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Haiti Spiraling Amid Gang Violence, Political Instability; Mississippi Ex-Officers Face Sentencing for Torturing 2 Black Men; Abortions in U.S. Reach Highest Level in Over a Decade. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired March 19, 2024 - 15:30   ET



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: As of today, almost 1,000 American citizens have reached out to the U.S. government to get information about evacuating from Haiti. That's according to the State Department. The country is spiraling amid rampant gang violence, political instability, and an escalating humanitarian crisis.

The U.N. estimates that gangs control 80 percent of the capital, Port- au-Prince. CNN's David Culver is there and filed this report.


DAVID CULVER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Port-au- Prince feels post-apocalyptic.

CULVER: This is basically the aftermath of a war zone.

CULVER (voice-over): Driving through the battlegrounds between gangs and police, we dodge massive craters and piles of burning trash. The police controlled these roads leading to Haiti's international airport, for today at least.

It's been shut for weeks. Out front, checkpoints to search for suspected gang members, and an armored truck to keep watch. It sits beaten and battered.

Less than a month ago, we flew in and out on commercial flights here. Now it's desolate. The country is in chaos. Essentially held hostage by gangs eager to expand their reign of terror.

Over the weekend, more businesses looted and cars stolen. Gangs leaving behind a scorched path of ruin.

We're headed to one of the last remaining hospital trauma centers that's still functioning in Port-au-Prince.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: February 29th was probably the worst.

CULVER (voice-over): As soon as we meet one of the doctors, a call comes in.

[15:35:00] CULVER: Go ahead if you need to get it.

CULVER (voice-over): A gunshot victim heading into surgery. He takes us to him.

CULVER: Most of those cases that are brought here are gunshot victims from the gang violence.

CULVER (voice-over): With the patient's family giving us permission, we go in as staff prepare to operate. We're told the 24-year-old truck driver was caught in the crossfire between police and gangs.

CULVER: The doctor is showing me here images that are very disturbing, but they show an entry wound of a bullet basically around the temple and went right through and caused damage to at least one eye.

CULVER (voice-over): The doctor tells us the man's lost vision in both eyes. Another bullet hit his arm.

CULVER: And so they will have to amputate his arm?


CULVER (voice-over): We peer into the ICU. It's full.

CULVER: Are most of these gunshot victims?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of them are.

CULVER: All of them are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's in pain. She feels a pain in her leg.

CULVER: And so how did it happen? Where were you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was going to the market.

CULVER (voice-over): Eighty-six years old. A reminder no one is shielded from the violence that's gripped Haiti's capital in recent weeks.

Police are exhausted. One local commander telling me morale is broken and that the gangs have more money and resources than they do. Low on ammo, their squad cars out of gas.

It is personal for the commander.

CULVER: He was forced out with his family from their own home, and now this is his home, essentially.

CULVER (voice-over): The police, at least in this community, do have backup in the form of local residents.

CULVER: Do you feel like gangs are trying to move in and take this area?


CULVER (voice-over): While many community leaders call for peace, they admit they're tired of feeling threatened. So much so, some have created their own checkpoints and barricades, staffed 24-7, redirecting traffic and determining who comes in. Not everyone gets out.

CULVER: You can see right here at this intersection there's a massive burn pile. This is actually where the community takes justice into their own hands.

About a week ago was the most recent such case. They captured four suspected gang members. They brought them here, killed them with machetes, and set their bodies on fire.

CULVER (voice-over): The gruesome vigilante acts were recorded in part as a warning to the gangs. But even amid utter turmoil, life moves forward, and with it moments to celebrate. Outside a church, these bridesmaids excitedly awaiting their cue to walk down the aisle.

Port-au-Prince is a city now shattered by the relentless blasts of violence that have forced more than 300,000 of its residents out of their homes.

CULVER: Where are you staying here? Where's your home in this facility?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right up there.

CULVER: Right up there?

CULVER (voice-over): They take refuge in places like this school, classrooms turned dorm rooms, where more than 1,500 people cram in.

CULVER: So she's showing us this is all her stuff that she's been able to bring, and this is where she is set up right now.

CULVER (voice-over): In the classroom next door, we meet this woman, her husband killed by gang members. She and her five-year-old, like many here, have been forced to move every few weeks.

We're sleeping hungry. We're in misery, she tells me. We'd probably be better off dead than living this life.

CULVER: Adding to the complication for those folks is the reality that they are not only facing threats from gangs, but as they describe it to me, they're also being ostracized from the communities in which they are now essentially camping out in. They say those neighbors don't want them there and will likewise attack them because they feel like having these refugees now within their community is drawing the gangs' attention and potentially bringing more violence to their homes.

David Culver, CNN, Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SANCHEZ: Our thanks to David for that report.

Still to come, they call themselves the Goon Squad, and now they're headed to prison. The first of six former Mississippi officers who pleaded guilty to torturing two black men were sentenced today. We have the latest from Mississippi in just moments.



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Sentencing is underway in a police brutality case in Mississippi.

Former officers Hunter Elward and Jeffrey Middleton, part of the so- called Goon Squad, pleaded guilty last year to torturing two black men. Elward was sentenced this morning to 20 years in prison. They repeatedly attacked the men, Michael Jenkins and Eddie Parker, in the victim's Jackson area home for nearly two hours.

The men said they were kicked, waterboarded, and tased by the former officers, all while they were handcuffed. Jenkins was also shot in the mouth.

