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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Five Fired Memphis Cops Charged With Murder In Tyre Nichols' Death; Israel Defense Forces Launch New Airstrikes On Gaza; First Witnesses Testify At Murdaugh Double-Murder Trial; U.S. Military Operation Kills Senior ISIS Leader In Somalia. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired January 27, 2023 - 5:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN HOST: Here we go. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Christine Romans.

The city of Memphis holding its collective breath this morning. Today, video will be released at the traffic stop that led to the beating death of Tyre Nichols. The release of that a deadly encounter coming one day after five fired police officers were charged with Nichols' murder. And a candlelight vigil last night anger mixed with tears. Nichols' mother pleading for nonviolent protests after the video was made public.


RAWVAUGHN WELLS, TYRE NICHOL'S MOTHER: What I hear is going to be horrific, but I want each and every one of you to protest in peace. I don't want us burning up our cities, tearing up the streets because that's not what my son stood for. And if you guys are here for me and Tyre, then you will protest peacefully.


ROMANS: Police forces across the country are bracing for protests in their cities. They're monitoring the developments in Memphis closely. CNN's Shimon Prokupecz has the latest.


DAVID RAUSCH, DIRECTOR, TENNESSEE BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: We continue to pursue every lead. Justice demands it. And our agency exist so that guilt shall not escape, nor innocence suffer.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: The law enforcement official in charge of the Tyree Nichols investigation, saying he was sickened by what he saw police officers do to the 29- year-old.

STEVE MULROY, SHELBY COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: We all want the same thing, we want justice for Tyre Nichols.

PROKUPECZ: Shelby County District Attorney charged, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills, Emmitt Martin, Justin Smith, Tadarrius Bean, with second degree murder, aggravated assault and kidnapping amongst several other charges.

The lawyers for two of the former officers who were all fired last week, say they still don't have the details about what happened.

WILLIAM MASSEY, DEFENSE ATTORNEY FOR EMMITT MARTIN: We do not have discovery. We're not seeing the video, so we're kind of in the blind right now. And this process has just started.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got one male black running.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Set up perimeter.

PROKUPECZ: Memphis Police say Nichols was pulled over on January 7th for reckless driving.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: [inaudible] car pulled over at the [inaudible] have one running on foot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Run that tag and see what's the address.

PROKUPECZ: Police say a confrontation occurred, and after using pepper spray, Nichols fled the scene on foot.

MULROY: There was another altercation at a nearby location at which the serious injuries were experienced by Mr. Nichols. After some period of time of waiting around afterwards, he was taken away by an ambulance.

PROKUPECZ: Nichols died of his injuries three days later.

CERELYN DAVIS, MEMPHIS POLICE: This incident was heinous, reckless, and inhumane.

PROKUPECZ: The five officers involved in the beating were fired after an internal investigation found they violated multiple department policies, including the use of excessive force and failing to render aid.

Two EMTs with a Memphis Fire Department were also put on leave and additional officers are under investigation.

RODNEY WELLS, TYRE NICHOLS' STEP FATHER: No father, mother should have to witness what I saw today.

PROKUPECZ: The Nichols family has viewed video of the incident which has been described as brutal and heinous. And prosecutors plan to release it publicly Friday night with the hopes of easing tensions.

RAUSCH: We are here to pursue truth and justice. Realizing that we should not be here. Simply put, this shouldn't have happened. I've been policing for more than 30 years. I've devoted my life to this profession and I'm grieved. Frankly, I'm shocked.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ROMANS: Four of the five officers who were fired and charged with the murder of Tyre Nichols are out on bond this morning.

All right. To the Middle East where Israel struck an underground rocket site in the West Bank overnight just hours after rockets were reportedly launched from Gaza and intercepted. The new fighting follows the deaths of 10 Palestinians in clashes with Israeli troops on Thursday.


CNN's Hadas Gold live in Jerusalem for us this Friday morning. Hadas, what started all this?

HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what started it was the deadliest day for Palestinians in the West Bank in over a year. And what's already been a very deadly past year or so, for both Palestinians and Israelis.

What happened was there was an unusual Israeli military raid in the Jenin Refugee Camp. Unusual because usually the Israeli military doesn't necessarily enter the camp itself. And it happened in broad daylight hours.

Now, the Israeli military says that that happened because they had intel that they believe there was an imminent attack being planned out by Islamic Jihad militants. And when they came to the house that they were targeting, a firefight ensued. And we know that at least nine people were killed in that firefight.

