Return to Transcripts main page

CNN This Morning

Specialized Police Unit that Beat Trye Nichols to Death on Video Permanently Disbanded in Memphis; Authorities Search for Kidnapping Suspect Who Tortured Woman in Oregon; Video and Audio of Paul Pelosi and His Attacker Released; Eagles, Chiefs Advance to Face Off in Super Bowl LVII; School Reopens after Six-Year-Old Shot Teacher in Class; US General Predicts Possible War Between US and China in 2025. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired January 30, 2023 - 08:00   ET





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's over! It is over, and the Kansas City Chiefs have won it!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fly, Eagles, fly on the road to victory.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: And there you go. Good morning, everyone. For the first time ever, two black quarterbacks will face off in the Super Bowl, the numbers behind an unprecedented matchup.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: In Memphis this morning, there are new questions about the group of the so-called SCORPION unit involved in the beating death of Tyre Nichols, including the police chief's history with these specialized units.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: A manhunt this morning for a kidnapping suspect who may be using dating apps to avoid capture and find new victims.

LEMON: A chilling warning from an American general. The U.S. could be at war with China in the next two years. His reason and what the Pentagon is saying.

COLLINS: And concertgoers met with facial recognition cameras as they walked out of Madison Square Garden. Hear why and whether it's a slippery slope legally.

CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.

So obviously, there's a lot to cover, but we're going to begin with the Memphis special police unit accused in Tyre Nichols death now facing scrutiny. All five of the former officers were members of the recently created SCORPION unit which was tasked with tackling rising crime in the city. The Memphis Police Department announcing that they will permanently deactivate the unit. The police chief says it was created due to an outcry because of three years of violence in the city.


CHIEF CERELYN "CJ" DAVIS, MEMPHIS POLICE DEPARTMENT: This is one of three teams whose primary responsibility is to reduce gun violence, to be visible in communities. We had record numbers in 2021, 346 homicides. So this unit was put together, and they had great success.


LEMON: So joining us now to talk about it, CNN's chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst, Mr. John Miller. John, good morning to you. Thank you.


LEMON: Wow, there's a lot to discuss here. The intent was good. The end result was a failure. That was the attorney for Nichols' family said. What do you know about this unit and what's going on now?

MILLER: Well, the SCORPION unit is a specialized unit like a lot you see, especially in cities facing crime. And when you look at the Memphis crime picture, and the chief framed it a little bit, but this is a city that's poured millions into downtown, convention centers, restaurants, venues. They lost a Hyatt Hotel construction deal because crime was just going up. Downtown, they had 4,000 crimes in 2022, 1,000 more than they had the year before, 30 cars broken into on one block.

So, sending these anti-crime teams that are your experienced officers, highly trained to go after predator criminals, makes sense in a place where you're having record murders, shootings, carjackings. The problem is, how long are they on the job? What was their level of experience? What was their level of supervision? Is there a sergeant with every team? The answer was, not long enough, not enough training, not enough supervision. They got three or four days. Needed more than that.

The basics were there. They had de-escalation training. They had some tactical training. But at the end of the day, they had to disband that unit, because the name is poison now. No pun intended about the SCORPION unit, but you couldn't send teams out and have them show up in a community where they would say, who are you guys? And they would say, we're SCORPION, and get anything but a really negative reaction.

COLLINS: Which is notable, because this is something that city leaders have been touting since it was formed, saying that it was helping to reduce crime. They were saying look at the numbers, even the police chief there. And it is true that homicide numbers were up in Memphis, just like they were in a lot of places in the country. And so what does this mean for the future of these highly specialized units? Aren't all of them going to be now associated with this beating of Tyre Nichols?

MILLER: Kaitlan, we went through this in New York City. Granted, it's a much larger police department, but we took our anti-crime units that were in plain clothes, we put them into hybrid uniform, so it was very clear they were police. We gave them much more training. They were trained in de-escalation.


