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Legal View with Ashleigh Banfield

Tamir Rice's Mother Speaks Out; Sgt. Frost Cleared Of All Wrongdoing. Aired 12-12:30p ET.

Aired October 16, 2015 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:00] ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, HOST: Hello, everyone. I am Ashleigh Banfield and welcome to "Legal View." Breaking news now, at any moment, we are expecting to hear from the mother of a young boy named Tamir Rice.

He is 12-year-old boy, who was shot to death by police in Cleveland, Ohio, nearly 11 months ago. We got live pictures as we wait to the news conference to begin. Samaria Rice along with her legal team will speak at any moment.

They are expected to call for an independent prosecutor to be appointed in this case and this investigation. Tamir's death drew national attention impart because he was so young, just 12 years old; but also, because he had a gun that looked very much like a real handgun, although it was not. It was an air soft pellet gun with this identifying tab removed.

It happened outside of a recreation center in Cleveland, Ohio, on November 22nd, last year. And, when you look at the pictures, you can see Tamir sitting at a picnic table under a gazebo. Somebody called the police reporting there was, quote, "A guy with a pistol," adding that it was probably fake.

And, then you can see a police car pull up on the snowy grass and within two seconds of exiting that police cruiser, Timothy Lowman, an officer in training shoots the boy at close range. Tamir died a day later. And, it turns out that officer Lowman was never given the information that the gun was probably a fake.

And, since Tamir's death only two reports have come to any conclusions; they were commissioned by the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Officer. And, both of those reports say the decision to shoot rice was quote "Reasonable."

A grand jury is going to have to decide whether Lowman and his partner is going to face charges in the case, but it is not clear when that is going to happen. Our correspondent Nick Valencia is live now and joins me with more on this story. So, nick, walk me through, why the family wants a special prosecutor?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ashleigh, they are questioning the timing and released of these reports as well as the objectivity and the credibility of the two experts commission by the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office. These reports were released this past weekend, part of 2 of 3.

One was done by a former FBI agent, who according to the family back in 1992 had her testimony on a separate case discredited. Second report done by a current prosecutor in the Denver area, who again according to the Rice family was only selected by the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor after he gave an interview, which sided with police.

The family attorney says, these facts among other things showed that the prosecutor in this case has whitewashed the probe into the death of the 12-year-old -- that 12-year-old Tamir Rice, you are looking at on the screen. They released a lengthy letter Ashleigh, yesterday to the media.

Part of that letter reading, "The delay in presenting this case to a grand jury, the decision to retain pro-police 'experts' and release their reports to the media on a Saturday night over a holiday weekend (after sharing them with media in advance, but refusing to give them to the Rice family), and the obvious shortcomings of the reports themselves, have all contributed to the make the Rice family feel that your office, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office, is not committed to securing an indictment in this case. It now appears that the Grand Jury presentation will be nothing short of a charade aimed up whitewashing this police killing of a 12-year-old child."

Ashleigh, that family attorney goes on to say that reports are speculative that improperly relying on hearsay and that they also contradict each o other. Remember that these reports do not draw the conclusion whether or not the officers' actions in this case were right or wrong, necessarily just that the action itself of that fatal shooting was objectively reasonable given the information -- limited information that those police officers had at the time of that afternoon on November 22nd, late last year.

BANFIELD: So, Nick, the prosecutor has taken a lot of heat over the last 11 months, mostly for the length of time that it has taken to actually complete any of the investigations. And, now we have got this sort of laundry list of different investigations that have gone on in this case, and yet still not a Grand Jury, which I think ultimately is the most critical investigation in this case. What is the prosecution saying about Ms. Rice's request for an independent process?

VALENCIA: Sure. Special prosecuting this case, I got a statement from Timothy McGinty, who is the prosecutor in charge of this case. This was released before that letter that I just I read, but over the weekend after the reports that were commissioned were released.

