Return to Transcripts main page


DOJ Launches Probe into Minneapolis Policing Practices; Democrats, GOP Plan for Key Talks on Policing Reforms; Police Departments around the Country React to Chauvin Conviction. Aired 1- 1:30p ET

Aired April 21, 2021 - 13:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: It's a busy news week, come back and see us.


Don't go anywhere, a busy new day as well, Ana Cabrera picking up our coverage right now. Have a good day.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining me. I am Ana Cabrera in New York.

And right now, former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin is in custody in a restricted housing unit for his own safety after being found guilty on the murder of George Floyd. And now, our nation is facing a pivotal moment. Just a few hours ago, Attorney General Merrick Garland announcing a new DOJ probe stemming from George Floyd's death.


MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Today, I am announcing that the Justice Department opened a civil investigation to determine whether or not the Minneapolis Police Department engages in a pattern or practices of unconstitutional or unlawful policing.


CABRERA: It has been nearly a year since the death of George Floyd and only hours since the historic conviction of the man who murdered him. Guilty on all three counts, a verdict that had gone the other way so many times before and so many other cases, providing a sense of justice for Floyd's family. And in the hours since, his loved ones reiterated this is just the first step on the path to change.


PHILONISE FLOYD, GEORGE FLOYD'S BROTHER: What happened to my brother, it was a crime, he was tortured to death. I don't want any more George Floyds. I don't want there to be any more Daunte Wrights, I don't want there to be any more Ahmaud Arberys. We should be able to go, walk free and not be killed because of the shade of our skin color. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: The legal reckoning far from over, Derek Chauvin awaits his sentencing and the three officers who were with Chauvin will face trial in August for aiding and abetting murder.

We begin this hour though in Minneapolis. CNN's Josh Campbell is with us live. Josh, how can we expect this new Department of Justice investigation to play out?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Ana, this is the U.S. government saying we have a problem. Now, police across the country are governed by state and local officials, but the U.S. government, the Department of Justice, has the ability to assert federal jurisdictions if they determine that there's possibly a practice of a police agency engaging in civil rights abuses. And that appears to be what the U.S. Department of Justice, the Biden administration is doing with the Minneapolis Police Department.

We heard a short time ago from the attorney general laying out the scope of this investigation. Take a listen.


GARLAND: The investigation I am announcing today will assess whether the Minneapolis Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of using excessive force, including during protests. The investigation will also assess whether the MPD engages in discriminatory conduct and whether it's treatment of those with behavioral disabilities is unlawful.


CAMPBELL: So this will be a very invasive process. We expect the lawyers from the Department of Justice will descend here in Minneapolis, intervene with community members, interviewing those who may have interacted with the police, going go through police files, again, to try to determine whether there was a pattern here of this police agency engaging in civil rights violations.

And the remedy, it could range from the department agreeing with the Justice of Department to reform the DOJ going to court and ordering changes within this department. We'll have to wait to see.

Finally, Ana, it's worth noting that this is, by my count, the fourth investigation into this police agency that has resulted from the death of George Floyd. We know there was a state investigation. There is an FBI investigation that remains ongoing. The state's Human Rights Commission launched an investigation, and now the U.S. Department of Justice. Ana?

CABRERA: I think this is a story, a case that has touched just about everybody in this country, and maybe people around the world.

But when it comes to where you are, that community has been touched very deeply. How are they reacting to not just the verdict, but also this new DOJ announcement?

CAMPBELL: Yes. The world was obviously watching this verdict and folks here in the community obviously glued to their televisions yesterday waiting for that verdict to be read. After that happened right behind me at this courthouse, it erupted in a celebration. There were hundreds of people that descended on this location, again, celebrating, in their view, what they believe was a sense of some type of justice that was handed down with this verdict of three guilty counts.

Now, of course, the community continues to wait to see what will happen to those other three officers. We know that Derek Chauvin, the senior officer, awaits his sentencing, but the other three who are charged with aiding and abetting him on that day here last night, their trials set to begin in August. And, again, this community will continue to wait for that verdict as well, whether those other three officers will be held accountable for the death of George Floyd. Ana?