They were trained in ABLE. ABLE -- Active Bystander and Law Enforcement. That means if you're standing back and your partner is getting out of control, it's your job to get him or her under control as the rest of the team. And that has worked. They're still getting more guns than other units are. This unit was -- they had tactical piece down about getting the guns. They were making a lot of felony arrests and getting a lot of guns. But it only takes one incident like this or one team that has become poisoned to take the whole thing down. And we're watching that in real time now.

HARLOW: I think "The New York Times" this morning did an excellent job of explaining just what he was up against, Tyre Nichols was up against -- 71 commands in 13 minutes. That's a headline. And it ticks through the contradictory orders that were given by these officers of things that Tyre could not do. Like yelling at him to show his hands as they're holding his hands down. Commanding him to get on the ground when he's already on the ground. Over and over and over again. How does that happen, not by one officer, not by two, but by five?

MILLER: I would first say that nobody at "New York Times" has never tried to handcuff somebody who didn't want to be handcuffed, and I would look at that tape myself a few times to see, when they're giving these commands, his position is changing back and forth all the time. But the fundamental problem is, they're not functioning as a team that looks like they've worked together before in a similar situation. They're not functioning as a team that has practiced an arrest and control. This was a full-on failure.

LEMON: John, I was there in Memphis, and just listening to you tick through what was happening, the video, the sky-cams, or whatever, it was very -- it was good that we had you here. It was very important that we have you here, because I think you helped a lot of us get through this and understand what's going on. And also, these similar units around the country, because not all of them have issues.


LEMON: It's --

MILLER: But they all face the same risks.

LEMON: They all face the same risks. But it's the people who are in those units and not necessarily the units and the names and all of that.

MILLER: And the chief got it. The chief got it. Supervision was her problem. She knew that. She said I have a span of control problem, which just in English that means, I don't have enough sergeants. You need that one person who can slow that down, and that person clearly wasn't there.

LEMON: More to discuss. And you'll be here on CNN throughout the day and coming weeks and months to talk about this. Thank you, John Miller. Appreciate it.

Straight ahead, we need to tell you that Van Jones is going to be live with us on his new CNN opinion piece and the debate over the role of race in the Tyre Nichols murder, or death, I should say.

COLLINS: Also this morning, an extremely dangerous kidnapping suspect who tortured a woman in Oregon is still on the loose this morning. He may be using dating apps to lure new victims and manipulate people into helping him. That is the warning that we are hearing from police as the manhunt for the person, Benjamin Foster, is continuing. Investigators have been looking at him since last Tuesday when they found a woman who was tied up, severely beaten, and unconscious.

Lucy Kafanov is following this case for us. Lucy, he has been on the run for about a week now. Police say they need the public's help. Are they any closer to finding him?

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're not, Kaitlan, they were able to identify him relatively quickly as 36-year-old Benjamin Obadiah Foster. They released several photos of him along with a new statement yesterday night, actually, in which they're warning the public, and I quote, "It is possible that Benjamin Foster may attempt to change his appearance by shaving his beard and hair" or both, or by changing his hair color. They are asking the public to pay attention to his facial structure and eyes since those features are obviously difficult to change.

Again, he's on the run, subject to this intensive around the clock search. This woman was found last Tuesday, as you point out, beaten into unconsciousness. The district attorney said that he tried to kill her while intentionally torturing her and secretly confining her in a place where she was not likely to be found. She is now hospitalized in critical condition.

Now, he fled that scene before officers arrived. This was last Tuesday. They then searched another area about 20 miles north with a SWAT team. They found several pieces of evidence, including his car, and a woman who they believe was hiding him out. They arrested her, but he escaped again. Again, Kaitlan, he is on the run. He is being charged with attempted murder, kidnapping, and assault.

COLLINS: Yes. That's so discomforting for that community. Lucy Kafanov, thank you for staying on this.

