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More Tests for Water Tank Corpse; Oscar Pistorius Granted Bail; Debating How to End Gun Violence in Chicago; Harlem Shake Bad News?

Aired February 22, 2013 - 14:30   ET



FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: It could be weeks before we find out what killed a young tourist whose body was found inside a hotel water tank in Los Angeles. The autopsy on 21-year-old Elisa Lam was inconclusive. Toxicology tests will be done.

Lam's decomposing body was discovered Tuesday. She had been in the tank as long as 19 days while water flowed to rooms below. CNN's Kyung Lah takes us inside the Hotel Cecil.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Water from the tap, something the Cecil Hotel doesn't want you to see. Hotel resident, Alvin Taylor, helped us videotape it with a cell phone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Smells like chlorine.

LAH: Chlorine, what the city is using to flush the hotel's entire water system, after the gruesome discovery of a woman's body inside one of the rooftop tanks that may have been there for as long as 2-1/2 weeks. Four tanks connect to the hotel's drinking supply, and during those weeks, hundreds of residents and hotel guests have been using it.

ALVIN TAYLOR, CECIL HOTEL RESIDENT: It makes me sick to my stomach. That's why a lot of people have left and went to another hotel, just the thought of it, for so long.

LAH: The woman inside the tank, 21-year-old Elisa Lam. The tourist from Vancouver, Canada, arrived in Los Angeles on January 26th. Surveillance video shows her acting oddly inside the hotel elevator, as if she's hiding from someone. But Katie Orphan says Lam didn't seem odd at all when they met.

KATIE ORPHAN, THE LAST BOOKSTORE: She was very outgoing, very lively, very friendly.

LAH: Orphan is the manager of a bookstore around the corner from the hotel called "The Last Bookstore," one of the last places Lam was seen by anyone, as she bought records and presents for her parents and sister.

ORPHAN: Talking about, you know, what books she was getting and whether or not what she was getting would be too heavy for her to carry around as she traveled or take home with her.

LAH: That was January 31st. The young woman planned to see more of California, say police. Her parents flew down to Los Angeles to plead for the city to help find their daughter. Outside the family's restaurant near Vancouver, a memorial for a young life lost too soon in an unforgettable manner.

ORPHAN: It kind of feels like the beginning of a noir novel. Like this is the beginning of a Raymond Chandler story and Phillip Marlow is going to figure out what happened. And unfortunately, this is real life.


WHITFIELD: Wow. As for the people who drank the water at the Cecil Hotel, the Health Department says its tests did not find any harmful bacteria. It will be retested after all the building's pipes are drained, flushed, and sanitized.

All right, coming up next, our daily hot topics debate including Oscar Pistorius as the subject matter, granted bail and now released from jail. Did his star status have anything to do with the judge's decision?

Plus, do we need the National Guard to stop the gun violence in Chicago? And what's behind the crackdown across the country on the Harlem shake dance? Our panelists will all be revealed next.


WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in for Brooke Baldwin. So for the next 20 minutes, we'll be tackling some of the hot stories that you were talking about starting with this dramatic day in court for the blade runner, Oscar Pistorius.


DESMOND NAIR, CHIEF MAGISTRATE: In this instance the accused has reached out to try to meet the state's case. Of course against the background of those improbabilities that I have seen and mentioned, that reaching out in the affidavit in the way that he did, placing it before the court, together with the fact that none of the factors that need to be established have been established, I have come to the conclusion that the accused has made a case to be released on bail.


WHITFIELD: As Pistorius bowed his head there, a magistrate granted bail to the South African track star accused of killing his model girlfriend. Pistorius must now post $114,000 bond. Must remain in the country and must not return to the scene of the crime, his own home.

But until his next court date, at least Pistorius is free. So let's bring in today's hot topics panel. Craig Crawford, blogger for, good to see you. CRAIG CRAWFORD, BLOGGER, CRAIGCRAWFORD.COM: Happy Friday.

WHITFIELD: Happy Friday. And Whitney Jefferson, celebrity editor at Buzz Feed. Hello. And Lola Ogunnaike, a commentator and expert on all things pop culture. That's quite the net, and Brian Balthazar, editor of Good to see you all of you.

OK, so Craig, you first. You know, the magistrate granted Pistorius bail because he says the chief investigator made errors during his testimony and has legal problems of his own. Does that sound like a good enough explanation for that bail bond?

CRAWFORD: Well, I don't know if it has anything to do with him being an Olympian, that they would be easy on him, but it could have to do with he's a man because women's rights groups for a long time have complained that the judiciary system in South Africa is lenient on domestic violence.

They don't even keep stats on it. My hope would be that the prosecutors have the opportunity and the sense to include a lesser charge in case premeditative murder doesn't stick. He's at least guilty of a drunken accident, which would be reckless slaughter.

WHITFIELD: OK. Well, Lola, do you see this as an issue of Pistorius getting special treatment? Was this considered a lenient? You know, bail in your view and, if so, is it because of his celebrity status, because of his condition? How do you see it?

