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Laura Coates Live

"Rust" Film Armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed Pleads Not Guilty To Two Counts Of Involuntary Manslaughter And Also To Tampering With Evidence; Thirty-Three Year-Old Dual Russian-American Citizen Ksenia Karelina Faces The Possibility Of Up To 20 Years In Russian Prison; Odysseus Lands On The Surface Of The Moon; Former Talk Show Host Wendy Williams Diagnosed With Aphasia. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired February 22, 2024 - 23:00   ET




LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR: News tonight on the case that is shaking up Hollywood, and we're covering it as no one else can. Tonight on LAURA COATES LIVE.

Well, it's the case that put Alec Baldwin in a very unwelcome spotlight. The October 2021 death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, who is tragically hit by a live round of ammunition fired from a prop gun held by Baldwin during a rehearsal on the set of the movie "Rust".

Well, they were opening statements today, marking the start of the trial of Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who served as the film's armorer. Now, she has pleaded not guilty to two counts of involuntary manslaughter and also to tampering with evidence.

Hutchins' death prompted questions as to how live ammunition could have possibly ended up on the movie set. Five live rounds and one spent live round were actually found by investigators, according to the probable cause statement.

Now, if she is convicted of these crimes, she faces up to 18 months in prison and a $5000 fine for each of the counts. Baldwin is also going to stand trial -- on a involuntary manslaughter trial and charge in connection with the killing. Now, he has also pleaded not guilty and has previously said that he did not pull the trigger.


ALEC BALDWIN, ACTOR: The trigger wasn't pulled. I didn't pull the trigger.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS HOST: So you never pulled the trigger?

BALDWIN: No, no. I would never point a gun at anyone and pull a trigger at them. Never.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COATES: Well, tonight we're taking you inside our own virtual courtroom where our court of public opinion will hear legal arguments on this question. Should Hannah Gutierrez-Reed be found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and tampering with evidence?

And you're going to hear two extremely top lawyers to do some role- playing today and lay out the arguments on both sides of that question. We have the former Federal Prosecutor Elliot Williams, who will argue that she should be found guilty.

And Criminal Defense Attorney Brandi Harden will argue that she should not be found guilty. Then our jurors in this court of public opinion are going to weigh in. They are a diverse group of strangers meeting tonight for the very first time to share their opinions with each other and, of course, you.

Now, this is not a court of law. Our jurors will not be rendering a verdict. But they will tell us what they think of the arguments that they're about to hear tonight. They're new to me. I have not heard from these people before.

And I'm very curious to see what they think of the arguments. Let's begin. I want to begin with Elliot Williams. Elliot, what is your case for why Hannah Gutierrez-Reed committed involuntary manslaughter and tampering with evidence? Make your case to the jury.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Thank you, Judge Coates. So, here's the thing. Under any measure, this was a tragic situation and a tragic case all around, no question. But here's the thing. Alec Baldwin's not on trial here.

The producers, other people aren't on trial here. Hannah Gutierrez- Reed is. And the defense today in court spent a lot of time trying to point fingers at all these other people who didn't have a central role.

Now, she's on trial. The big one is involuntary manslaughter. And let's look at what the law actually says involuntary manslaughter is. Let's pull it up. And the big language is when an individual might cause death without due caution and introspection.

Now, those are big, crazy, fancy lawyer words. But in plain language, that means don't be sloppy and don't be incomplete in your work. Now, her job was being an armorer on a movie set.

Now, when you're an armorer, you're responsible for one thing. You have one job. Keep people safe on set. Be responsible for the transport and storage of ammunition and live firearms on set.

Now, let's look at the gun. Let's look at the kinds of things that she was responsible for keeping. A real gun, a live gun that she failed to keep secure. Now, how did that happen and how was she negligent?

She violated safety protocols, and prosecution laid that all today, and failed to perform basic checks on the weapons and ammunition, even more than the firearm. Now, one of the things that came up today quite a bit was this question of what's a dummy round and what's a live round. How do you tell the difference between a dummy round of ammunition and a live round of ammunition?

