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Virginia Deputies Charged with Murder; Brain Lapointe is Interviewed about Seaweed Floating Toward Florida; NCAA Tournament Tips Off Today. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired March 16, 2023 - 09:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, the disturbing 12-minute long video of a violent encounter between 7 Virginia deputies and 28-year- old Irvo Otieno will be shown to the Otieno family now.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Those officers are now facing second degree murder charges after Otieno died in their custody while at a mental health facility. Now prosecutors claim the video shows officers smothering him.

CNN's Brian Todd has more of the details from court.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In court, prosecutors allege that seven sheriff's deputies in Henrico County, Virginia, smothered a man in custody. They're charged with second degree murder in the death of Irvo Otieno. He died March 6th after he allegedly became combative in a mental facility and was physically restrained.

Police say officers took Otieno to a hospital under emergency custody on March 3rd after responding to a possible burglary, but he became physically assaultive at the hospital and they arrested him and jailed him for that weekend.

MARK KRUDYS, OTIENO FAMILY ATTORNEY: He was on medication for mental illness. His mother is very concerned about his ability to receive his medications. So, she brings medications to the jail. They decline to accept those medications.

TODD: Prosecutors said in court, video shows pepper spray and blows delivered in jail. On March 6th, he was brought to a mental hospital. Investigators were told he became combative during admission. Video shows he was pulled to the ground, held down for 12 minutes, shackled and prone (ph). The video was not shown in court or to the family's attorney, who says Otieno was unarmed.

KRUDYS: He's handcuffed and in leg irons. Even if you were to describe his contact as agitated or combative, he posed no danger to those officers. You cannot use - you can only use reasonable force. If you're piling onto an individual that's handcuffed, that is in a mental health crisis, that is the definition of excessive force.

TODD: It is not clear what other actions were not caught on camera.

AREVA MARTIN, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: If this person poses an imminent threat or danger, police are allowed, under the Constitution, under case law, to use a level of force. But it's always a question of a continuum of force. Someone should not die in police custody.

TODD: The family attorney said Otieno came to the U.S. from Kenya when he was four, was interested in hip-hop and was part of the Kenyan- American community.

TODD (on camera): CNN has reached out to the attorneys identified so far for the accused deputies. We haven't heard back. Their boss, Henrico County Sheriff Alisa Gregory has declined to talk to us on camera, but says her office is cooperating with the state police investigation. So far at least two of the deputies were allowed out on bail.

Brian Todd, CNN, Henrico County, Virginia.


HILL: Joining me now, CNN law enforcement analyst, former Metropolitan Police Department Officer Michael Fanone.

Good to see you this morning.

So, you know, Brian laid out a lot of what we learned, but a crucial part here is this video that prosecutors were referencing, saying it's 12 minutes, calling it alarming, saying that it shows deliberate cruel treatment. The family set to see that this morning.

Given, though, how quickly these charges were filed, do you think that that is ultimately what this video will show?


MICHAEL FANONE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: To be honest with you, I don't know. You know, it's -- I think it's irresponsible for any of us, including myself as a former police officer, to speculate on these officers' actions one way or the other based solely on the statements of prosecutors and attorneys for the family. Not to say that that couldn't be the case, but I have seen, especially in recent history, a rush to judgment with regards to police officers' actions and an overcharging based on the politics of today, and the questions that we have about other incidents involving police officers.

HILL: So - and so then just to clarify too, you're not necessarily saying that you have an issue with these charges. What you're saying is, we all need to wait and see that video before anybody decides if there was, a, a rush to judgment or if, b, this is what they show?

FANONE: Correct.

HILL: So, when we look at - when we look at what we do know in terms of questions - and I think people have questions about training and what we have been told, information that has been given, both in the statements that Brian received and also from the prosecutors. So, prosecutors saying that in court - in court they were saying that Otieno was handcuffed and in leg irons, held on the ground by all seven officers for 12 minutes.

When you hear details like that, what would that signal to you? Or what does that - I think for people who are trying to wrap their head around it, what could that mean in a situation like this?

FANONE: Well, first of all, officers' priority in a situation is to render the scene safe. In this particular case, that means gaining compliance from the suspect. And it may involve using force. I think that, you know, people need to understand that the officers are dealing with an individual's actions and, at that particular time, the motivation for those actions may be -- or is irrelevant. The fact that the person is combative is what the officers are dealing with, not what is causing that. I understand the sympathy people may have, myself included, towards individuals who are suffering from mental illness. That being said, the officers' job is to render that scene safe.

HILL: And so to render it safe, for people listening, what does - what does that mean? What is that training? Is it to subdue the individual? To perhaps get anybody else out of that situation?