LEMON: You cannot watch this video and not be horrified by it. And we're going to dig into this and discuss it a little bit more, a lot more, actually, as a matter of fact. When 82-year-old Paul Pelosi was attacked inside his home, conspiracy theorists called it a gay tryst, a lover's quarrel, a prostitute visit gone wrong. And then, of course, the video came out, proving it to be all B.S. Elected Republicans, rightwing media hosts, high-profile business leaders all pushed the baseless conspiracies, all pushed the B.S.


Elon Musk tweeted a bogus link to his 100 million followers that it could have been a fight with a male prostitute. Three months later, he tweeted a very short apology. Donald Trump Jr. shared this picture at the time, a crude joke about Paul Pelosi Halloween costume. Representative Claudia Tenney and Clay Higgins shared posts in the same vein. Then there was the unfounded theory that the two men were friends. Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene peddled that idea, but it's not true. We hear Paul Pelosi say as much in the newly released 911 call. Listen.


PAUL PELOSI: This gentleman just came into the house and wants to wait here for my wife to come home. And so --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know who the person is?

PAUL PELOSI: No, I don't know who he is.


LEMON: Another theory, that it wasn't really a break-in. former president Donald trump and others pushed the theory that there was glass inside and outside the house. He says, it seemed like a breakout. But you can see with your own eyes, there's David DePape breaking in with a hammer. Senator Ted Cruz lamented in a retweet at the time that we might never know for sure what happened inside the Pelosi home, but the video, the 911 call, they paint a pretty clear picture for everyone. And if that's not enough, the attacker called a San Francisco reporter from jail on Friday. Listen.


DAVID DEPAPE: Freedom and liberty isn't dying. It's being killed systemically and deliberately. The people killing it have names and addresses. So I got their names and addresses so I could pay them a little visit. I want to apologize to everyone. I messed up. What I did was really bad. I'm so sorry I didn't get more of them. It's my own fault, no one else to blame. I should have come better prepared.


LEMON: So now what, that you've put these conspiracy theories out there and you've disparaged an 82-year-old man? Let's discuss that now and talk about it with editor-in-chief of SEMAFOR, Mr. Ben Smith. Ben, thank you for joining us.

BEN SMITH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, SEMAFOR: Thanks for having me, Don.

LEMON: So this is really outrageous to me, because I think, I feel like it sort of, what happened in Memphis overshadowed this video coming, out and I thought that this was a really important story considering what I had just talked about. This was awful. Elected Republicans, members of conservative media, making up these conspiracy theories, and now it's just like, eh, it never really happened.

SMITH: Yes, there's this -- God, that call is so chilling, where his only regret is he didn't get more people. But, yes, I think there's this whole strain of populist politics that kind of relies on, well, you know, we're just asking questions. Maybe nothing is true. You can't trust the police. You can't trust any authorities. You can basically just trust whatever you feel to be true, which is, we hate these people, it's probably their fault, they're probably lying.

And so there was just this very broad embrace of totally crazy conspiracy theories. Often there's an element in this particular case of sort of leering at some sexual motive. And it was pretty incredible. And then just the sort of grudging half-apologies are just kind of the worst part.

LEMON: Just one more follow for you. Listen, the discussion is, do you talk about these things? Because then you give -- you're giving oxygen to the conspiracy theorists. To the FOX Newses of the world, right, with all of -- and then I don't know if they go back and retract them. Most of the time them don't. It just became content for them.

The question -- the question is, this should be called out more by members of the media. It should not be ignored. What they did was absolutely repugnant, and they'll move on and pretend that it was OK. The Don Juniors of the world, evaluating and promoting them, putting people like that on the air to interview them. And just adding to these conspiracy theories. So then what gives? What do we do? What's our responsibility as members of the media?