Now, the prosecution came forward and said today that, look, that one in the second row over from left, it's got a box around it, it's got that little silver dot as opposed to the copper dot, right? You know, you look at it, it's a live round of ammunition. The other ones are not. They are not copper.

Now, here's the thing. The defense tried to make the case that, well, sometimes dummy ones are silver or sometimes live ones are copper, whatever. The one person who can answer that and is responsible for knowing whether it's a dummy round or a live round is the woman you're about to see right here with ammunition on her lap.

Her job was to figure out what these things were and secure any firearm that was going, pardon me, any ammunition that was going into any firearm that was on the set.


This whole notion of, well, sometimes things happen on sets and get mixed up, it's sloppy. You have one job. She failed in her one job with deadly consequences. That's why what the prosecution argued today is accurate.

COATES: We've now heard from the prosecution's summation of what is presented in court today. Let's hear from the defense side. Randy Harden.

BRANDI HARDEN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER: Yes. So let me just start by saying Hannah Gutierrez-Reed did not bring live bullets onto that set. She did not put live ammunition into that weapon. She did not fire the gun. And she's not the person who should be held responsible for this crime.

Now, what you heard from the government today mostly is just a theory of the case. And it's just that. It's a theory. Let's be clear. There's no DNA on that live round. There are no fingerprints.

There's no video of her doing it. And that's because she did not put that live round into that gun. Now, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed was 24 years old, and she was hired, as you've heard, to be the armorer on that set.

And that's important because one of the things that she was responsible for doing was obviously bringing guns onto the set. But also, she had been trained. She was someone who had graduated from school.

She had a degree. She went to film school. But she was trained by the best, her dad, Mr. Reed. And so she was very much aware of what it was that she needed to do on this set. And she did that, and she did it well.

Now, one of the things that even though she was the armorer, she was also supposed to be the prop assistant. So she was splitting her time in half. But it was really stressful. So stressful that she sent an email to her boss saying, "Can I get some help?" Let's take a look at that.


UNKNOWN: You're going to hear that Ms. Gutierrez-Reed emailed the production manager, Gabrielle Pickle, who was on the set. You're going to hear Gabrielle Pickle. And she asked her for more armorer days.

She said in this email, When I'm not able to focus on my armorer duties, this is when mistakes happen. And she was telling her this. Now, Ms. Pickle came back and said, "No, we only have eight armorer days, and that's all you're going to get."


HARDEN: Now, after she sent that email, did she get any help? No. And now that something has happened, they want Hannah Gutierrez to be the scapegoat. But Hannah Gutierrez-Reed did not load that gun with a live round.

And just as you heard, dummy rounds and live rounds, they definitely look the same. Just because it has that little silver hole in the top does not mean that it's a live round. We can take a look at this right here where the government has that red box.

That does not mean that that's a live round. In fact, she talked to the police and she told them she loaded the gun with dummy rounds only. Keep in mind, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed did not load that weapon with a live round.

She did not load the gun with anything other than dummies. She did not fire that weapon, and she should not be the person held responsible for this crime.

COATES: Brandi, Elliott, thank you so much for making these arguments. Again, they are based on what was presented as evidence in court through testimony. And, of course, it will be expected to be shown in the courtroom.

I want to now turn to our jury in this court of public opinion. I want to hear what your reaction has been to what you are hearing. And most importantly, I want to begin with that photograph that we've seen now more than once from both sides, that picture of the so-called dummy rounds and the live rounds. What is your reaction to seeing this?

Of course, it's the red box and the square that's surrounding the one with the silver center. I wonder if that struck a chord with any of you here.

ALEX HERMAN, JUROR, LAURA'S COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION: I think that whether or not that that is a dummy round or a real bullet, I think the fact is, and as the prosecution was saying, is this was her job to make sure that even if this was a situation where live rounds did come on set, that she was kind of the buffer to make sure that terrible situations like this didn't end up happening.

COATES: Do you guys share that opinion?

TAMMY WILLIAMS, JUROR, LAURA'S COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION: I can't understand why the bullets would be kept in that so close together. That's really -- that's not necessary.

They should be separated better, the dummy and the live rounds. And I would think if I were the armorer, that would be a concern of mine and to make sure that they were definitely, you know, separated where everybody knew what was what.