It read in part, Ashleigh, "We are not reaching any conclusions from these reports. The gathering of evidence continues and the Grand Jury will evaluate it all. We have invited attorneys for the Rice family to offer input and/or evidence, and we continue to invite pubic dialogue regarding the use of deadly force in this and other cases with the goal of preventing these tragic occurrences." [12:05:07] Part of the point that the family attorney is making,

Ashleigh, that so many other high-profile cases have come and gone civil settlements -- civil lawsuits have been settled, and still yet, we still do not have any indication when exactly the findings will be presented by the prosecutor to the Grand Jury if at all.

But the special -- the prosecutor in this case is saying that these conclusions do not necessarily -- these reports do not necessarily reach any conclusions. We should mention, it is important to note that the family of Tamir Rice currently has a civil lawsuit pending litigation. Ashleigh?

BANFIELD: All right. Nick, I want to just jump in if I can for a moment to direct the viewers to that small screen, which we are going to blow up big now. This is the news conference, the family has put together. They want to the announce this request after the letter that was sent to the prosecutor. This is a request for the special prosecutor the take over this case.

The woman on your screen right now in the gray coach is Samaria Rice, and she is obviously getting ready to -- I would assume read a statement that she is holding in her hands. She is surrounded by a small group of supporters, and you can see with their placards, they are asking for justice for her son, Tamir.

They are just doing the mic check right now. Just so, in the interim just so that you are aware, in the last eleven months, there has been -- the Denver prosecutor's report, the former FBI investigators report, the highway patrol for Ohio has done sort of a data collection reenactment of the area, reconstruction of the scene.

The Cuyahoga sheriff's office has put together a collection of information as well that did not yield an opinion in the case. And the Cleveland judge has suggested and not binding that there are, you know, probable causes for a number of different charges in this case. That is not the Grand Jury, however. Let us listen in.


GREGORY GREER, SOUTHERN CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE: We want to thank the activists and everyone, who has stayed informed through this process. For our purpose, today, we want to make sure that the community knows that we are vigil in fighting justice for Tamir.

We have assembled the press conference to make sure that you have the wealth of information necessary and continue to have a wealth of information necessary, so that the information does not come through second or third-hand sources, but it comes direct.

Henceforth, we have Ms. Rice, we have the attorneys to address recent developments. My name is Gregory Greer, Reverend Greer, from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. I am the primary activist, community activist, working with the Rice family to help with justice for Tamir.

We cannot ignore the challenge that we have just made or that has been confronted by officials on the ground. We are interested in addressing the Prosecutor McGinty's recent report, which the attorneys are very capable of doing and they will address that; but there is no doubt, that we have an opportunity that confronts us.

For the community, for the activists and everyone who is involved, we would ask, again, that you stand with us through this process. We are vigilant, and we will, at every opportunity, make sure that you have the wealth of information that is necessary. Ms. Rice will talk.

She wants to thank everyone who has been involved. We are expressing every last -- we are -- every opportunity that we have, we will make sure that you will get the information. We are asking you to follow the Facebook page. We are asking you to follow the recent media and continue to stand with us.

I want to take a moment, and I want to thank everyone. I want to thank the social activists, who have been involved since day one. We want to thank all of the media for coming out. And, again, the Q&A at the end, we will be able to address whatever questions that you have.

Ms. rice has been fighting this, again, November 22nd will be a year. We will have announcements as far as what we can do going forward to address the problem, the issue and get the community involve. So, you can, again keep the wealth of information there. Without further delay, I want to go ahead and introduce Ms. Rice and Latonya Goldsby, cousin of Tamir Rice.

SAMARIA RICE, MOTHER OF TAMIR RICE: Good afternoon, everybody. Since this senseless shooting of my son, Tamir Rice, I have had many sleepless nights and days. Almost a year now, no justice, no peace.

[12:15:09] I am very disappointed in the way Timothy McGinty is handling this case. I would like for him to step down and allow an independent prosecutor to take over Tamir Rice case.


