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President Biden Touts 100 Million Vaccine Doses Administered; New COVID Surge Coming?; Police Update Atlanta Murder Investigation. Aired 3-3:30p ET.

Aired March 18, 2021 - 15:00   ET



CHARLES HAMPTON, ATLANTA, GEORGIA, POLICE DEPUTY CHIEF: As a result of that, though, we still have an investigation that is still ongoing.

Our investigation is separate from the Cherokee County's investigation. Our investigation is slightly different. We had four Asian females that were killed. And so we are looking at everything to make sure that we discover and determine what the motive of our homicides were.

So, it's -- again, it's just very important just to let you know that we are not done. In most cases of homicides, we don't have a quick apprehension. There's usually a lengthy investigation, especially when there's involving multiple victims. And so, again, we're still working very diligently, and to ascertain all the facts, so we can have a successful prosecution, because that's what's most important now.

So, I was hoping that we would be able to release the names of the victims. But we are not able to do that this time. And the reason is, we need to make sure that we have a true verification of their identities, and then that we make the proper next the kin notification.

And so, again, I thought we were going to be able to do that. And out of respect of the lives of the family, we want to make sure that we do that privately, before we release the names of our victim publicly.

Again, we can have a couple of questions. But, again, it's very important that everyone knows that our investigation has not concluded, and it's still ongoing.

QUESTION: So, is the investigation -- the investigation into a possible hate crime, is that still on the table?

HAMPTON: Our investigation is looking at everything. So nothing is off the table for our investigation.

QUESTION: You get a lot of reaction yesterday after Cherokee investigators said that right now they don't think it's a hate crime and that this suspect had a bad day, and said some things about sexual addiction.

And some people criticized that for them saying it's so early and for what he said. I know you cannot speak for the people who said that, but what is APD's position on that?

HAMPTON: I don't have a position. Like I said, I'm only going to comment about our investigation. And, again, we're not prepared to talk a lot about what has been said, because, again, we're not trying to try the case in public.

This is -- again, it's a tragic -- and, again, we try to remember that eight families are impacted by this. And we wouldn't be doing justice by putting a lot of this information out in the public, and especially if, in our cases, where the next of kin has not been notified.

So, I know it's tough. I know there are a lot of questions that want to be answered, but, again, we just ask that you respect the families that are still mourning, and some who may not even know yet. And so that's the real key part of -- for our victims, that our victims' next of kin have not been officially notified.


QUESTION: -- anticipate being able to identify the victims tonight, having reached all of the family members?

HAMPTON: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Do you anticipate being able to release the identity--


HAMPTON: As soon as we verify and make those notifications, we're working with the consular office of the Republic of Korea also to make that verification.

But as soon as we are 100 percent sure and notifications have been made, we will definitely release those names.

QUESTION: That will likely go beyond today?

HAMPTON: Yes. Yes, ma'am.


QUESTION: -- because they're in a different country -- they're from a different country? That's the main holdup?

HAMPTON: That creates part of the delay, yes.

QUESTION: Is there any indication that the suspect has been to those spas before?

HAMPTON: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Is there any indication the suspect had visited those spas previously?

HAMPTON: Right now, early in our investigation, it appears that he may have frequented those locations, yes.

QUESTION: Both of them?


QUESTION: Previously?


QUESTION: That's what I was going to ask you. Do you have anything more about the suspect? Did he have encounters at those locations or any of the -- with any of the victims?


HAMPTON: Not right now. I can't be able to answer that.

QUESTION: But you believe he had been physically at both of those--


HAMPTON: I can say that he frequented both of those locations, yes.

QUESTION: Are you able to say that he targeted the specific individuals that he actually shot and killed?

HAMPTON: I will not say that.

Again, I will just say that, unfortunately, they were at that location. I can't say that he specifically targeted those individuals.

But what I will say is that he did frequent, as the question keeps coming up, that he did frequent those two locations in within Atlanta.