COATES: You're nodding, Juror number four.

SAMANTHA RIGGIN, JUROR, LAURA'S COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION: Yes, I am. There are definitely levels of negligence throughout this case. And the evidence apparently shows that there were live ammunition just on set and that as the armorer, she, Ms. Reed, did not check the actual ammunition that was in the gun in question.


COATES: Does it matter? Did it strike anyone you heard from the defense presentation that she felt that she was stretched too thin, had sent an email asking for help, saying, listen, mistakes could get made. Oh, you're rolling your eyes.

T. WILLIAMS: Yeah, well, as somebody that is responsible for such a, as an armorer, for something so potentially dangerous as it ended up, she could have said, let's stop. We can't continue until I get some more help. That was her decision to make, to continue, even though she said she was spread too thin.

COATES: Juror number three.

SEAN LEE, JUROR, LAURA'S COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION: I think going back to the first part of the segment when we saw the bullets in the picture, I think right now if we look at it, there should have been a clear differentiation of before it happened and when they were live, because I think it's pretty obvious to when it was loaded and stuff that if we already knew about it, how come like no one prevented that from happening?

And if someone already knew that something would have happened like that, then why didn't no one prevent it? So, I think there's a whole theme of accountability, and then I agree with the whole theme of negligence as well.

Because I don't think that was there and that was the major lacking part of it, because it was clear that, you know, an intimidating picture like that, and if you know that it was already loaded and it was about to load into the fire, I think we would clearly know that there should have been a major way to prevent that step, so I would say --

COATES: The word scapegoat is circling around in my head. It was raised as a potential defense. Did you see that as persuasive at all?

HERMAN: Not really, especially just considering this is her responsibility. There's always a risk that when there's weapons on a set that something might happen tragic like this, and that's why they have an armor on set, and that was her job. So no, that's not convincing to me.

COATES: Even though she didn't load, there's no evidence yet of her loading, and she did not fire. Did that strike a chord?

SAMANTHA RIGGIN, JUROR, LAURA'S COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION: Not really, because for me the safety piece still comes in question for her job responsibility, that clearly, safety was the main factor, and there were definitely issues around the procedures and policies as well as protocols in keeping the set safe.

COATES: One of the key questions is how the bullets actually got onto the set. This came up in the courtroom. Listen to this.


UNKNOWN: The armor is responsible for is sourcing and purchasing blank and dummy ammunition. Sarah Zachary was the props head, so as the head of props department, she was Ms. Gutierrez-Reed's boss. In that role, Sarah Zachary had to source the ammunition and had to source the firearms.


COATES: How important is it to each of you who brought the bullets to set? Let's go down the line. Juror one, is it important to you who brought the bullets to set to decide whether she is liable?

HERMAN: Not to decide whether she's liable, no.

COATES: Juror number two?

T. WILLIAMS: No, she should have checked them no matter what.

COATES: Number three?

LEE: I mean, I would have to agree. I feel like before that there should have been a major pre-step to how things set up because obviously when you're going live and when you can't make that quick transition, it could become very detrimental as you can see right now. So I would say that there's been a major lacking part of how they weren't vigilant about it and they didn't take extra precautions.

COATES: Juror number four?

RIGGIN: No, but I do see where the supervisor has a role in supervising the armorer to keep the set safe.

COATES: You each said the word they at one point in time, but there's only one person who is a defendant in this particular case. Does that suggest that you think that more than one person could be held responsible? You're shaking your head?

RIGGIN: I do because of the level of negligence. I just don't see it pinpoint just towards Ms. Reed. I see levels of negligence.

COATES: Does that impact her guilt or innocence that there are levels? Juror number one?

HERMAN: No, I think even if other people were negligent, it doesn't change the fact that she was or was not in this case.

COATES: Juror number two?

T. WILLIAMS: No, it doesn't change it. I do believe that she's negligent, but I don't know that she should shoulder the entire burden.

COATES: Three?

LEE: Well, I mean, I would say that everyone at the end, I guess, she's going to have the main heat, I guess, right, in terms of the headline.

But I think overall there needs to be accountability for the whole team because obviously since you're working together universally.