Now, while several of them Israeli military says we're militants, we know that at least one was a civilian woman, a bystander in her 60s and then a 10th Palestinian man later died in ensuing clashes that were in reaction to that Jenin raid.

The Palestine Authority immediately reacted calling it a massacre. And they did something that was very drastic, they cut off immediately security coordination between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority. This is something that they've done before, but it does represent a rather drastic step.

And actually, the United States Assistant Secretary of State, Barbara Leaf, she actually said that they did not think that was the right thing to do at the time that Israel and the Palestinian Authority should actually continue and even deepen their security coordination considering the rise in violence over the past year.

Then just a few hours later, those alarms went off in southern Israel, rockets were fired from Gaza, towards Israel, not unexpected because of the targeting of the Islamic Jihad militants. Islamic Jihad, of course, one of the militant groups in Gaza. No injuries reported from those rockets. About seven of them were reportedly fired from Gaza into Israel and the Israeli military responding with airstrikes.

This is all coming at a very interesting time here, not only because of the new right-wing government in Israel, that's been getting a lot of attention, but also because there's quite a few American visitors coming here this week. There are reports that the CIA director is already coming to visit the West Bank in Israel.

And we know that the U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, is expected to land for visits in Israel and the West Bank in the coming days. So really, the incredibly high tensions right now. So it'll be really interesting to see whether the Secretary of State will be able to help sort of manage the situation and potentially help bring the security coordination which is Israel really sees and the Americans really sees as vital to sort of keep the calm as much as they can, whether he can bring that back into force. Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Hadas Gold for us in Jerusalem. Thanks, Hadas.

All right. The National Archives reaching out to former presidents and vice presidents asking them to search for any possible classified documents or presidential papers. This formal request follows recent discoveries of classified materials in the homes of President Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence. The Archives is asking officials from the past six administrations for their cooperation.

The first witnesses taking the stand at the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial. Prosecutors quick to point out that the tears that one's prominent lawyer shed in court were not seen at the time Murdaugh first learned of his wife and son's murder. CNN's Dianne Gallagher has more from South Carolina.


DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Alex Murdaugh openly weeping in court watching body cam video from the first law enforcement officer on the scene of the murders of his wife and son, that he's accused of committing, a stark contrast to the way the officer described his demeanor that night.

DANIEL GREENE, COLLETON COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: He was upset but I did not see any visible tears.

GALLAGHER: The body cam video, when graphic in nature, only shown to the judge, jury, and attorneys.



GALLAGHER: Sergeant Daniel Greene, the first responder to arrive describing the scene.

GREENE: I could see the male victim laying on the ground to my left, as well as the female victim on the ground to my right. There was a large deal of blood that had pooled around his body. There appeared to be a large amount of blood around each of them, as well as brain matter.

GALLAGHER: As well as his immediate interaction with Murdaugh.

GREENE: His immediate reaction was to start telling me about an incident that had happened with his son with a boating accident.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's been getting threats most of it has been benign stuff. We didn't take serious. You know, he's been getting punched. I know that somebody -- I know that's what it is.

GALLAGHER: The defense leaning into that as a possibility that someone else had a motive to kill.

RICHARD HARPOOTLIAN, ALEX MURDAUGH DEFENSE ATTORNEY: But Mr. Murdaugh indicated to you that the threats made against Paul?

GREENE: He did.

HARPOOTLIAN: And that he even got in a fight once about it.

GREENE: I believe he said punched.

HARPOOTLIAN: Punched. OK. And so on the scene, he believed that Paul's death was connected to someone angry about the above case.

GALLAGHER: But that immediate interaction significant to the prosecution's theory for Murdaugh as well. It dates back to a 2019 boat crash that killed 19-year-old, Mallory Beach, Murdaugh's son, Paul, was charged and awaiting trial for allegedly operating the boat while drunk. Mallory's family sued Alex Murdaugh. Prosecutors say that lawsuit threatened to unveil years of Murdaugh's financial misdeeds.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And within a few minutes of your arrival, he is the one that brought up the boat in, is that correct?

GREENE: He did. He did.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And he offered that right out of the gate is a possible explanation for what happened here. Is that right?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing further, Your Honor.

GALLAGHER: Murdoch even mentioned the boat crash in previously unreleased portions of the 911 call played Thursday in court.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's been being threatened.

HARPOOTLIAN: What did you do to preserve those?

GREENE: The tire tracks? Nothing.