RICE: Do you all think that the killing of my child was constitutionally justified?


RICE: I am praying the public continues to ask questions and seeks the truth. I want to thank everyone for their prayers and support. Please continue to support us and getting justice for Tamir. Thank you.


GROUP OF SUPPORTERS: Justice for Tamir.


BANFIELD: For the "Legal View" on this, I want to bring in CNN Legal Analyst and Defense Attorney, Danny Cevallos and HLN Legal Analyst and Defense Attorney, Joey Jackson. This is a heartbreaking case, no matter how you look at it.

This is a 12-year-old kid. He was not menacing anyone. He had an air soft gun. You know, if you are looking at it from the Rice family side and the supporters, it is a tragedy that is unanswered. If you look at it from the police officers, they make a split second decision.

They were not armed with any information that this was maybe a youngster. He looked much older, apparently, one of the witness said. And, they were not told about the fake gun. But I can feel for Samaria Rice. I can feel for what she is going through, 11 months later.

JOEY JACKSON, HLN LEGAL ANALYST AND DEFENSE ATTORNEY: You have to feel for her. It is a mother who has lost a child. And, ultimately, I think what the community wants is the grand jury to evaluate the case and to make their decisions.

And, I think there is a feeling, there is a feeling, and the feeling appears to be very strong that the District Attorney is hiding behind expert report. and you know, the question becomes, well, what are the significance of expert reports.

And, you know, the question becomes, "What are the significance of expert reports that essentially exonerate the police and say that what they did is justified?" And, the answer to that question, Ashleigh, is it depends upon and they will be given whatever significance the district attorney wants to give them.

In the Grand Jury, let us understand that the district attorney controls the process, is the judge, the jury, the executioner, feeds the Grand Jury information. So, the concern is, you can get experts, and Dan and I use experts in our practices regularly.

You can get experts to say anything you want them to. And, I am not being cynical about that. What I am saying is, is that people of various experience, various backgrounds will differ. And, so, I think a good start is you get two people, who are closely tied with law enforcement who render an opinion.

Could you imaging, Ashleigh, if the family of Tamir Rice hired an expert, do you think it would be -- and draw the same conclusions as those reports did? I think not. And, the feeling is, is the district attorney going to hide behind those reports or present another view of what happened here and was it reasonable.

BANFIELD: If in fact, it is hiding behind.


BANFIELD: I mean that sort of an objective or subjective use of word as well.

JACKSON: Absolute, subjective -- yes.

BANFIELD: Because the reports be accurate, they could be swayed. I have been in many courtrooms, where one side hire the experts and puts them on the stand for a reason.

JACKSON: That is the problem now, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: And, then the other side does it as well.

JACKSON: In the Grand Jury, what happens is, it is not two- sided.


JACKSON: You are presented with what the prosecutor present you. If it were trial and you had other experts --


JACKSON: That, it would be different.

BANFIELD: OK. So, to that end, this special prosecutor that Samaria Rice is calling for in this live news conference, who is qualified to take that helm, Danny, when everyone involved in this kind of a process, who needs the kind of experience to be able to helm a process like this is somehow tied to law enforcement in one way or another?

DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST AND DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, to answer that question, Ashleigh, I have to go back to the underlying problem that people are complaining about the Grand Jury system in the first place. Prosecutors, we appoint them, we hire them, we elect them for their judgment, right?

And, we do that expecting that weigh will apply including their bias, their thoughts in deciding whether or not to prosecute somebody. And, what I have been hearing in the past couple of years is people are complaining about the grand jury system.

It is not transparent. There is not enough information being released. Yes, it is the grand jury system. It has been that way for centuries. If you demand of a grand jury system that it discloses information, that is fine. It is just not a grand jury system anymore.