And if one person screws up in this kind of particular case, then yes, the accountability should be pretty equivalent, but obviously she might have a little more of the tension compared to others since she was mainly at the scene present.

COATES: I am very intrigued about the accountability discussion and the layers and how you see it in terms of the chain of custody of the bullets and beyond. Stick around. We're going to come back to you and pick your brain a little more. It'll be your turn to ask the questions next.




PHILLIP: We're back now with the jury in our Court of Public Opinion. Attorneys Elliot Williams, an attorney, and Brandi Harden as well are back with us. They're now going to take off their prosecutor defense hats that they've been putting on and put their legal analyst hats on for a moment so that our jurors in this Court of Public Opinion can ask some questions that they have been wondering about the case. Let me begin for a moment.

I was really struck, Brandi, the argument that you were raising was about, look, there's a lot of people out there, but there was no evidence of who saw her bullets into the gun. It didn't seem to resonate with the Court of Public Opinion. Were you surprised by that?

HARDEN: I was surprised. I think, you know, it's the government's burden to prove that actually she's the person who was negligent with respect to this gun, and I think, you know, if there's no evidence that she did that, that's something that the government fails in terms of their burden, and I would hope that that would be something that resonates with the jury.

I think one of the other things is that it was important for the defense lawyer in court today to say Hannah Gutierrez-Reed was not the person who was responsible for bringing these boxes of bullets there. That was Sarah Zachary and QPC.


And so, you know, if there are other people responsible, that seems to me to indicate that there's no proof that she's the one that actually put any live round into a gun.

COATES: Any questions from the jurors on that point?

T. WILLIAMS: What's the standard for the industry of who should be the determining person of when the gun is safe or not? Not who brought the bullets in. Somebody's got to put the bullets in the gun, and you said that she didn't, but nonetheless, does she not have to check that? I mean, is that not part of the job description and what's expected?

HARDEN: What did you think?

E. WILLIAMS: Well, you know, you could be arguing the case from here because you just perfectly laid out the definition of negligence, in effect, which is that you are held to the same standard as a reasonable person in the same position.

It wasn't an accident that I put the law up there first to note that regardless of what you think about who put bullets where or whatever, one person whose job literally had the title of armorer, whose job was safety on set, was negligent in a major aspect of that.

Now, look, and I think it's a great job of a defense attorney to sort of muddle some of that up and think, well, you know, maybe other people might have been responsible and so on.

But in terms of the negligence or carelessness, sloppiness standard, it really just comes down to how would someone else who should have had your position, how should they have behaved? And the argument, at least being put forward here, is that, yeah, you just didn't meet that.

COATES: By the way, there is another criminal defendant in a separate action who is not a part of this. His name is Alec Baldwin, a very prominent actor who is the person who they will allege in the defense broke the quote-unquote golden rule of firing the weapon.

I wonder, when you think about this case in relation to prospective other layers of accountability, what strikes you in terms of him?

HERMAN: Well, and I'm curious what you guys would say to this. Is there an argument for the fact that if that bullet never got into that gun, that that kind of breaks a chain of causation where then him firing the gun and actually being the person that did that doesn't matter?

E. WILLIAMS: You know, a couple things. So, on the who's at fault for firing the gun, which is also a good sort of defense strategy for, you know, well, let's get away from the defendant here. You know, think of it this way.

The person who drives the getaway car in a homicide may not have pulled the trigger, but they're still equally culpable, at least under how America crafts its laws, equally culpable in that murder.

Now, you can quibble about whether that's a good thing or a bad thing or not. One need not, particularly in these even accidental homicide cases, one need not necessarily be the trigger person if the law says that, no, if you were negligent, you actually could be held responsible.

So, maybe Alec Baldwin is too, but --

HARDEN: And I just think in terms of negligence, it's a little bit different from aiding and abetting, right? And so, the negligence standard is whether or not she was actually negligent. And one of the things that's going to come out in the trial is that right before she gave the gun to Halls, she did do a safety check.

So it's not that she didn't check it. She then left, and Halls and Alec Baldwin did whatever they did in terms of handling the weapon. And ultimately, she wasn't present for that. But again, she did do the safety check initially before the gun was given to Alec Baldwin.

