Return to Transcripts main page

New Day

Darius Williams is Interviewed about the Astroworld Concert; Jeremy Butler is Interviewed about Health Exposures to Military; Wanda Cooper and Mark Maguire are Interviewed about the Arbery Trial. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired November 11, 2021 - 08:30   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, two people remain hospitalized in critical condition after the Astroworld Music Festival, including a nine-year-old boy who is in a medically induced coma to combat brain trauma. Also a 22-year-old Texas A&M student who is on a ventilator right now.

And we are now learning that a man hired to work security for the event says he quit that morning over concerns of lack of training and staffing issues that made him question his own safety.

Joining me now is that man, Darius Williams. He was hired by a company called Contemporary Service Corporation. That is one of the vendors that provided security for the event.

I do just want to mention, real quick, Darius, we've reached out to the corporation. We haven't heard anything back from them.

But tell us why you decided, in the end, the morning of the concert, to quit the job.


The morning of the event, before we were dropped off to our respective stations, we walked around the perimeter of the venue. And although I did see a decent amount of police presence, I still didn't feel like there was enough presence for the amount of people that were expected. And then once I was dropped off at my station, it just didn't seem secure or safe. So, for the safety of myself, I just decided it would be best to just, you know, leave for the day.

KEILAR: Because they were going to have you man the gate, is that right, the front gate?

WILLIAMS: Correct. Yes. They dropped me off at the front gate. That was supposed to be my station for the day. Although, in the night before, when we had the orientation and the classroom setting, there really wasn't much instruction on, you know, job roles or job duties. So I really didn't feel like I was prepared or equipped to handle, you know, any type of situation.

KEILAR: OK. So it sounds like you were surprised that that was going to be your role.

You know, why -- why did you think that that might be an unsafe place? Were you aware of how chaotic Travis Scott's concerts have -- have been in the past?

WILLIAMS: Well, not only that, I'm an avid concert-goer myself and I've been to some other concerts in the area. And I've witnessed myself, where security and CSE personnel have been overrun by rowdy crowds. And I had overheard some other people, you know, mentioning online and in person that there was a plan to storm the gates. And I mentioned that to my superiors, but it seemed like it fell on deaf ears.

KEILAR: So you mentioned that? You -- you heard that online and mentioned it?


KEILAR: You mentioned that you had heard online that there was a plan to storm the gates, so that was something that you were expecting would happen at the front gates. Who did you tell, and what did they say to you?

WILLIAMS: I did mention that to two of the superiors that were at the station by the front gate. They did offer me a different position or a different role for the day, which would have been me kind of walking the perimeter to keep it secure to make sure no one hops the gate or, you know, no one tries to sneak in the festival. But I really didn't feel comfortable with doing that either because I didn't really receive any type of training whatsoever to handle, you know, anything.

KEILAR: What -- you know, what was your job requirement? What -- you said there's not much training. What were the job requirements for this?


WILLIAMS: Well, the only requirement that was mentioned on the online posting was, you know, at least one year of customer service is preferred, which I have plenty. And it did say that you would be required to get a level two security license. So, you know, based on those two things, I felt like they would put me in a position to succeed based on my minimum security qualifications.

KEILAR: So, you know, Darius, when you heard that people had died at the concert, what did you think?

WILLIAMS: I was devastated. I was shocked. I felt a sense of -- a sense of -- I don't want to say relief, but I'm just glad I trusted my instinct and that I listened to myself and actually left for the day. I never would have imagined anything like that would have happened. But based on what I witnessed personally, I'm not surprised that an incident did occur. KEILAR: Who do you blame, Darius?

WILLIAMS: I think there's a lot of blame to go around. I think there's -- everyone involved with the festival planning, I believe, has a part to blame. I don't want to say it's anyone in particular, but definitely all parties involved.

KEILAR: Darius Williams, thank you so much for talking with us about your experience, a very unique one.

Thank you.

WILLIAMS: Thank you very much.

KEILAR: There's some new developments in the trial of the three men charged with the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. What a police investigator said on the stand that Arbery's mother called disturbing. You'll really want to hear this. She's going to join us, next.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, a crew member injured during the "Rust" movie shooting is now suing Alec Baldwin. Hear why.



KEILAR: An update to a CNN story that made some waves online last week.

We introduced you to the Stotler family, a family of 11, including seven children who were adopted or fostered. And they shared with us their struggle to keep up with inflation on grocery store -- on grocery prices, especially with a key household item, milk.


KRISTA STOTLER, PARENT: We started seeing everything going up. Grocery prices went up. A gallon of milk was $1.99. Now, it's $2.79. Well, when you buy 12 gallons a week times four weeks, you know, that's a lot of money.