FANONE: Well, you know, in similar situations that I've experienced, the idea is obviously first to gain the compliance of the suspect. Like I said before, officers are allowed to use force. That being said, if an individual is committing certain actions and officers are using proportionate force to subdue them, they have to continuously reevaluate what type of force is reasonable in that situation. Officers are allowed to use the minimal amount of force necessary to affect or gain compliance. So, that could be something that they would have to re-evaluate minute by minute and, in some scenarios, second by second.

But also I want to say that, you know, just because the individual was in handcuffs or shackles, I've experienced many individuals who displayed combative, aggressive behavior while in handcuffs and shackles. And, in a few instances, that behavior even rose to the level in which it was seriously dangerous to me and other officers and to the suspects themselves. And then a few even rose to the level of deadly - a deadly threat.

HILL: Wow. Michael Fanone, we always appreciate your insight, your expertise. Thank you.

FANONE: Yes, ma'am.

SCIUTTO: Still ahead, a 5,000 mile wide blob of seaweed, currently wreaking havoc in the Caribbean, it is headed now towards the coast of Florida. Our next guest has been tracking this phenomenon for years. Why this one could be the worst yet.


HILL: Oh, beachgoers beware. There is a massive stretch of seaweed, some 5,000 miles wide. That's, you know, about twice the width of the United States, floating towards Florida's Gulf Coast. It is a variety of seaweed known as sargassum. It forms these large pungent blooms. It could be the largest of these massive fields of blob -- floating blobs on record. And scientists are really worried about the impact it may have once it does reach the shoreline.

SCIUTTO: Brian Lapointe, he's a biologist at Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, has spent his career studying, even swimming, in the sargassum.

Good to have you on. Thanks for taking the time.


SCIUTTO: So, as you've explained to us before the show, this actually has a good function for some fish species. They can live in it. They can eat and so on, but it's huge. I mean 5,000 miles wide. What caused it to get so big, and is that a bad sign?

LAPOINTE: Well, it's what we say, too much of a good thing. Beginning in 2011, this area of the tropical Atlantic that we call the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt formed. And in 2018, it reached its maximum extent of extending all the way from the coast of Africa, around the Gulf of Guinea, all the way across the tropical Atlantic, up through the Caribbean, into the Gulf of Mexico and the south Florida area.


That's 8,850 kilometers.


LAPOINTE: And, at that point, you realize, this is the largest algae bloom on earth.

And we've been studying it. It's varied a little bit from year-to- year. 2013, for some reason, we did not see this sargassum belt form. But it formed early this year. It doubled in size between December and January based on the satellite imagery. That's how we track it. And we have sampled some of this great Atlantic sargassum belt in other areas of the Atlantic Ocean to compare with the baseline measurements that I established back in the 1980s. And the nitrogen content of the sargassum has gone up by 35 percent. Nitrogen is a key limiting nutrient to its growth and biomass production. So, we do think that part of the cause of this is increasing availability of nitrogen that allows this plant to grow.

SCIUTTO: From - from what -- from what exactly?

LAPOINTE: Well, it could be from a number of both natural and human sources. SCIUTTO: Gotcha.

LAPOINTE: We know when it's in the Gulf of Mexico, for example, we use stable nitrogen isotopes to identify the source of that nitrogen. And it matches up with the isotope value of the Mississippi River nitrogen. So, you know, the Mississippi River discharges a lot of water and nitrogen. There's a dead zone there that has formed in the Gulf of Mexico as a result of all that production of organic matter, not just by sargassum, but by phydoplanq (ph) and algablooms (ph) that settled in the bottom and consume oxygen.


LAPOINTE: So, we think this - it may be now happening more broadly in the Atlantic basin. What we first saw in the 1980s with blooms in the Gulf of Mexico of sargassum, we are now seeing more broadly around the Atlantic basin.

And so if you look around the basin, you've got the Congo River, and other rivers, are discharging in west Africa. The Amazon, the largest river on earth, in Brazil. A lot of deforestation, expanding agriculture and a growing human population.


LAPOINTE: Oranoco (ph) River. So, we do think that the rivers are playing a role here, supplying -- increasing nitrogen to sargassum that is supporting (ph) its growth.

HILL: So, when we look at - and when we look at all that happening, as you're - as you're still trying to determine all the reasons why, as Jim pointed out, this is helpful when it's in the ocean. It's doing an important job in the ocean.


HILL: The problem for a lot of people, and I think anybody who's encountered it, myself included, when it washes up on to shore and it starts to decay, that's when a lot of the other trouble really starts because it's - listen, it's tough for beaches, for resorts, for tourism. Nobody wants to come to a beach filled with this stinky mess, and you also have to clean it up. But it's also potentially dangerous in terms of what's in it.


HILL: So, how concerned are you about what's coming ashore and what could be coming ashore?