And so, I do think that negligence is a little bit different, and I don't think that the government can meet the standard here of showing actual negligence.

COATES: You know what words you're not hearing? Intent. Do one of you want to explain why you're not hearing the word intent?

E. WILLIAMS: You know, so I don't have the statute right in front of me in terms of whether it would need to be willful or knowing in this statute.

HARDEN: It needs to be reckless. The standard is going to be recklessness, carelessness, and that's going to be the standard. And I think it's still a high standard. It's not quite intentional.


HARDEN: But in order to show reckless, it needs to be a certain amount of conduct that the government can establish. And I think here, where Hannah Gutierrez-Reed actually did a safety check before she gave the gun to Mr. Halls, they can't meet the standard of negligence. She did do her job.

E. WILLIAMS: So let me say this. In contrast, let me say this, though. On the sort of negligence, recklessness, whichever bar they have to hit, think about how many films you see every day, week, month, year that involve firearms getting shot. How often is someone killed on a movie set? It's so rare, and why?

Because the only time it happens is when somebody is grossly negligent on a movie set, right? It's not sort of a common occurrence, not since, I think, Brandon Lee, and it was, like, 2004 or something like that.

So, you know, yeah, I mean, look, there are holes in this case that the prosecution has, and convicting this individual might be tough, but just look at, you know, back to this question of being compared against others in similar roles. It's happened before, but people don't really get killed on movie sets.

COATES: Let me take a quick poll from each of you right now. Did hearing what you heard today change your mind about this case, yes or no?



LEE: Absolutely not.


COATES: We got an absolutely not among that, as well. I want to thank Brandi Harden and Elliot Williams, and, of course, a special thanks to our jurors in the Court of Public Opinion.


I was eager to hear what you had to say and how you thought about the case in real time. If you want to be a juror on our next Court of Public Opinion, get in touch with us by filling out the form you can access by scanning the QR code on the screen or email LAURACOATESJURY@CNN.COM.

The family of the dual Russian-American citizen being held in Russia on treason charges is now breaking their silence. We'll speak to Ksenia Karolina's former mother-in-law about what she fears could happen next.




COATES: New tonight, the mother of Alexei Navalny saying that she has seen her son's body and is being pressured to hold a secret funeral.


LYUDMILA NAVALNAYA, MOTHER OF ALEZEI NAVALNY (through translator): According to the law, they should have given me Alexei's body right away, but they haven't done it yet. Instead, they blackmailed me and set conditions for where, when, and how Alexei should be buried. It is illegal.


COATES: She says that she is being threatened if she does not agree to that secret funeral. Meanwhile, Navalny's widow and daughter meeting with President Biden today just after he called Putin a, quote, "Crazy SOB". The Kremlin responding, saying that after that statement, relations won't be resolved, quote, with simple apologies.

And they likely won't be because President Biden is expected to announce sanctions on more than 500 Russian targets tomorrow, some of which are directly on Putin. And there's the other factor.

Thirty-three year-old dual Russian-American citizen Ksenia Karelina still in custody in Russia tonight, facing the possibility of up to 20 years in prison. Why? For donating $51.80 to a Ukrainian charity in the United States. I want to bring in Eleonora Srebrosky. She is the former mother-in-law of Ksenia Karelina.

Eleonora, thank you so much for being here. Every time I hear the number that she donated to a charity and think about what she is facing now in Russia, I'm just so sorry for what is happening to your family. You are very close with Ksenia. What did you think when you heard that she had been arrested, accused of treason?

ELEONORA SREBROSKI, FORMER MOTHER-IN-LAW OF U.S.-RUSSIAN CITIZEN ARRESTED IN RUSSIA: We were in shock. All of my family, when we heard the news, we were so devastated. And, of course, the first minute we heard about it, we started worrying about her because she is just such a gentle lady, just such a delicate human being.

And being in jail in Russia, it's not easy for the big man. And she is just a child who is very, very delicate. So, of course, we are trying to help her out somehow, but it has been a difficult couple days since we heard the news. I know she has been taken into custody at the end of January, but we just learned about that two days ago.