LOLA OGUNNAIKE, POP CULTURE COMMENTATOR: Well, I don't necessarily think it was special treatment, but the judge essentially argued that he is a public figure. He's well known. He will not be able -- he won't be a flight risk only because of the fact that he is such a high-profile figure and his prosthetics make him immediately recognizable. So he didn't see a flight risk at all and that's one of the reasons he decided to grant him bail.

WHITFIELD: Brian, how do you weigh in on this? Do you think the same question would be asked if there was no bond?

BRIAN BALTHAZAR, EDITOR, POPGOESTHEWEEK.COM: I think the fact that he is an Olympian and a celebrity we would be asking no matter what the question today. But what is interesting to me is that where he was being held reportedly up until this time for this pre-trial hearing was actually not the same place that most people would stay.

He was actually in a holding cell as opposed to the regular jail that everyone else would be in. So that was actually kind of raising suspicions right there. In addition to saying is he a flight risk, which to your point, is that he's recognizable?

Is he a harm to others? That's where I think the prosecution really kind of dropped the ball and they just didn't deliver the information the judge needed to say, yes, we have to keep him in prison.

WHITFIELD: In fact, Whitney, that was the criteria. The two questions the judge entertained, danger to the community or risk of flight. You know, is that, in your view, the criteria that was weighed solely?

WHITNEY JEFFERSON, CELEBRITY EDITOR, BUZZFEED: I don't know if that's the only criteria they weighed. I think the public's perception may have had a little bit to do with the judge's ruling this morning. I mean, think about it. We were all rooting for him during the Olympics. He was such a hero, such an inspiration. And I think that he does have the public sympathy and I would think that it might have had something to do with the judge's ruling this morning, maybe, maybe not.

CRAWFORD: We have to remember, also, the prosecutors and investigators really botched this case, contaminated the crime scene.

OGUNNAIKE: I was going to say the same thing.

CRAWFORD: The lead investigator they had to get rid of because he's charged with murder in another case.

OGUNNAIKE: He's not only charged -- you know, he's not, Fredricka, not only charged with attempted murder, seven counts of attempted murder, but he's are already admitted to contaminating -- allegedly shooting at a minivan while he was drunk.

So that makes him a questionable lead chief investigator already. But when you couple that with the fact he's already admitted the same person to contaminating the crime scene, it makes it -- it's very messy but very fascinating.

WHITFIELD: We're going to be revisiting this again and talking about it. Meantime, we have another hot topic, taking aim at Chicago violence. Is the National Guard the answer? This panel debates that right after this.


WHITFIELD: Since January 1st, more than 40 people have been killed by gun violence in Chicago. One was Hadiya Pendleton who was killed by gunfire in a park just a mile from President Obama's Chicago home. Last year there were more than 500 murders in Chicago.

So how should the city work to fix the plague of violent deaths? One retired general says call in the National Guard.


LT. GENERAL RUSSEL HONORE, U.S. ARMY (RETIRED): Government along with state and federal assets need to come in here and clean this up just like it was a natural disaster. You've got to reinforce the liberties of the people to be able to walk the street and so little girls like Miss Pendleton don't get shot in the schoolyard. That's a shame. That shouldn't be happening in America.


WHITFIELD: So that's retired General Russel Honore. Remember him in uniform in the streets of New Orleans. He was called upon to handle -- restoring order to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina caused looting and violence there. He is a man who knows a thing or two about getting a bad situation under control. You can see people were applauding him at the time.

So let's bring back the panel and ask is the National Guard the way to end gun violence in Chicago? Brian, you first. Do you think this might be a good idea?

BALTHAZAR: Well, I think Chicago is in a death con five situation, more than 500 homicides in a year. When you consider that Chicago is half the size of New York and yet they exceeded New York City by about 100 homicides, that's troubling.

We have a problem. And sometimes the right decision isn't always easy and it isn't always popular, but clearly something has to be done. There are kids that want to go to school and feel safe. Parents want to feel safe. I think this is a good move.

WHITFIELD: Yes. Whitney, if there were an easy answer would have been done already. So clearly it's a very complicated situation. Is this an answer, National Guard?

JEFFERSON: I'm not sure if it's the answer, but it's definitely an answer. I feel like I read some number this morning that said there were over 2,000 gun related violence occurring since Newtown. There needs to be a stop to it. People need to feel safe in their home city and in their homes and I don't think it would be a bad thing too much the National Guard come to Chicago and fix it.

WHITFIELD: So, Lola, we've heard this idea before to help other cities during similar crises, but it never really comes to fruition. So why would it be different this time?

OGUNNAIKE: I don't know if the National Guard is necessary at this moment. I agree with the rest of the panelists. It's reached epidemic proportions in Chicago and something needs to be done.

But maybe bringing in state police officers, maybe making more of an aggressive hiring campaign for more police officers on the street and heavily policing the neighborhoods where this crime is actually happening would be the way before I would call in the National Guard.