LAPOINTE: Well, I am very concerned, Erica, because it's not a problem until it is a problem. And as you point out, it becomes a problem when it becomes excessive amounts of it landing on the shore, along mangroves and oak basins, on beaches where it begins to rot, and decompose, it leaches out a lot of chemistry into the water, high ammonia concentrations around that and hydrogen sulfide, a toxic gas. And it's, you know, it's a human health risk if you're in an area where there's a lot of this decomposing (ph), breathing that air, and I think you've experienced that in Belize.


LAPOINTE: So, people need to be wary of that, but also, as this plant sees more nitrogen, we are tracking its tissue chemistry. And the amount of arsenic seems to be quite high in this.


LAPOINTE: And we - so, again, if you're - if you're somewhere where you're harvesting this to use as fertilizer, to repurpose it and use it for a beneficial use, you have to be very concerned, particularly if you're using it for a food and fiber crop for human consumption.

SCIUTTO: Goodness.

HILL: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Lots - lots to watch out for, no question there.

Brian Lapointe, thanks so much for joining.

LAPOINTE: Thank you. Good morning.

HILL: All right, my friends, we are counting for you. You have just over two hours until your March Madness bracket is due. Just ahead, what we're watching for as the first round tipoffs come our way.


One of the most exciting sporting events of the year, even if you're not a college basketball fan. Stay with us, people. We'll help you with your last-minute picks.


SCIUTTO: All right, if you're like me, a little bit behind on your bracket, now is the time to get those brackets in. you've got two hours and seven minutes before the first round of the NCAA tournament tips off at noon eastern.

HILL: CNN's Andy Scholes is following all the action.

Jim needs some last second advice.


HILL: I just threw some darts at the wall essentially, except for a couple of well-orchestrated picks.

SCIUTTO: Those work, man.

HILL: But Jim is holding out for expert advice because he's determined to win, Andy, so what do you got?

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Well, it's panic time now, right, guys? You only got those two hours, so now it's about time to panic fill out these brackets.

But I have some things to consider if you're still looking into what to do. Or, Erica, if you have Indiana, like you do, and still want to make some changes, because you might want to do that.


SCHOLES: So, obviously, you know, how do seeds perform in the tournament? You know, obviously, the higher the seeds, the better they do. But, keep this in mind when you're filling it out when you look at the national championship. Look, you know, one seeds win way more than anyone else.

HILL: Oh, wow.


SCHOLES: A two seed, only five times. Three seed, four times. A five seed has never won the national championship. Who's a five seed this year? Duke. So, keep that in mind.

Now, what do the final seeds add up to? This is fascinating. So, when you get your final four, add up those seeds. That - when you add that up, that number needs to be around 13. It's been as high as 18 and - twice in the last 10 tournaments, as low as nine. But if you - you know, you don't want to have a one, a one, a two and a two. That only adds up to six. It's not a realistic final four according to the last 10 tournaments. So, keep that in mind when you look at your final four. Have that number be around 13. You need to throw a dart and have someone a higher seed in there with the lower seeds.

Now matter what you do, though, guys, we're all likely going to be wrong when it comes to who - who the champion is. So, look at this graphic here. This says who the consensus was who the bracket were filled out the most to win the championship. Like last year was Gonzaga. More than 30 percent of the brackets had them. Then Kansas ended up winning, less than 8 percent had it. The only couple years we've been right lately was 2018 and 2017 we had Villanova and North Carolina right. But look how - look how bad it was in 2016. Less than 3 percent of people had Villanova. 2014 was the worst.

HILL: Wow.

SCHOLES: You basically had to go to Yukon in order to have made that pick right. Less than 1 percent -

HILL: My entire family got that one right then, Andy. That's important.

SCHOLES: Yes, well, yes, the people - all the Huskies that were in bracket competitions were very happy that year that they won.

So, you know, just have fun with it, but try to use these numbers. I didn't - I forgot I was supposed to warn you, there was supposed to be math before this hit. But, you know, just try to have fun with it and just keep a little - few things in mind. And when in doubt, you know, try to pick those higher seeds to get to the final four.


SCHOLES: But, you know, have some fun. Try to pick a Cinderella.

SCIUTTO: You know -- you know who picked Baylor in 2021? This guy. So, let's see if I can pull it off again. I don't know. Granted that --


HILL: Oh. Oh. And there he goes. And so it begin, Andy. Buckle up.

SCIUTTO: That was probably more dart than anything else.

Andy Scholes -

SCHOLES: Yes, see, I didn't have much to think about this year. I went to the University of Houston. So I'm Cougs all the way.

SCIUTTO: Ah, fair enough. All right, well, we'll be listening.

Andy Scholes, thanks so much.

SCHOLES: All right.

SCIUTTO: Get those brackets in.

Right now, senators preparing to question Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. What was meant to be a budget hearing is going to look a little different given everything. Please stay with us.