COATES: Do you have any idea why Ksenia was going to Russia? Did she express any fears about going to Russia?

SREBROSKI: Not at all. Her immediate family is in Russia. Her mom, her dad, her grandparents, and her younger sister. And Ksenia is the one who loves Russia. So she was always, always proud to be Russian, and she never had any fears of going back.

And the fact that she donated something to somebody is just showing what kind of person she is. I mean, we are all here, and our friends are here from former Soviet Union, and we have friends from Ukraine, Estonia, Lithuania, et cetera. And if somebody from her Ukrainian friends asked for help, and she did show some help, so this is just who she is.

COATES: There is so much upheaval, to say the least, right now in Russia. We learned about Alexei Navalny's death just a few days ago. How concerned are you for Ksenia's safety, knowing, of course, the amount of time that she may be facing based on these charges? It's frankly around the amount of time that Alexei Navalny was facing in prison.

SREBROSKI: Right. And I also was reading about the change they are trying to implement. She may face the lifetime imprisonment instead of 20 years. So, needless to say, we are extremely concerned about that.

Not only about the period of time, but also about her physical being and about her mental being as well, because it's extremely difficult to face the circumstances that she is in.

COATES: I wonder if you thought, given the tension between the United States and Russia right now, obviously the relationship, or really lack thereof, between Putin and Biden, are you worried that that tension might make it even harder to get Ksenia back home to the United States?

SREBROSKI: Yes, definitely so. And actually, I am trying to talk to you right now, and I'm trying not to say anything extra because I do not want to harm her in any way.


I just want to tell you how wonderful she is. She is just an exquisite human being, extremely kind, extremely honest, extremely sweet. So, I want to concentrate on that rather than discussing something else, just in order not to harm her.

COATES: Eleonora, I certainly understand that and just the difficulty of this circumstance and wanting to share this story and bring a lot of attention to someone you obviously love very much. Eleonora Srebrosky, thank you so much for joining us this evening.

SREBROSKY: You're welcome, and thank you for the wonderful coverage.

COATES: We have breaking news tonight from Donald Trump's legal team. The former President's lawyers have filed several motions in the Mar- a-Lago classified documents case.

They want to dismiss the case, perhaps unsurprisingly, but why is the issue? They're citing, among other things, presidential immunity. They're also arguing Special Counsel Jack Smith was unlawfully appointed in the first place.

Now, that comes after Trump co-defendant Carlos De Oliveira asked a judge to dismiss charges against him because he says he had, quote, no clue what was in the boxes that he moved around Mar-a-Lago.

Up next, should a school be able to punish the young man on your screen over his hairstyle? We'll tell you what a judge decided next.



COATES: A black Texas high school student will remain in in-school suspension after a judge ruled his Houston area school district can -- can restrict the length of male students' natural hair.

Darryl George sued after his school said the length of his hair violated its dress code. They argued his twisted locks, which he wears on top of his head, violates its policy because it would fall beneath his shirt collar when let down.


DARRYL GEORGE, DISCIPLINED FOR WEARING HIS HAIR IN LONG DREADLOCKS: It means a lot to me. It's my roots, you know. It's how I feel closer to my people, how I feel closer to my ancestors. You know, I started my dress for a reason, and that's just to feel close to my people.


COATES: George's argument against the school centered around the Crown Act, legislation that took effect in September and prohibits race-based hair discrimination.

But the judge agreed with the school, who argued that law doesn't cover the length of hair. Let's bring in CNN's Victor Blackwell, who has been following this story. And first of all, I'm so glad that you are here because I'm always loving your show. Thanks for joining me tonight. But tell us how we got here, Victor.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Well, thank you for having me. First, let's just reiterate, we are talking about a hairstyle here that has kept Darryl George out of his regular classroom since August of 2023.

He's either been in in-school suspension, as you mentioned, but for a period, he was at an alternative school because he won't cut his hair. And as you said, it's not that his hair comes below his eyebrows, earlobes, and the top of his collar.

It's that even in an up style, that when it's let down, it's a violation. How we got here today, the Barbers Hill School District has asked for this declaratory judgment to determine, is this a violation, our school rule, a violation of the Crown Act, which prohibits the discrimination based on texture and style of hair commonly associated with race or culture.