KEILAR: So after seeing this story, the Dairy Farmers of America and Texas-based milling supplier Oak Farm (ph) stepped in and they donated coupons for a year's supply of free milk. So the Stotlers have free milk for a year, Berman.

BERMAN: Look, that's wonderful. And anyone who's been on social media knows what a thing this has become.

What I like about this is that regardless of all the outrage that existed around this, someone is trying to do something good for somebody.

KEILAR: Yes. It's actually a really very beautiful way that they've done some outreach to this family.

And, look, I think a lot of people are just seeing prices for a lot of things increase right now. And when you have a family, like the Stotlers especially, which is a very big family, a big, beautiful family doing a big, beautiful thing, the costs are exponential. And that's what they're dealing with. So someone's stepping in to help out with that.

BERMAN: Which is wonderful.

Kyle Rittenhouse taking the stand in what turned out to be a wild day in the courtroom. So where does the case stand now?

KEILAR: And breaking this morning, the White House is taking action on an issue that has impacted thousands of service members perhaps including the president's own son, Beau Biden.



KEILAR: Today marks the first Veteran's Day since President Biden ended the war in Afghanistan. And, this morning, the Biden administration announced new plans to help veterans who have potentially been exposed to burn pits and other hazardous materials while serving in the armed forces.

Joining me now to talk about this is the CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Jeremy Butler.

And, Jeremy, I know this is a big issue for your organization, but for the uninitiated, basically the military burned massive, sometimes football field sized, even more, acres of trash. And you had a lot of service members who were breathing this in.

So, tell us about how significant this move is by the Biden administration.

JEREMY BUTLER, CEO, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA: Thanks, Brianna. It's great to join you again. And I appreciate your focusing on this issue because it is one of the most important ones facing our generation.

I would love to be more optimistic, though the reality is, this is a very nice first step, by there's a lot more that needs to be done. This is a good step by the administration. Unfortunately, if you read the fine print, you know, there's a lot of lines in there like, we'll do a 90-day review. We'll then see what the evidence shows. We will then consider making changes. There's a lot of things that don't say what we need to hear, which is, we are changing the rules now to make sure that any veteran that was exposed to and sickened by these toxins is able to get health care from the VA.

As you know all too well, veterans are already sickened and dying from these exposures. It's been 20 years since we entered into Afghanistan and we're way overdue to pass legislation. The fact that there's legislation in both the House and the Senate that could be passed today, we wanted it to be passed by Veteran's Day. It could have been on the president's desk for him to sign today. This is a nice first step, but it's not where we need to be.

KEILAR: Yes, look, we know the effect of this. We lost a mutual friend just this past weekend, former Staff Sergeant Wesley Black. And I think that's really the question is, this war, these wars, this trash has been burning for 20 years. So, if you are a service member who is experiencing severe symptoms, whether it is respiratory or even potentially respiratory cancer or even maybe another rare, serious type of cancer that you think is tied to this, and you're having symptoms and you go to the VA, Jeremy, what happens, what is there to help them get their claims fulfilled?

BUTLER: Yes, it's, unfortunately, kind of a complicated process. Right now, you know, there's a lot of push to say, you know, get yourself registered on the burn pit registry, which is correct. We do want veterans to reach out and get themselves signed up to the burn pit registry because that's a way to begin to increase the numbers of folks that the VA can see, they can understand the medical issues that they're dealing with. But that's not going to get them the health care.

Unless -- right now, unless they have a very clear medical tie between the illnesses that they're facing and their service, the VA is not going to treat them for those illnesses. And that's what, as you mentioned, you know, we sadly lost Staff Sergeant Black to lung cancer. He was fighting all the way up to his dying day to make sure that that type of fight, no other veteran has to go through. He and his wife and their young son, you know, he spent his last days fighting to make sure that this wouldn't happen to other veterans.


And we're still at a point where the VA isn't going to treat them. They're going to say we need to see more medical science. We need to see more evidence linking the cancers, the rare illnesses that you're facing. We need to see more medical evidence that links them directly to your service.

KEILAR: So that -- obviously, that's a big issue. It's being called the Agent Orange of this generation.

But, there's also the mental health issue for veterans that they're facing. How are things different this year now that the war in Afghanistan has ended?

BUTLER: Yes, it's kind of a mixed bag is the reality. We passed some great legislation last year, the Commander Hannon Act, that you're familiar with, which makes some real changes in the area of mental health treatment and options for veterans. It really expands grant programs that the VA can extend to local providers around the country so that underserved areas are able to meet with, connect with and support the veterans that they know.

Unfortunately, we still need the VA to get those grants rolled out. We need to get those funds to those communities, especially now because, as you alluded to, with the fall of Afghanistan, with our withdrawal from there, there is just a renewed mental health crisis within the veteran community. It's just -- it's really heartbreaking for so many to watch those images on TV and to know how many thousands of Afghan allies we still have left behind still in the country. And we're receiving messages from them on a daily basis saying, I'm in danger, my family is in danger, you need to get me out. This is not something that's over and this is something that, for veterans, is going to continue day after day after day until we make -- until America keeps its promise and gets those allies out.