QUESTION: Is it also -- is part of the problem in identifying the victims, do they not have any family members in the United States? Are all the family members are overseas in Korea?

HAMPTON: I'm not saying that.

It's, again, we just want to make sure that we do our due diligence of that. We may -- some family may reside stateside. Some may be even here in the Atlanta area. But, again, we want to make sure that we do our due diligence to make sure the identification of the victims has been handled first.

QUESTION: Have you ever been called to that location -- those locations before?

HAMPTON: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Have you ever -- have police ever been called to those locations? HAMPTON: Again, I think that was addressed last week. I mean, we have had recent -- not recent -- we have had some incidents there, calls there.

But, again, that's not why we're here. So--




QUESTION: Any word on how the suspect got his hands on the gun, the .9-millimeter gun, considering his, reportedly, mental illness?

HAMPTON: I'm not sure about any mental illness. All we do know is that he did purchase the gun the day of the incident.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: All right, I'm going to take it from here. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN.

That was just the Atlanta police deputy chief, Charles Hampton.

Let me just run you through some of the headlines. And we will talk to a reporter in just a second.

So, as we have been covering these spa massage parlor murders in the Atlanta area, eight killed six of whom were Asian, Asian American community, he said that -- and this was key -- we are not done, right? The question has been all about the motive of this suspect, talked about having the sexual addiction. But there's been a lot of pushback on that to whether that's really the full truth.

And so he was clear, we are not done in terms of looking into the motive. Are they investigating it as a hate crime? He said everything is on the table. And he did confirm that the suspect -- couldn't say whether he targeted these specific women, but he definitely had frequented those two particular spas in the Atlanta area before.

Ryan Young is our guy on the ground with just a great sense of what's been happening here.

And so, Ryan, to me, what jumped out was hearing the deputy chief saying we are not done when it comes to motive. What did you think?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, just something I want to bring up here, the deputy chief here, Charles Hampton, is somebody who's been in investigations for quite some time.

I can remember maybe 10 or 12 years ago watching him do homicide investigations when I was a reporter here in Atlanta. So, he knows how this investigative part and process work. So it's very important to see him here the night of the shooting, is going through this with his detectives, talking to them on scene. We actually saw them have several meetings out here as they did parts of their evidence collection. Now, we know they're doing a massive dump of this entire area in terms of video, so they're going to the businesses around this area getting video. And the city of Atlanta has one of the most extensive networks when it comes to video cameras.

So, not only do they watch traffic, but there are businesses that are linked to this. So, they're able to go in and ask them for that video, so they can do part of that analysis. Then, if you think about this, as you were talking to detective -- the former Detective Vince Velasquez yesterday, you know they're going to go to a deep dive of credit card receipts or cash and see how many times he showed up here.


YOUNG: So, that's all a part of this process. And then you have the shell cases. Then you have the physical evidence.

And I'm sure some of these spas also have video surveillance on the inside. So, maybe they go through that and see how many times he showed up. I think the thing about the gun being purchased on the day of the assaults is something that also sticks out to me.

But they're going through this process painstakingly. We have watched them, sadly, and unfortunately removed the bodies more than six-and-a- half-hours after the shooting here on scene. So you can tell they were doing everything they can to get every piece of evidence.

Now, the one question I would have is whether or not the homicide investigators from here will have a chance to interview the suspect, because we know the Cherokee County Sheriff's Department is leading this investigation. And, sometimes, the lead does it, and whether or not the lawyer got involved first.

So that's part of the questions. But you got to think about this in terms of the expert sort of opinions of the investigators here in Atlanta. Did they have a crack at asking him some of these questions? So, a lot of stuff is still on the table here, Brooke, and I think that's what I got from that news conference is, this is not a slam dunk.


It's not an open-and-shut case. Yes, the suspect is in custody, but they're really going to have to peel this back to kind of figure out what his motivations were.