CABRERA: Josh Campbell in Minneapolis for us, thank you for your ongoing hard work there.

Let's bring in CNN Legal Analyst, former federal and state prosecutor Elie Honig.


Elie, let's talk about sentencing first. There's a range, right? What is the maximum prison time Chauvin could get and what will go into the final decision by the judge?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Ana. So, the maximum prison sentence for Chauvin here is 40 years. However, Minnesota uses a sentencing guideline system that gives judges recommended sentences. And here, the guidelines recommended sentence is only 12.5 years. That's a really unusual situation to have a 27.5-year spread there.

Here is how prosecutors are trying to get the number up above 12.5. They are arguing what we call aggravating factors, specific circumstances about the murder that allow the judge to sentence higher. Some of those aggravating factors obviously apply. Were there children present? Yes, we heard them testify at the trial. Did Derek Chauvin abuse a position of public trust? Yes, he did this while he was a police officer and wearing a badge.

Others will be hotly contested. Was Floyd particularly vulnerable as a victim? Was Floyd treated with particular cruelty? How the judge decides those questions is going to decide where, between 12.5 years and 40 years Derek Chauvin gets sentenced.

CABRERA: He waived his right for the jury to decide these aggravating factors and this sentence opting for the judge to make this decision. Why do you think that is?

HONIG: Interesting strategic decision turned out to be a good one. Remember, he made that decision before the jury had voted to convict him. I think in this case, he assumed, look, if the jury is going to convict me, they're probably going to find me liable on all those aggravating factors. Let me take my chances with the judge, given that some of them, he's going to try to knock out.

So I think now that the jury has come back and convicted him in fairly short order with no questions, I think Derek Chauvin is feeling like he probably made the right decision to put it in the judge's hands instead of the jury.

CABRERA: We expect there will be an appeal. What is the timeline for that?

HONIG: The appeals could take several months. Every defendant, by the way, who gets convicted ends up filing an appeal. I don't really see any appeal issues that would worry me as a prosecutor here. The pre- trial publicity, the stuff relating to Representative Waters and everything, I don't think that's going anywhere. The judge did a really good job here.

He counted on the jury to abide by its oath to only judge the case based on the evidence in the courtroom. There was no indication that the jury had any problem, no jury, no one suggesting there were having a problem. I just don't see any really appeals issues that worry me here as a prosecutor.

CABRERA: There were other officers with Derek Chauvin. They will go on trial in August for aiding and abetting second-degree murder. And now that Chauvin has been found guilty, do you anticipate his verdict will affect their case in any way?

HONIG: I think it will. Look, nobody is watching what happens to Derek Chauvin more closely than those three officers. They know they have trials coming up. And the higher the judge sentences Derek Chauvin, I think, will influence potentially these other officers to think about a guilty plea.

Because I think if you're one of those other officers, you can reasonably assume that you are not going to get sentenced to quite as high as Derek Chauvin. But if this judge sentences Chauvin to 30 years, 40 years, you are now thinking, wow, if I go to trial and get convicted, I am looking at decades behind bars.

And to me, if you are looking to cap your risk here, you are much more likely to try to plead guilty before trial if you are one of those three.

CABRERA: And we will be watching that case, that's for sure. Elie Honig, you have been incredible for us, especially in the last few days. Thank you for your ongoing dedication to this case and being such a great resource for us. We really appreciate it.

HONIG: Thanks, Ana, I appreciate that.

CABRERA: So whether it's George Floyd's family, elected leaders, activist or commentators, one thing we keep hearing in the wake of the Derek Chauvin guilty verdict is that this is just the beginning of the struggle. For more on where the fight goes from here, we are joined by the president and CEO of the National Urban League, Marc Morial. Marc, good to have with us.

You said this verdict marks a turning point in holding police accountable. It has been so hard to get a police conviction in cases like this. And what could make this the start of a new era versus an anomaly?

MARC MORIAL, PRESIDENT AND CEO, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE: I think -- first of all, thank you for having me. What makes this different is the protests, the outcry, the public outrage that we saw in connection with this case was unprecedented in modern American history. What also made it an important moment was the competence, the care and the diligence of Keith Ellison, the Minnesota attorney general, and the prosecutorial team.