Now, the judge determined that because length is not specifically mentioned, it is not a violation. There is a parallel federal lawsuit that Darryl George's family has filed against. The governor of Texas, the State Attorney General, and the school district say this is a violation of his civil rights. They will also appeal, but that federal case is still on track.

COATES: You know, the idea that if it were to be let down, that it could possibly be too long. I mean, I have natural hair. If I were to have my hair blow-dried straight versus actually having it up in a tight curl or something else, are you suggesting that the length, if somebody were to press out an afro, suddenly that that is a different story?

That just seems pretty nonsensical to me. But you know, you had Darryl as attorney on your show a few weeks ago. I want to play a part of what he told you. Listen to this.


GEORGE: They don't pick on nobody else but me. They don't pick on none of the white people. None of the Mexican people don't pick on nobody else but me. That rule, I feel like that rule is just there to attack people with dreads, people with braids, because you know if you grow in dreads, if you grow in braids, if you grow in locks, they grow. They grow. You don't grow them to cut them.


COATES: I mean, it's just so sad looking at it. This is a teenage boy who wants to go to school, and this is what's stopping him.

BLACKWELL: He wants to be in the classroom. And as you made the point, I mean, beyond the initial stages of locks, when you're just starting to twist, tell me how anybody can have a locks hairstyle and not go beyond the top of their shirt collar.

What I got from Darryl George when I interviewed him for my show, first of all, is that he's exhausted by all of this, having to stay in school and continue the fight. And I'll point out, he's not the first student to have to fight the Barbers Hill School District and the Superintendent, Greg Poole, on the issue of locks.

Another student, former student, DeAndre Arnold, was told that if he didn't cut his locks, he wouldn't be able to cross the state graduation. He decided to just go to another school district. But the George family says that they are going to continue to fight as you heard from Darryl George himself, his hair connects him to his ancestors, and he says that's worth fighting for.

COATES: Victor, in January, the school superintendent, Greg Poole, actually placed a full-page ad at the Houston Chronicle. And here's what he argued, quote, " -- being an American requires conformity with the positive benefit of unity --"


I had never heard, nor do I believe, that being an American requires conformity. What do you think?

BLACKWELL: Well, a couple of things here. When he equates or invokes being an American in this conversation, he opens up a lot of questions because I want to know conformity based on which standard, created by whom, the benefit of whom.

And the superintendent here is either misunderstanding or intentionally misconstruing what this country says or celebrates is the purpose of its founding and it is not conformity.

I'll add to that is that he seemingly is opposed to the Crown Act because he told CNN a couple of months back that the affirmative action application to college admissions was deemed unconstitutional and a violation of the 14th Amendment.

He believes that the Crown will face the same reasoning, that a law that's been created to prevent discrimination based on cultural hairstyles is a violation of equal protection.

One more thing in this op-ed that I think people need to hear. I have it here. He said that, "The problem with relaxing standards without any regard to academic implications is the precedent it creates."

He has not drawn a straight line to the hairstyle you see on Darryl George's head and any academic implications. But what we've learned from the pandemic and the years since is that there is absolutely a straight line between keeping a student out of the classroom for extended periods and negative academic implications.


BLACKWELL: And that's what Darryl George's head says he's facing.

COATES: Victor Blackwell, I'm so glad that you have stayed on this story and have illuminated so many things tonight. Thank you so much, my friend.

BLACKWELL: Sure, good to be with you.

COATES: Do not miss Victor's show, "First of all', Saturdays at 8 A.M. Beloved daytime TV star Wendy Williams revealing a heartbreaking diagnosis. We'll have all the details for you next.




COATES: A devastating diagnosis for former Talk Show Host Wendy Williams. Her reps revealed today that she is suffering from aphasia and a form of dementia. Now, her diagnosis comes just days before a documentary about her life and career is set to air this very weekend on "Lifetime".


UNKNOWN: Let's just have a quick conversation about this. Don't you feel like maybe this is a bit excessive? I don't know if you need this right now.


UNKNOWN: Because we have a lot of business still going on.

