR (voice-over): Abdul Aziz Rogi (ph) is the head nurse here. He rushed to the local midwife's residence with a glimmer of hope, only to find a building collapsed.


(on camera): So this is where he found the midwife, Maryam (ph).

ROGI (ph): Yes.

And you could still see her pillar. And he saw her head beneath the rubble and he began digging himself and pulling her out.

ROGI (ph): Yes.

BASHIR (voice-over): Alone and in the dark, Rogi (ph) says he prayed that Nurse Maryam (ph), a colleague he considers to be like a sister, would survive.


BASHIR: "She begged me not to leave her," Rogi (ph) says. "I promised I wouldn't leave her alone."

Nurse Maryam (ph) did survive and, though shaken and with no clinic to operate in --


BASHIR: -- Rogi (ph) tells me she delivered two healthy babies the next morning.

This town, like all those affected in the earthquake, will never forget the tragedy of September 8th. So far, the death toll has climbed to nearly 3,000 people.

And while there's been an outpouring of support, not only from the Moroccan people but also from the international community, the road to recovery for this country will be long.

Nada Bashir, CNN, Morocco.


SANCHEZ: Thanks to Nada for her reporting.

Now to some of the others headlines we're watching this hour.

The Biden administration is imposing new sanctions on more than two dozen Iranian individuals and entity, all tied to the violent crackdown on protesters following the death of Mahsa Amini.

Her death one year ago while in the custody of Iran's Morality Police sparked one of the largest protest movements the country has seen in in years. Hundreds of those protesters were killed in the unrest.

Also, Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson is warning the country not to shy away from uncomfortable facts about the history of racism.

Her comments came during a speech at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, earlier today.

That church is widely known and is commemorating 60 years since white supremacists carried out a bombing there that killed four young black girls and injured dozens more.

And the extreme drought conditions causing massive traffic jams in the Panama Canal may extend into next year. That's according to the canal's administrator, who also said some ships are waiting as long as 14 days to get through.

Economists say, if the trend continues, you can expect major price hikes and delays as we get closer to the holiday season.


KEILAR: "Floating without weight and a place of light." A new study giving incredible insight into near-death experiences. We have that next on CNN NEWS CENTRAL.



SANCHEZ: One of the most profound questions that humankind has always struggled with is, what goes through our minds in the moments before we die? A new study has a fascinating look at what people encounter in a near-death experience.

In fact, one person told researchers, quote, "I thought I heard my grandma, who has passed, saying you need to go back."

Another explained that they went directly to a place of light. It was calm and immediate. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta is here with more about these findings.

Sanjay, this is really fascinating research. What did researchers say they found, and how did they even go about conducting this study?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It really is an interesting story and an interesting study. It's fascinating.

We have to be careful not to draw too many conclusions from this, because it is early research.

But I agree, Boris, these near-death experiences, what exactly is happening in the brain, can you measure that somehow?

Two quick points. I think one of the questions they were trying to answer is, are there these hidden reservoirs of consciousness that might exist in the brain?

And during the dying process, when someone is in cardiac arrest or no longer getting enough blood flow to the brain, does something happen to the brain? Does it become disinhibited in some ways, which allows people to have some of the experiences you just mentioned or to have that flash of their whole life in front of their eyes as they go through the dying process? Perhaps.

But they wanted to figure this out by going into rooms where people were actually in cardiac arrest, a difficult study to perform as you might imagine.

There was some 567 people that they were able to go into those rooms, put the electrodes on the scalp and measure brain activity during that process.

The people, 53, so about 10 percent roughly survived the cardiac arrest. And 11 said that they had recollection of what was happening during CPR of chest compressions and things like that. And six people had these near-death experiences like you mentioned.

What was fascinating, Boris -- again, you don't expect there to be any electrical activity when blood flow has stopped to the brain.

What they found is they were getting these electrical activities, alpha waves, beta waves, delta waves, all these different types of activity, up to an hour after the cardiac arrest.


GUPTA: So not only was there electrical activity, but it seemed to be persistent for some time -- Boris?

SANCHEZ: So, Dr. Gupta, would you say that that is a way to measure consciousness? Is that what they were able to do?

GUPTA: I wish that they could say that. But I think that if you look at that study carefully, there really wasn't a direct correlation. For example, there were people who had these spikes of the electrical

activity who did not have any evidence of being conscious at that time. So I don't think there's a correlation there at this point.


But I think the significance is, first of all, it starts to shed some light on what is happening during these near-death experiences.

And Sarm Parnia (ph), who is the leading researcher -- I've written about him in the past -- he's been studying this for decades and validated many of these near-death experiences in many interesting ways.

But also that second point. You know, I'm a brain surgeon, Boris. We talk about brain death all the time. What exactly does that mean? If you're still getting electrical activity of some sort, even an hour after cardiac arrest, what does that mean?

For now, it doesn't change anything. I don't think protocols will change based on this with brain death and with declaring brain death.

But I think we are starting to image and see the brain in ways we have not seen before, and also understanding more about what is happening when someone is near death.

SANCHEZ: Yes. It raises even more questions that are perhaps very difficult to answer. More research likely in the future.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, great to get your expertise and perspective.


SANCHEZ: Thanks so much.

GUPTA: Yes, Boris.


SCIUTTO: Right now, an unprecedented auto worker's strike is underway. We'll check in live with a union member next on CNN NEWS CENTRAL.