SMITH: I think it's a tricky question. And the old rule is you don't repeat this stuff, that if you, on your show, don't talk about this, no one will ever hear about it. And that's sort of the old pre- Internet approach to this kind of thing. But this story is the obvious counterexample, where this guy was -- it's sort of a full circle, because this guy himself, the attacker, was sort of swimming in these waters. That's what motivated him to go and attack Pelosi --

LEMON: The election was stolen waters, that's what --

SMITH: Right, yes. And so you can't -- I think it's a very tricky question for journalists. And it's not like there's some silver bullet, where if only you say the right magic words people will know that this is false and this is true. I think it's this broad decline of trust in the media, of trust in institutions that opens the door to people to really just believe whatever they feel like believing.

HARLOW: You just said the Internet, so it made me think how much worse social media as made all of this. You were the media reporter for "The New York Times." Newspapers give context.


CNN gives context. Social media often does not.

And I've been thinking a lot about ChatGPT and what that's going to mean for our future in replacing some parts of journalism and all of that, and just where you think this goes from here given all of that?

BEN SMITH, FORMER NYT MEDIA COLUMNIST: You know, maybe I'm an optimist. I think there's a pretty big audience who actually doesn't enjoy the sort of like, weird lies and speculation as video game on Twitter aspect of, I think, you know, what Elon Musk sort of considers citizen journalism, but it's really just, yes just allowing this total disconnect from reality as in this case.

I mean, I don't -- you know, I think our being replaced by ChatGPT is, you know, is its own difficult moment, but I don't know, I think that a lot of -- there is a lot of people out there who are, who don't particularly enjoy this kind of thing and who are looking for -- I mean, the pendulum swings, and I think the pendulum is actually swinging back, and that's why you see, I mean, among other things, these social media platforms -- Facebook, Twitter -- really struggling right now.

HARLOW: Ben, thank you. I hope you're right. I hope that pendulum is on the way back. Thank you very much.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Ben.

SMITH: Thanks.

HARLOW: Well, the Virginia School -- elementary school where that six-year-old shot his teacher, that school reopens today, what students will see how it will be different when they come back.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, Eagles fans flooded the streets of Philadelphia after their team punched a ticket to the Super Bowl. We have more on the historic matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs with Harry Enten. That's next.



TRAVIS KELCE, KANSAS CITY CHIEF'S TIGHT END: How about this beautiful trophy. Hey, I've got some wise words for that Cincinnati Mayor, no, you're rolling, shut your mouth, you Jabroni. You're going to fight for your right to party.



COLLINS: It was a good night last night. The Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles are set to meet at Super Bowl LVII. This after the Chiefs snuck by in a 23-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. The Eagles blew out the San Francisco 49ers earlier in the day, 31 to seven.

Joining us now with this morning's number is CNN's -- I mean, we could just replay back --

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: I would love it. COLLINS: I mean, Jalen Hurts singing, which was like the greatest

moment I've seen on TV lately. But the morning number, we want to talk about who is going to be favored here when this happens in two weeks from now.


COLLINS: You look at the Eagles' roster. It's kind of hard to find a weakness in it.

ENTEN: Yes, I mean, this morning's number is, it is two. So, that's how much the Philadelphia Eagles are favored to win the Super Bowl in two week. They are favored to win by two points over the Kansas City Chiefs and this is a great Super Bowl you know as you sort of pointed out because what we have is the AFC's number one seed, the Chiefs versus the NFC's number one seed in the NFC, the Philadelphia Eagles.

This has been happening more frequently where the one seed is playing the one seed. It used to not really happen frequently, but we've been getting better and better Super Bowls, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Yes, it's kind of amazing 2010, 1994 is when it happened.

Okay, but the two quarterbacks here are the ones that are getting everyone's attention. I love Jalen Hurts, obviously. He went to Alabama.

But Patrick Mahomes is amazing as well and he was playing with one good ankle yesterday.

ENTEN: He's been playing with one good ankle. He is the youngest quarterback ever to reach three Super Bowls at just the age of 27. He beats out Tom Brady who was also 27. You can see Roethlisberger and Bob Griese, both at 28. Mahomes beat Brady by just 40 days, 40 days.