CNN senior national correspondent Ryan Young is here with more on today's sentencing. Ryan, today's hearing was emotionally charged. No surprise there. Tell us what happened.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, emotionally charged is almost an understatement. There were times in court where almost everyone in the court was crying. That's not only the victims, but the people accused were crying as well.


Hunter Elward actually turned to the two victims and said he was sorry and said he was upset that he put this mental anguish on their lives for the rest of their lives, and he understood what was going on. The men, who did not decide to -- decided not to read their impact statements, actually said through their attorney that they felt like their manhood was stolen on that night.

There was so much pain there. And of course, they went through parts of this where the men who were former officers and a deputy showed up at a house. They staked it out. They made sure there wasn't a camera.

They went to the door where the camera was not placed. They kicked the door open and immediately rushed in and started beating the men over and over.

And the question is, why? Why did this happen? Because apparently, one of them was dating a white girl, and they thought they were taking advantage of her. So all this played out in court, and the victims' statements were raw and full of emotion. I think no one in court will ever forget Eddie Parker's mom basically standing up and saying, she's a Black woman. And just because she's a Black woman, she is also still a mother who cares about her child.

After court, we were able to catch up with Eddie Elward, who is the father of the man who accused Hunter Elward for pulling that trigger. And he had some emotion himself. Listen to what he said to me outside of court.


YOUNG: You said you were sorry to the victims.


YOUNG: Could you make that clear for us?

ELWARD: Well, it never should have happened. Nobody in Rankin County should have to experience what they had to experience. And when I found out what had happened, that's when he couldn't live with it anymore himself.

You know, I said the healing starts when you tell the truth.


YOUNG (on camera): As you can imagine, Hunter Elward standing up there, basically coming forward, telling everyone his side of the story, apologizing for pulling that trigger. It was his gun that basically severed the tongue of Michael Jenkins.

It was actually Michael Jenkins' mother who stood up and talked about not being less of a mother because she was Black. This has really sent shockwaves throughout the justice, law enforcement all across the country. Today, the FBI director actually addressed this. That happened in the last hour or so. Take a listen to the FBI director talk about the pain that these men went through and the crime that he says is unspeakable.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: No human being should ever be subjected to the torture, the trauma, the horrific acts of violence carried out by these individuals.


SANCHEZ: Brianna, Jeffrey Middleton is actually upstairs right now. There was a 10 minute recess. That's why we were able to come downstairs and do this report.

But they're going through piece by piece of what each man was involved in during this raid. And this was a raid that was all happening under the "Goon Squad." We've been covering this for a year, but I've been talking to the victims consistently for that year.

And they looked me in the eye and they basically said no one believed them at first. They actually were charged. And now they're finally getting some peace by these convictions that are happening as we speak -- Brianna.

KEILAR: So important that we are following what these victims are saying. Ryan, thank you so much for doing that. We appreciate it.

Despite bans in more than a dozen states, abortions in the U.S. reaching their highest rate in more than 10 years. What's causing the surge next?



SANCHEZ: New research shows that abortions across the U.S. are on the rise. That's despite bans on the procedure that have taken effect in more than a dozen states since the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the Dobbs decision. Let's bring in CNN Health reporter Jacqueline Howard with more on the trend. Jacqueline, take us through this data. What does it show?

JACQUELINE HOWARD, CNN HEALTH REPORTER: It's really interesting data, Boris. We know that since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, 14 states so far have had abortion bans.

But despite that, in nearly every other state, we've seen increases, really, in abortion services. So that shows, it tells a story that efforts to maintain and increase access to abortion care in states without bans has improved access. We know that last year, there were more than 1 million abortions performed here in the United States.

That number represents an increase of 10 percent since 2020. And when you look specifically at states without bans, they've seen an increase of 25 percent. These are states like Illinois, like New Mexico, particularly states that border states that do have bans.

And the reason why we're seeing this increase, we know that some patients in states where there are bans are traveling to states without bans to get that abortion care. We know that with telemedicine and telehealth services, there's been an increase in abortion care there as well. So those are some of the trends that we're seeing.

Efforts made by clinics, abortion funds, advocacy groups to maintain access. Those efforts appear to be seen here in the data, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Jacqueline, you mentioned telehealth. I'm wondering how big a factor was medication abortion in all of this?

HOWARD: A huge, huge factor. We know that last year, medication abortion accounted for 63 percent of those abortions that were performed. And medication abortion is when a patient is given two pills, two medications, mifepristone and misoprostol, to end a pregnancy.

And that number, 63 percent, is up from in 2020. So we're seeing this is a more popular form of abortion that we're seeing -- Boris.

[15:55:00] SANCHEZ: Jacqueline Howard, thanks so much for those details.

Still ahead, there's no place like home. The iconic ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz were finally returned to their owner nearly 20 years after they were stolen. An emotional reunion when we come back.


SANCHEZ: The iconic ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland and the Wizard of Oz are finally home. The famous pumps were reunited with their owner, collector Michael Shaw, on Monday. The FBI said that Shaw likened the experience to a heartfelt reunion with a long-lost friend. That friend is worth more than $3.5 million.


KEILAR: These were stolen from the Judy Garland Museum in 2005. And just a little trivia for you here, only four pairs of the slippers used in the film are still known to exist.

The attorney representing a 76-year-old man charged in connection with this theft tells CNN his client is innocent. For now, these shoes are going to go on a whirlwind tour around the world.

SANCHEZ: I, too, have mistakenly taken bedazzled shoes like that before. It could happen to anybody.

KEILAR: Yes, it could happen to anyone.

"THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.