That said, the Chicago citizens should feel safe walking the streets and not feel like every time they step outside their door they are playing a game of Russian roulette.

CRAWFORD: I just don't understand what the guard would actually do. I mean, I can't figure out how they would help. I worry about troops from Southern Illinois being expected to tell the difference between a gang member and a law abiding citizen and the danger that poses.

I almost think the snowstorm would have done a better job lowering the murder rate than that would. Maybe what you could do is put the National Guard in the suburbs and the police there can then go into the city, into the problem areas because I would trust the local police to know more about the local situation and how to deal with it. They need more manpower.

WHITFIELD: That's an interesting notion. Go ahead.

BALTHAZAR: I think just this story, someone made the suggestion back in 2010 and still the problem has gotten worse. There was a story report just like this, like three years ago and I think we can -- the same way we tell a difference between a policeman and civilian we can do the same thing with the National Guard. They are trained to be in the military at a moment's notice. These are people whose resources they can use.

CRAWFORD: I just don't think they're trained for this kind of work. But for them at least it's better than going to Afghanistan.

BALTHAZAR: If it keeps someone from pulling a gun on another person, I'm all for it.

WHITFIELD: All right, so good food for thought. All right, coming up next for this panel, the dance craze now sweeping the nation from high schoolers to adults. Everyone is doing "The Harlem Shake."


WHITFIELD: All right, "The Harlem Shake," you've seen it on subways, under water, heck, we're even guilty of doing it here at CNN. The dance craze has clearly taken over the world at this point. Do you believe this dance is getting some students in major trouble?

Early this week, 13 students at a Pennsylvania high school were suspended for two days after filming this video in a classroom during a photography class. Students say the substitute teacher gave them permission. Well, the substitute now says that isn't quite the case.

The Brownsville School District says it cannot comment on student discipline. The mother of one of the suspended girls gave her side of the story early today on HLN.


KATHLEEN BROADWATER, DAUGHTER SUSPENDED (via telephone): My daughter's paper said that she was suspended for disorderly conduct and disrespect to the teacher. I don't agree with the video. I don't agree with being up on the tables. But as a substitute teacher or any teacher, she should have gained control of that classroom.


WHITFIELD: Boy, all right, back with the panel. What's going on there? So, Craig, is this kind of the "Footloose" of today?

CRAWFORD: You know, I thought that last sequel "Footloose" was outdated. I can't believe kids are still fighting for the right to dance and that was a photography class. I mean, a photography class making a video that goes viral, they ought to get straight A's for that not a suspension. WHITFIELD: Well, I wonder, Lola, is it an issue of the dance or maybe their rendition of the dance? I don't know what's going on with the pole there and stuff, or is it that it's in a classroom when instead kids should have been studying? How might the school district have been, I guess, dissecting this kind of dance?

OGUNNAIKE: Well, some of the dancing was a little lewd so I will give the principals and school officials that, but that said --

CRAWFORD: They kept their clothes on. At least they kept their clothes on.

OGUNNAIKE: Yes, there was no quote/unquote "dirty dancing." It was suggestive, but not quite dirty. That said it's a harmless prank. This is a dance craze sweeping the nation and these kids are just having a little -- they're having a little fun. They're being teenagers.

At worse, give them a detention and call it a day. But to suspend them and have it on their school record, that's going to affect their college admissions. I don't think that's really fair. Detention and call it a day.

Fredricka, really quickly, these kids don't even have it as bad as the student in Queens, New York City. Apparently he was suspended for five days and -- and he was arrested for trying to create a "Harlem Shake" flash mob. So these kids got off easy.

WHITFIELD: Whitney, I saw you grooving a little bit. The tune is a little catchy. You can't help but move a little bit. In fact, Buzz Feed had its own rendition, right? It was on YouTube.

JEFFERSON: I was in that so I don't know -- you've got it.

WHITFIELD: Where are you in there?

JEFFERSON: I have a paw in my hand, I'm kind of hidden.

CRAWFORD: Here you go, get the National Guard to stop "The Harlem Shake."

WHITFIELD: I see the paw. OK, drama queen.

JEFFERSON: Not my proudest moment but, listen, I want to say this. When I was in high school, we were satisfied to pull a senior prank and have it be a local legend for a year or two. Now kids want to be -- like get millions of views on YouTube. They want infamy. I don't know. It's gotten too out of control, I think. YouTube has made these people hunt for fame in a way that I don't understand.

OGUNNAIKE: It's harmless fun. Should these kids be suspended and arrested for dancing? That's ridiculous.

BALTHAZAR: After YouTube --

WHITFIELD: Maybe roll a little tape and you can give us your rendition as we say goodbye. What do you think?

CRAWFORD: No way. I'm afraid mine would frighten the family dog.

WHITFIELD: No. You're not with me?

JEFFERSON: Yes, I'm with you.

WHITFIELD: Go Whitney. All right, Whitney Jefferson, Lola Ogunnaike, Brian Balthazar, and Craig Crawford, thanks -- there we go.