GALLAGHER: Meanwhile, the defense work to paint the crime scene as messy and at times chaotic.

HARPOOTLIAN: So nobody attempted to determine whether those were Maggie's footprints, Paul's footprints? Or at least that night, there was no effort by you or your department to preserve those? GREENE: By me, no. I cannot speak for everyone else.


GALLAGHER: Court will resume on Friday morning with the prosecution continuing to question from its long list of witnesses.

Dianne Gallagher, CNN, back to you.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks, Dianne.

Next, Ukraine asking the West for more firepower. CNN is on the ground with troops fending off strikes from Russia.

Plus, a scheme to dole out fake nursing licenses in Florida.

And the FBI turns the tables on a notorious ransomware gang hacking the hackers.




BEN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR TYRE NICHOLS' FAMILY: It's going to remind you of Rodney King in many regards. Assaulted battery, punch, kick tased.


ROMANS: It's attorney Benjamin Crump describing what we're all about to see tonight when the city of Memphis released this video of the police stop that led to Tyre Nichols' death.

At a candlelight vigil last night, Nichols' mother issued a plea for peaceful protests after that video was made public. Police forces across the country now bracing for possible violence.

Let's bring in CNN legal analyst and civil rights attorney, Areva Martin. This is just such a tough story. You heard Benjamin Crump there talk about how the parallels here to Rodney King. All of this video, could it reveal any new details that can change or add to the charges you think against these five police officers?

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST AND CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Well, Christine, the district attorney made it very clear that press conference that he gave yesterday that the investigation is definitely ongoing, and that there is a possibility for additional charges, including against the five officers that have already been charged with five counts of murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping.

So it's very possible that we could see an upgrade in terms of the charges that have already been levied against those officers. And then there are those EMT -- first responders who have not been charged, but who we know have been reprimanded for their conduct with respect to the death of Mr. Nichols. ROMANS: All five of these officers are facing the same charges, Areva, including the second degree murder charge. And I guess that's significant given that in Tennessee that charge means one knowingly killed another person. What do you think -- what does it say to you that all five of these people have the same set of charges in other -- in other instances with police and someone dying in police hands, the charges have varied?

MARTIN: Yes. It says that all five of these officers were active participants, unlike situations, like you said, where maybe there are four or five officers on the scene, but they're not all charged, because not all were actively engaged in whatever conduct that may have been deemed excessive force.

In this case, we haven't seen the video yet, but we've been warned by the district attorney's office that it is brutal. And the five officers involved were charged because they all play an active role in the brutality that we're going to witness when that video is released later this evening.

And it's also telling because we haven't seen an officer charged with aggravated kidnapping. This is also very new. So what that means is even if the original detention of Mr. Nichols was legal, at some point, he was basically falsely imprisoned by these officers and not allowed to move when legally he should not have been.

ROMANS: And there's a police training element here because what you're talking about is this criticism of some of these saturation policing units or this was called the Scorpion Unit or some of these were members of the Scorpion Unit, which are really meant to get in there and really address high crime areas. But Benjamin Crump and others say in some cases, they act more like a wolf pack, right? That actually takes freedom of movement away from people unlawfully.

MARTIN: And we heard some individuals in Memphis talk about how frightened they were when this Scorpion union -- Unit descended on them. Oftentimes, they're not unmarked police vehicles, they don't have on police uniforms. And there was an actual individual who said he was frightened to death when they surrounded him, jumped out of their cars and, you know, began in his word harassing him.

So, yes, these units, although this unit in particular, Christine, has been praised for taking violent criminals off the streets of Memphis, but in this case, obviously, they went way beyond what they are charged to do, and they weren't protecting and serving, but they were actually brutalizing Mr. Nichols.

ROMANS: You know, unlike the case of George Floyd, who died in 2020, these officers are charged within three weeks after Tyre Nichols' death. What's your reaction, I guess, to the pace of the investigation? And what do you expect in terms of seeing this all play out justice play out quickly?

MARTIN: Well, what we do know is that the police department, obviously, learned something from some of these other high-profile cases when district attorneys were not transparent, when they did not act quickly.

I think they did the right thing in this case by convening a grand jury, investigating the case quickly, and then charging these officers, bringing them into custody before releasing what we know is going to be this horrific videotape.

But it doesn't appear that these officers learned anything from the George Floyd case. I was listening to a couple of the lawyers yesterday and one saying that his client was shocked that he had been charged with murder, but if -- what we are to see this evening is anything like what we've been told.