And, look, I am a defense attorney, Joey is too, we have been complaining about the secrecy of grand juries for eons, and about how prosecutors -- it is the prosecutors show. But, if we want to set up a separate system for police-involved shootings, maybe that is the answer, but it is not the system that we have today.

BANFIELD: Right. All right. Well, I have to leave it there, but I have been very troubled by the fact that it has been a year, and we have had so many high profile police officer shootings that have gone to the grand jury and at least in the process. They seem like they are moving along, and I can understand Ms. Rice's concern that it has been a year.

[12:15:02] JACKSON: It has not even gone to the grand jury.

BANFIELD: Obviously gone, yes.

JACKSON: And that is a big issue.

BANFIELD: All right, guys, stick around. Thank you both and I appreciate that, Joey and Danny. Coming up next, a simple traffic stop. That is what it was, turns dead instead with an uncooperative teen driver shot seven times. His cell phone camera, and the police officer's body camera both rolling, but does that clear anything up here?



BANFIELD: Very upsetting story out of Michigan. A 17-year-old ends up dead after he pulled over because he flashed his lights at a police car. What started as a simple traffic stop ended up with the officer shooting the young man seven times.

The policeman was not charged. The prosecutor said that the shooting was justified, but now the family is suing that officer, and suing the county for wrongful death. Here is our Jean Casarez with more details.


[12:20:04] SGT. JONATHAN FROST, EATON COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: I need your driver's license, registration, proof of insurance, please. Pulled you over here because you flashed me. I did not even have my brights on.


CASAREZ (voice-over): Watch this police body camera video. A 17- year-old Deven Guilford on his way to his girlfriend's house back in February, Sergeant Jonathan Frost pulling him over for flashing his high beams.

FROST: Driver's license, registration, proof of insurance, please. I did not have them on.


FROST: Driver's license, registration, proof of insurance, please.

GUILFORD: I do not even know you are an officer.

CASAREZ (voice-over): Sergeant Frost asked several times for Guilford's license. He refuses, questioning why he was stopped.

GUILFORD: Am I being detained?

FROST: Yes, you are.

GUILFORD: For what crime?

FROST: You flashed me with your high beams.

GUILFORD: You had your brights on, sir.

CASAREZ (voice-over): Guilford begins recording their interaction on his cell phone.

FROST: You can get with the program and start to comply with this traffic stop or you are going to be taken to jail.

CASAREZ (voice-over): The officer calls for backup as the situation escalates.

FROST: You do not have your driver's license on your person? Correct?

GUILFORD: Yes, I do.

FROST: Where is it?

GUILFORD: You do not have to see it. I cannot see -- You had your brights on, sir. I am not lying to you. I was just doing that to be polite. I did not want you to flash someone and have someone go off the road and crash. You know?

FROST: Do you realize that if you would have complied with this traffic stop it would have gone a whole different way for you.

CASAREZ (voice-over): The officer sees Guilford try to make a phone call and orders him out of the car.

FROST: Out of the car or you are going to get tased. Everything is being recorded, son. I got no problem with that. Get out of the car. Get down on the ground, now. Down on the ground!

GUILFORD: Oh my gosh. Stop yelling at me.

FROST: Down on the ground! Right here. Facing me. Down on the ground now

GUILFORD: What do you mean?

FROST: Get on your belly. Right now.

GUILFORD: This is what Americans --

FROST: Put your phone down and put your arms out to your side now.

CASAREZ (voice-over): Sergeant Frost kicks Guilford's cell phone away.

GUILFORD: I do not have a weapon. Hey! You cannot do that!

FROST: Son, get your hands behind your back. You are under arrest.

CASAREZ (voice-over): Just about 90 seconds before backup arrives, Sergeant Frost tases Guilford, but he is too close for it to work properly. Roughly, 14 seconds later you hear gunshots.

Sergeant Frost says Guilford attacked him, hitting him repeatedly with his fist. Take a look at this slow-mo, frame by frame. You can make the scuffle out just a little more clearly.