BALDWIN: Yes, you are so right on the money.

And, by the way, thank you for connecting me to former Detective Velazquez yesterday. He was excellent. It's all you, Ryan Young. Thank you in Atlanta.

Michael German is a former FBI special agent specializing in domestic terrorism. And, again, this is a -- sounds like a lone wolf situation.

Michael, good to have you on.

Just you were listening to the deputy police chief there in Atlanta. What were your initial thoughts just listening to the bits of information he was willing to relay?

MICHAEL GERMAN, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Well, it's important to acknowledge that this is still an ongoing investigation and that evidence is being collected to show whatever the evidence shows. And they have to follow the evidence, and, to a certain extent, seems to be cleaning up some previous law enforcement statements that dismissed the idea that this might be a hate crime.

So, it's positive that way. Part of the problem with the way law enforcement is less than attentive to hate crime generally, I think, gets highlighted in a case like this, where it's not just that this case needs to be treated seriously, but all cases targeting Asian Americans and every other community in the United States needs to be treated with the same kind of care.

BALDWIN: You hit on a couple of points. I want -- I have a couple follow-ups.

Number one, I did talk to this former homicide detective from Atlanta yesterday. And his suggestion, just as the question is about the motive for the suspect, saying that perhaps this -- the motivation the shooter's sex addiction might be self-serving, meaning it may not be the full truth.

Do you agree with that? How do investigators get the full truth, the full motivation here? And, to Ryan's point, do you think Atlanta police will get a crack at this suspect beyond the Cherokee County Sheriff's Department?

GERMAN: I'm sure the Atlanta police will get an opportunity. And I'm sure they are involved in a joint investigation, as the officer said, that will involve not just the state and local authorities, but also the federal government. And that's really key here, because the Georgia state hate crime statute is a penalty enhancement.

In other words, at sentencing, if the bias can be shown, that might add to the sentence, where, in a multiple murder charge, the sentence is already going to be severe, that is, an enhancement might not make a difference. But, federally, the FBI also has five federal hate crimes statutes that it can use to conduct an investigation that can be wide-ranging into the attitudes.

And just because this person went to these places before, obviously, how he conducted himself in those places at the times that he previously visited might provide some evidence as to his motive.

And keep in mind that the federal hate crime statutes not only protect against racial bias, but also gender bias. So, there are multiple ways that the federal authorities might be able to bring federal charges as well.

BALDWIN: The other piece of this, which you alluded to a second ago, which the APD deputy chief was asked about, and understandably said -- wouldn't comment on it, but the Cherokee County sheriff's spokesperson, during the press conference yesterday, said that the day of the shootings was -- quote -- "a really bad day for the shooter," and is understandably getting a lot of criticism for saying something like that after these murders.

And now we're learning that same spokesperson allegedly posted a photo of a racist anti-Asian COVID-19 shirt on Facebook one year ago. Just as a former FBI agent, what is your reaction to that?

GERMAN: Well, I mean, certainly, it needs to be investigated. And the totality of the circumstances need to be taken into consideration.

But that initial statement is exactly why the communities impacted by hate crimes are so troubled by the response. And, often, where there is a white killer, it's very quick to dismiss motives that might be apparent just by the nature of the victims or the crime that was committed, and much less -- this is a case that has garnered a lot of media attention.

But many cases against -- crimes against communities of color don't get this kind of attention.


BALDWIN: Nor do they speak up, Michael. Nor do many of them want to speak up when you have a share spokesperson saying, well, this guy had a bad day.

You understand.

GERMAN: Exactly.

A Justice Department crime victim survey suggests there are as many as 230,000 violent hate crimes a year, but more than half of those do not get reported to police because the victims don't feel the police will help them.


So, there's a huge problem in the United States about how we address these crimes. And the Justice Department really has to do a better job of taking the lead where there are state and local -- obstacles to state and local investigation and prosecution of these crimes as hate crimes.

BALDWIN: I appreciate that.