Jeremy, I want to say thank you so much on this Veteran's Day to you. And I also want to let our viewers know you have a great opinion piece out on today about what service means to you and to your family. So, thank you so much, Jeremy Butler, for all that you do for the veterans community.


BUTLER: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: New overnight, Texas Governor Greg Abbott's battle against mask mandates just took a major, legal blow.

BERMAN: Plus, a dramatic day in court in the trial of the men accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery.

And a mysterious attack on a star soccer player. Why it might remind you of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan.



BERMAN: This morning, new witnesses taking the stand in the prosecution of the three white men charged with killing Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed 25-year-old black man. The court heard from Police Investigator Stephan Lowery, who was the one to call Arbery's mother and deliver the news that her son was dead. Lowery testified that the defendants never told him that they were attempting to make a citizen's arrest or that a crime had been committed by Arbery. But according to Arbery's mother, that's not what Lowery told her on the phone.

Joining us now is Wanda Cooper Jones, who, of course, is Ahmaud Arbery's mother, and her attorney, Mark Maguire.

Wanda, thank you for being with us.

I know this is a difficult week. I can't imagine being in the courtroom, hearing the things that you've had to hear. But I was stunned yesterday when you recounted what you were first told and how you were first told --


BERMAN: How were you first told of your son's death, Wanda? What did they tell you?

MARK MAGUIRE, ATTORNEY FOR AHMAUD ARBERY'S FAMILY: How were you first told of your son's death?

JONES: Actually -- well, can you guys hear me?

BERMAN: I can, yes.

JONES: I don't know where the mic is. Where is it?

MAGUIRE: They can hear you. The microphone is here.

They asked how you first learned of your son's death.

JONES: Back early in -- on February 23rd of last year, I received a call about 6:30 in the evening. It was from an Investigator Lowery from Glynn County Police Department, who shared that Ahmaud was -- was committing a burglary. He was confronted by the homeowner. At that time there was a confrontation with the homeowner. That there was a -- this fight over the weapon, and, unfortunately, Ahmaud was shot and killed.

BERMAN: He told you that your son committed a burglary?


BERMAN: Now, we've all been watching this trial. There's no evidence of that whatsoever. And, distinctly, the absence of that evidence. So, what's it like to sit and listen to this trial, knowing that that's how you were told of your son's death?

JONES: I don't know how to do this thing.

MAGUIRE: Can you hear him?

JONES: No, I can't hear him.

MAGUIRE: Can you answer, what's it like.

BERMAN: Mark, can you ask the question for me?

MAGUIRE: What's it -- I am. What's it like sitting through the trial knowing that you were told inaccurately about the nature of your son's death?

JONES: It was -- it was very -- very uncomfortable. I was very anxious when I heard that he was the next one who was going to come and give a testimony because I had heard his name several times, and I was really anxious to put a face with the name. And, actually, to get his account on what actually happened.

BERMAN: I'm going to play some sound of the trial now. This was the description -- and, again, I'm not even sure you can hear me, Wanda, but I apologize for making you hear this again. But this was a description that one of the defendants gave a law enforcement officer of what your son was doing and how they were trapping him.

So, let's listen.


SGT. RODERIC NOHILLY, GLYNN COUNTY POLICE: He was trapped like a rat. I think he was wanting to flee. And he realized that something, you know, he was not going to get away.


BERMAN: Wanda, what's it like for you to hear this?

JONES: Again, I keep using the word disturbing, but very, very disturbing. After the day that they called, they initially told me that he had committed a burglary. And then to sit through the trial to find out that Ahmaud actually -- he ran, he fought, he was killed and then he was lied on.

BERMAN: He was lied on. What do you mean?

JONES: Well, like I said earlier, they told me that he had committed a burglary. Ahmaud hadn't committed a crime at all.

BERMAN: Mark, we've got a few seconds left here. How is the prosecution doing? Do you think they're making their case?

MAGUIRE: Well, I think there's any number of pundits that will talk about the strategy and presentation of the jury. I'll stay away from that.

I just want to add to what Ms. Cooper said about the investigator from the Glynn County Police Department. This is clear evidence of the deference that they gave to these defendants, of the prejudice that they held against Ahmaud, who was the victim and not the perpetrator. And that was clear from the beginning of the case, from the -- from the moment that they arrived on scene, all the way until GBI got involved.


BERMAN: Counselor Mark Maguire, thank you.

Wanda, again, thank you for being with us. I know what -- as you say, a difficult week this has been. Appreciate it.

JONES: Yes. Yes.