W. WILLIAMS: I'm not drunk.

UNKNOWN: I never said you was drunk. But I just don't know if this is a good idea.


UNKNOWN: So, you think you're perfectly fine having as many drinks as you want?

W. WILLIAMS: Perfectly.

UNKNOWN: Okay. But I'm just going to put it downstairs to keep it cool.

W. WILLIAMS: Keep it there.


W. WILLIAMS: Keep it there.


COATES: Williams has publicly shared some of her other health challenges, including Graves' disease being one of them. Let's bring in someone who has been on Wendy Williams' show, Segun Oduolowu, who is the host of "Boston Globe Today".

Segun, I have to tell you, I'm a big fan of Wendy Williams. I used to watch her show every day. I used to listen to her on the radio as well. There had been a lot of speculation about her health in recent years, frankly. And now this news comes a few days before her controversial documentary. Why do you think they're being so open and revealing now?

SEGUN ODUOLOWU, HOST, "BOSTON GLOBE TODAY": I honestly don't know, Laura. And it's sad. I think it's because the only idea is because what we're going to see in the documentary is going to shock and sadden us.

She was the queen of daytime. And just like you are looking regal in purple, she was the queen of that purple throne with her catchphrase, how you doing? And right now, it looks like she's not doing well. And we're going to see it in the documentary.

COATES: I mean, just thinking about the how you doing, right? That phrase to me was always so quintessential. Wendy, I wanted the hands at the end of it. But just thinking about the decline that this trailer has shown, mental, physical decline.

Wendy's family has been making the media around saying that they are not taking advantage of the star. She was private in a lot of respects when she was on air, wanted to talk about other people's lives, but private about her own. Do you think she's being exploited here?

ODUOLOWU: Absolutely, I think she's being exploited. Whenever you put the terms dementia and aphasia, which affects cognitive ability, this is the same malady that is affecting Bruce Willis. And we haven't seen Bruce Willis. He's actually retreated from public.

Now, we're doing documentaries on Wendy. And the producers themselves say, when we started the documentary, we were going in one way. Then the truth made us show what you're going to see.

So, I do think she's being exploited. She has had battles with alcohol. This is sad to see and it's unfair because what she was as a maven of daytime and just with her talking and the way she was so quick and witty, now to see her diminished as a fan, as someone who has followed and loved her, I don't want to see this.

COATES: You've been on the show, I understand, several times, as well. You've been beside that purple throne, that purple chair that we knew that she was so loved. She wanted to make a comeback at some point in time, as well. This looks to me as being difficult, shall we say.


ODUOLOWU: Oh, absolutely difficult. You know, she was going to come back with a podcast and I think her health has declined to the point where that's not possible.

But all of these podcasts that you see now from the Joe Budden podcast to all of the different ones out there that talk in the space that she created, she was the one who was talking about hip-hop and black entertainers and gossip.

And that's what a lot of people are making a fortune mining in. They are standing on the shoulders of Wendy Williams. So, to see her now diminished and vultures kind of circling to watch her, you know, her fall from grace, you know, for me, it's nasty business and I wish it weren't so because what she built was so impressive. She went head up with Ellen in her heyday and beat her in ratings so often.

COATES: I mean, Segun, I'll be rooting for her. This is a mother as well. We all knew watching her growing up and watching her son, he's, I understand, a part or makes some appearances as well. Segun, thank you so much. Really, really difficult to watch.

ODUOLOWU: Always a pleasure, Laura. Thank you for having me.

COATES: Thanks, Segun.


UNKNOWN: Up in the sky. It's a bird. It's a plane.


COATES: It's a moon lander. The Odysseus lunar lander is on the surface of the moon tonight. It's the first time in more than 50 years ever since Apollo 17 that a U.S. made spacecraft has landed on the moon.

Now, the last time that happened, the Poseidon adventure was actually in theaters. Helen Reddy's song "I Am Woman" was number one. And guess what was the number one television show? "All in the Family". Congratulations, Odysseus. Enjoy your visit to the moon.

And hey, thank you all for watching. I'll be on Instagram Live on the Laura Coates in just a couple minutes. Be sure to tune in because our coverage continues.