Michael German, thank you so much. And we have got more on the story ahead. We will talk to a member of the Asian community in Atlanta about the fear and how furious people are and what really can be done.

Much more news ahead. President Biden is expected to address the country about the state of the pandemic and where we are in the race to vaccinate Americans before these new variants take hold.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.



BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being here.

There is some troubling news in the race to contain this COVID pandemic; 17 states are seeing a spike in cases amid a spring break travel surge, and as some states roll back on their mask mandates.

Some health experts worry that new variants could wipe out all the progress we have made thus far.

Alex Field has the latest.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One hundred million shots at the end of my first 100 days as president.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We are likely just days away from beating that goal. There's still a long way to go after that.

FRANCIS SUAREZ (R), MAYOR OF MIAMI, FLORIDA: Every day that goes by where the entire population hasn't been vaccinated, you're worried, obviously.

FIELD: But even as the number of shots given nationwide climbs, more states are now seeing increases in the average daily number of new COVID cases than declines.

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: We could see a situation of a lot more infections outpacing the ability of our vaccines to work, and I fear that we may lose, as a result, this race of variants vs. vaccines.

FIELD: Seventeen states seeing upticks. In the last week, cases shot up 90 percent in Alabama, and by half in Delaware and Michigan, where they're struggling with a prison outbreak, the high prevalence of the more transmissible U.K. variant and the same fatigue that has set in everywhere.

DR. ALI KHAN, FORMER CDC OFFICIAL: Travel, for example, has picked up almost to pre-pandemic levels. Mask-wearing isn't as common. People are hopeful about the vaccine, so they're not taking precautions.

FIELD: A growing number of states are on track to expand vaccine eligibility to all adults weeks ahead of the May 1 mark President Joe Biden had called for, Michigan included. Alaska is already vaccinating anyone over the age of 16, the first state do it.

Still, cases are climbing there too. GOV. MIKE DUNLEAVY (R-AK): You're going to see fluctuations in the

cases as folks are still waiting to get their vaccines. And we will probably see that for a few more weeks.

FIELD: Across the country, the average daily number of COVID deaths remain down. Hospitalizations are the lowest they have been since October 11. Promisingly, researchers are finding that low-dose aspirin may help reduce the risk of deaths and ICU admissions.

Still, experts warn too many states are easing coronavirus restrictions too quickly.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: It's pretty clear that there are some states now that are pulling back I believe a bit more prematurely than they should on the public health measures.

FIELD: More businesses are throwing open their doors after a devastating year. AMC announcing it will open 98 percent of its movie theaters nationwide by Friday. Even more theaters are set to open next week.

Now lawmakers are pushing for answers on why more schools aren't opening more quickly.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME): I'd like to know what you're going to do and when to get our schools reopened.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: There now are emerging studies on the question between three feet and six feet. I'm aware of several that will be released in the next several days and we are actively looking at our guidance to update it to address that science.

FIELD: A Biden administration official tells CNN that change is expected to come on Friday.


FIELD: And along with new guidance for schools, we should soon be seeing new guidance from the CDC for fully vaccinated people. It will likely pertain to travel guidance first.

And, Brooke, the CDC director, Rochelle Walensky, says this really has less to do with the safety of people who are vaccinated, more to do with the safety of the people they will come into contact with. The agency still looking at data concerning whether or not vaccinated people can become asymptomatically infected and then, most crucially, whether they can then go on to transmit the virus to others -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: I'm still back on the 98 percent of AMC theaters opening by Friday.

FIELD: That is amazing.

BALDWIN: Alex, thank you.

Any moment now, we will be seeing President Biden at the White House on the continuing rollout of vaccines around the country and progress on his administration's goal of 100 million shots in the first 100 days.

This will be happening today as the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci found himself sparring with Kentucky Senator Rand Paul specifically on masks. Watch this.