But you were pointing out how good the Eagles are. The average playoff win margin after the conference championship games since 1970-1971. The Eagles have won by, get this an average of 27.5 points. I think that's why the Eagles are slightly favored in this matchup.

The line has been kind of going through different things, but the Eagles, very, very strong. You look at these other teams on the list. Two of them easily won the Super Bowl, but of course, my Buffalo Bills lost by a single point.

COLLINS: Yes, we all know. What about the two quarterbacks also that stands out because there's a bit of history that's happened there.

ENTEN: Yes. This is the first Super Bowl to have two Black starting quarterbacks. All I can say is it's about darn time. That's what I have to say. It's a historic matchup. I'm really looking forward to seeing it, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: And they're both so talented. I'm really excited for the Super Bowl.

ENTEN: They are both so good. So good. It is going to be great.

COLLINS: Where are you going to be watching?

ENTEN: I'm not sure. Maybe we can watch together.

COLLINS: Okay, we'll see. I'll think about it.

ENTEN: All right.

COLLINS: Harry Enten, thank you.

ENTEN: Thank you.

COLLINS: Don, back to you.

LEMON: Thank, Kaitlan. Thanks, Harry.

An alarming prediction from the US Air Force General, why he says the country could be going to war with China in as little as two years, that's straight ahead.



HARLOW: Welcome back.

This morning, students are returning to Virginia Elementary School, Richneck Elementary. This is nearly a month after a six-year-old student in that school, brought a gun in, and shot his teacher in class.

Richneck Elementary has installed metal detectors. Students will be given clear bookbags and the principal has been reassigned.

Our Brian Todd is live for us this morning in Newport News, Virginia. You can imagine being one of those parents thinking about, you know having that talk sending your kids back to school. What are you hearing?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy, a very anxious day as students and teachers file back in here. Classes resume in about an hour. We've been talking to a couple of teachers off camera as they made their way in this morning.

One of them just told me, she is excited to be back here. A very significantly enhanced security footprint in place here at Richneck Elementary for this first day back as you mentioned. They're making the students carry around clear transparent backpacks, not allowing them to bring their regular backpacks to school.

Two state-of-the art metal detectors are now in place. We've seen several Newport News Police officers including the Police Chief, Steve Drew here at the entrance greeting people as they've come in.

Now, police officers, school resource officers will not be deployed here, but they will have security officers -- other security officers here from now on as well.

They did have that imprint there even before the shooting, but it was one security officer splitting duties between elementary schools, that will now be enhanced.

Still parents are very anxious. We talked to one parent of a child whose son is in the same class as the shooter, Thomas Britton, about whether he has confidence in sending his child back to the school. Here's what he had to say.


THOMAS BRITTON, FATHER OF RICHNECK STUDENT: I think with new administration, this administration that listens to teachers, listen to concerns, and acts on those concerns, you know, threats. Treat threats as credible until they're not, not the other way of, you have to do it before the threat is credible.

This is probably going to be the safest school in the area for a good long while, kind of an ironic twist. So, I have no misgivings about sending them back.


TODD: And we've also learned that the principal who was here at Richneck on the day of the shooting, her name Briana Foster Newton has been reassigned to another job in the school system. School officials not telling us exactly what that job is, but she is no longer here. The Vice Principal had also previously resigned after the shooting -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes. And that's what parents told us over the last few weeks, Brian. They felt like they went unheard over and over again by that school administration.

Thank you for being there. Thanks for your reporting -- Kaitlan.

LEMON: Right.

COLLINS: A US Air Force General is predicting that the United States and China will go to war in 2025, just two years from now. "The Washington Post" reporting that General Michael Minihan sent a memo to troops under his command that said: "I hope I'm wrong. My gut tells me we will fight in 2025. Taiwan's presidential elections are in 2024 and will offer Xi a reason. United States presidential elections are in 2024 and will offer Xi a distracted America. Xi's team, reason and opportunity are all aligned for 2025."

Asked about this memo, a Pentagon spokesman told CNN these are not -- these comments are not representative of the Department's view on China.