I don't know how that individual can be surprised or shocked that murder charges or any charges have been filed against them. The brutality of what we are being told we're going to see clearly suggests that there was criminal conduct with respect to a routine traffic stop and no one should die in the custody of police and definitely not during a routine traffic stop.

ROMANS: All right. Areva Martin, thank you so much.

MARTIN: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Quick hits across America now. Jurors findingUzbek immigrant, Sayfullo Saipov, guilty of murder for mowing down eight people in a truck on a New York -- New York City bike path in 2017. He could face the death penalty.

The DOJ charging 25 people at a scheme to sell more than 7,600 bogus nursing licenses at three now closed Florida-based nursing schools. Each defendant could face up to 20 years in prison.

Democratic lawmakers in San Francisco moving to allow non-profits to open safe injection sites that allow addicts to use drugs like heroin in a supervised setting. Opponents say the plan promotes drug use.

Next, shopping carts vanishing from stores in record numbers and it's costing you money.

Plus, CNN on the frontlines of a fierce battle between Ukrainian and Russian forces.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Ukrainians say that the Russians are pouring a massive amount of personnel and weapons into this area because they seem to want to take Bakhmut at nearly any cost.



[5:25:59] ROMANS: A U.S. military operation has killed a senior ISIS leader and 10 members of a terror group in northern Somalia. CNN's David McKenzie live from Johannesburg, South Africa for us. David, how unusual is it for the U.S. to carry out an operation against ISIS in Somalia?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is very unusual because ISIS is kind of a big player in Somalia. So I think the significance of this figure, Christine, according to U.S. officials is not so much what's happening in Somalia, but what is happening outside of Somalia. The U.S. Defense Secretary and others saying that Bilal al-Sudani is instrumental or was instrumental in developing ISIS networks across the Africa region and beyond.

They -- it looks like they're going after the money here and the organizers and other than that terror, that high level terror suspect that was killed in this raid by special operation forces commandos on early Thursday. Also, several other ISIS members were killed according to U.S. officials.

Now the nature of this operation suggests that U.S. officials saw this figure as extremely important. This wasn't -- it wasn't an airstrike, which often happens in Somalia by U.S. forces, at least a week ago that happened. But this was a commando raid, a risky maneuver, would have been months in planning, would have been authorized by U.S. President Biden.

You can also assume that there was an opportunity and at least one U.S. official told us this, to gather important and sensitive intelligence information through phones, laptops, anything they would have gathered they would have. And it shows that, especially in the African theater, a U.S. forces are looking to go over after these networks pretty aggressively. Christine.

ROMANS: All right. David McKenzie, thank you so much for that.

Ukraine's President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, urging the West to send more firepower after another wave of Russian missiles targeted energy facilities in Kyiv and other cities.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE (through translator): Every Russian missile against our cities, every Iranian drone, which terrorists use are arguments for why more weapons are needed. Only weapons neutralize terrorists.


ROMANS: CNN's Fred Pleitgen is on the ground for some of the most intense fighting in Ukraine's eastern region.


PLEITGEN: Ukraine's tanks taking aim at the invading Russians. Kyiv's forces rallying to try to halt the massive assault on Bakhmut. The city where there are still some 6,000 civilians has become a cauldron of a fire.

From this vantage point, you can both see and hear just how fierce the fighting is. You can hear impacts from heavy weapons, not just every minute, but literally every second. The Ukrainian say that the Russians are pouring a massive amount of personnel and weapons into this area because they seem to want to take Bakhmut at nearly any cost.

There are plenty of regular Russian troops fighting around Bakhmut now, but the Ukrainian say it's still the Wagner private military company that's leading the charge, with waves of fighters trying to storm Ukrainian positions, both north and south of the city, as well as specialized forces like these snipers claiming to have killed a Ukrainian soldier.

All I could see was a curtain window, the sniper says, the person who was paired with me saw a thermal outline and I just determined where to shoot.

Wagner's boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, often touts his militia successes, but the cost is immense. This is a Wagner cemetery in the Krasnodar region of southern Russia. Row after row of fresh graves, a disposable force used to take just a few kilometers of land.

Wagner acknowledges recruiting prisoners straight out of jail and throwing them on the battlefield with minimal training and only slim chances of survival.

That same indifference shown in Russian strikes that kill and maim Ukrainian civilians every day. These folks are cleaning up after a Russian missile landed in their neighborhood near.