FAUCI: When you talk about reinfection, and you don't keep in the concept of variants, that's an entirely different ball game.

That's a good reason for a mask.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): You're making your policy based on conjecture.



FAUCI: No, it isn't based on conjecture.

PAUL: You have the conjecture that we're going to get variants.

But you some -- you want people to wear a mask for another couple years.


PAUL: You have been vaccinated, and you parade around in two masks for show.


Masks are not theater. Masks are protective.



Phil Mattingly is with me.

And, Phil, we may -- you may get upstaged by the president. Just keep in mind here momentarily, he's going to speak on.

But watching the Kentucky senator basically mocking the use of masks as we see these case count surging in more than a dozen states, I know health experts are warning the spread of variants could undo a lot of the work that's already been done.

Live pictures there at the White House, waiting for the president.

What are you hearing from the White House? PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Look, I think

there's significant concern. They view this right now is a bit of a race, a race between how they have ramped up vaccine. Obviously, the supply has surged as well over the course of the last couple of weeks, and will do more so in the weeks and months ahead.

That's something you're going to hear the president talk about, aides said, the fact that his goal of 100 million shots in 100 days, they could reach it as soon as today, which is obviously significant earlier than they laid out in the first place.

And that is expected to ramp up in a major way in the weeks ahead. But the biggest concern you hear from White House officials, public health and otherwise, is the variants and the rolling back of certain masking regulations and what that's going to lead to.

And I think the best way to frame this right now, at least when you talk to White House officials, is they believe they're in a race. They need to surge the vaccine, get vaccinations as high as they possibly can, before any of the variants spread at a more detailed way or surge in a bigger manner or capacity over the course of the next several weeks.

That's how they feel about this. Now, there are plans as well. Obviously, you're going to hear the president talk about the progress they have made, the progress they think they're going to make, and the importance of maintaining the regulations and rules that have been in place over the course of the last year.


BALDWIN: Here he is, Phil.

Thank you.

BIDEN: -- in early December that I had a goal that I set of administering 100 million shots for the virus in the first 100 days of our office, 100 million shots in 100 days, it was considered ambitious. Some even suggested it was somewhat audacious.

Experts said that it was a -- the plan was -- quote -- "definitely aggressive," and distribution would have to be seamless for us to be successful.

One headline simply put it -- quote -- "It won't be easy" -- end of quote.

Well, it wasn't. When I took office, when we took office, there was a lot that had to be done. Needed more vaccines, more vaccinators, more places for people to get vaccinated. And we needed a whole-of- government approach.

So, I directed Jeff Zients, the coordinator of our COVID-19 response, to put us on a war footing, and I meant that in a literal sense, to get us on track to truly beat this virus. And I'm proud to announce that, tomorrow, 58 days into our

administration, we will have met my goal of administering 100 million shots to our fellow Americans. That's weeks ahead of schedule, and even with the setbacks we faced during the winter storms. And there's another big step on the path to checking the -- putting checks in pockets and shots in people's arms.

When we crossed the 50 million doses just three weeks ago, I told you that every time we hit the 50 million mark, I'd update you on our progress.

So, here's where we are today. Eight weeks ago, only 8 percent of seniors, those most vulnerable to COVID-19, had received a vaccination. Today, 65 percent of people aged 65 or older have received at least one shot, and 36 percent are fully vaccinated. And that's key, because this is a population that represents 80 percent of the well over 500,000 COVID-19 deaths that have occurred in America.

We have nearly doubled the amount of vaccine doses that we distribute to states, tribes, and territories each week. We have gone from one million shots a day that I promised in December, before we were even sworn in, to an average of 2.5 million shots a day, outpacing the rest of the world significantly.

And here's how we accomplished this. Using the power given to a president under the Defense Production Act, we expedited critical materials in vaccine production, such as equipment, machinery, and supplies. We worked with vaccine manufacturers to speed up the delivery of millions more doses, and brokered a historic manufacturing partnership between competing companies.