FROST: Central Point Z72. I shot one. Priority backup. Send EMS, I am bleeding.

CASAREZ (voice-over): This body cam video captures sergeant frost at the scene transported to the hospital with these injuries.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Looks like a small abrasion --


CASAREZ (on camera): And, the officer cleared of all wrongdoing. The prosecutor concluding that Frost was acting in self defense, that he truly believed that he was going to be killed or have serious bodily injury.

Now, among the cited evidence, there was damage to the body camera. It actually was broken off in pieces around that site. Findings that Guilford's wounds were from the front, and the trajectory of the bullets all indicated, to the prosecutor's office says, there indeed was a struggle.

The family now filing a federal and civil lawsuit alleging the officer used excessive force, violated their son's constitutional rights and wrongfully caused His death.

BANFIELD: OK. Those last two issues, the excessive force and the constitutional rights. Let us start there. I have a lot of questions for you about this case. What constitutional rights, if the family alleging this officer violated why excessive force?

CASAREZ: Initially, that it was an illegal stop that he had every right to flash his lights at the police officer. They say the law says that. According to the Michigan driver's booklet, you cannot flash your lights, your high beams at an oncoming car when it is within 500 feet, that it is illegal. That is why the officer pulled him over. That is a traffic stop.

BANFIELD: Is not this also in dispute. It said the wording is a little nebulous. You cannot glare your lights in Michigan, but flashing might be something that is acceptable, is not that sort of where the rub is?

CASAREZ: That is what they are saying and the law is a little nebulous. You are right, inconclusive. But, the traffic book that you read before you take your exam says it is illegal. BANFIELD: OK. So, that is interesting for a lot of our viewers,

because I think every one of us drives and flashes a light at oncoming, you know, vehicles.

CASAREZ: Yes. That is Michigan. It is Michigan.

BANFIELD: All right. I need to figure out here, Jean, is after this incident, if the allegation is that, that the stop was not legal, what about everything that transpired after. Because this escalated from traffic, to misdemeanor, to felony, what about all those subsequent dominos?

CASAREZ: So, the officer asked him for his driver's license. He refuses. He asked him seven times for his driver's license by the way.

BANFIELD: You have to give it. If you are driving a vehicle and an officer asked you, you do not have the right to say, no.

CASAREZ: And, in Michigan, it is a misdemeanor. So, that elevated it to a misdemeanor. Then he asked him to step out of the car. He does not do that -- and he was arresting him at that point based on the misdemeanor. That escalated it into a felony situation.

[12:25:06] BANFIELD: Resisting arrest?

CASAREZ: Resisting arrest, exactly.


CASAREZ: And, then you saw that struggle.

BANFIELD: So, now, once we have gone from traffic stop to misdemeanor for not providing your identification as a driver to -- was it the felony when you are resisting arrest.


BANFIELD: OK. The felony, for resisting arrest. He is now down on the ground, and he still believes he got the right to continue his videotaping and will not let go of his phone. That is clearly not your right.

Let us just be really clear for viewers. You are not allowed to just hold your phone and continue to videotape, By that point, the resist becomes very physical and the officer says he becomes in the struggle for his life.

CASAREZ: That is right. And, the officer's intent was to use the taser. But, the taser did not work, because according to prosecutor's report, the taser was too close to the body.

The prosecutor says that then allowed the young man to stand up, and as you saw on some of those freeze frames there to strike the officer. Now, the family disagrees, saying that they do not believe that their son at all, hit the officer. BANFIELD: Wow, that video is pretty clear.

CASAREZ: So, they question those injuries.


CASAREZ: Yes, they do.

BANFIELD: We have a lot of questions for other legal experts, the lawyer yourself, you know exactly what to look for. Jean Casarez, thank you for that.

CASAREZ: Thank you.

BANFIELD: Coming back after the break, we are going to speak with the attorney for Deven Guilford's family about the traffic stop, that she says should never have happened at all.