What also made it different is you have a videotape, the courageous young teenager who taped this incident, and you had a trial which was televised so that the eyes of the public can make a determination on their own as to whether Officer Chauvin was guilty as he was found by this jury. So there are a number of instances.

But, Ana, while I feel that justice was done and that this officer is held to accountability, this cannot be a temporary moment in this quest for justice in this nation.


Much more needs to be done, much more focus already. There's the Daunte Wright case. There's the Adam Toledo case. There's now the young girl in Columbus, Ohio. This just continues to go on as young, young people of color are killed by the police in communities across the nation. This has got to stop and every single elected office holder has got to step up and do their part.

CABRERA: What is your reaction to the DOJ investigation? Do you think that will make a difference?

MORIAL: We welcome it, Ana. And, in fact, let's put it in context. Attorney General Garland is able to do this because he reversed a wrongheaded -- And I'll call it pigheaded decision by former Attorney General Sessions who stopped the Justice Department from carrying out these kinds of investigations. And so now I believe that this investigation is one tool that can make a difference.

But we need the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act. We need significant changes to be undertaken by states such as Maryland undertook, for cities to undertake changes to policing. So there are multiple avenues to go forward. This work, this struggle, must continue.

CABRERA: You know, for nearly a year, Floyd's death was a singular image, a singular case that was helping to fuel the protests we just spoke about. How do you keep the level of engagement up, as some people think see the outcome and are pointing to it, saying, see, the system worked, there is no crisis?

MORIAL: Ana, I believe that activism, which goes from the streets, to the internet now, to churches and community centers, even new awareness in the corporate boardrooms of America, I think, mean that we have to be determined to make sure this moment that we have witnessed, that we have been part of turns into a broad movement for major change when it comes to systemic and institutional racism, and all of its forms. It's essential for changing America.

Leveling the playing field is the way we build bridges. Leveling the playing field is the way we build an America for the 21st century. So that is what this is really all about.

And I believe that this energy -- think about what the president and the vice president said yesterday. Think about how the family has renewed -- in essence, it has said, we now have justice for George Floyd but we are going to continue. I think we're all determined to make sure that this moment becomes a movement.

But the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which we have been behind, which we helped to craft, which is being worked on now, is the way in which members of the Senate, the president supports it and is willing to sign it, the House has passed it twice. It's now up to the Senate.

And I would pose this question to the members of the United States Senate. In 1922, the United States Senate blocked an anti-lynching bill, which was passed by the House of Representatives. In 1965, the Senate joined with the House and the president to pass the voting rights act in '64, the civil rights act. Is this going to be a moment for the United States Senate, like 1922, or a moment like 1964 and '65? That's what is at stake. That's how crucial this debate around the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is to this nation.

CABRERA: And I think that is a very important question, because right now, Republicans aren't onboard with this legislation, and in part because their constituents, other Republican voters are not necessarily acknowledging that there is a problem. You have this hurdle, a big part of the country that doesn't see systemic racism as a problem. And they are hearing that in messaging from right-wing media. Take a look at Fox Host Laura Ingraham just last night.


LAUARA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: That's the big lie, systemic racism. The left is always committed to use this case in any case of white cops having bad interactions with black Americans to reinforce the same big lie, mainly that America is a systemic racist place. It's a country where black people are targeted and in constant danger, they can never get ahead. So that lie, what does it do? It drives us apart.



CABRERA: Remember, Fox wouldn't take on the actual big lie about voter fraud, which had no evidence to support it, and yet here they are calling systemic racism the big lie when there's example after example after example to back this up, from police killings, there was the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, minorities underrepresented positions of power around the country or even the anti-Asian attacks during the pandemic.

The list goes on and on, Marc, and you see it in all facets of life. So how do you convince skeptics this is real and it doesn't start and stop with George Floyd?

MORIAL: You will never convince someone like Laura Ingraham of anything. She is committed to conspiracy theories and the perpetuation of lies. But here is what I know, Ana. When you look at public opinion poll on the provision to the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which is all about accountability, all about standards, all about ensuring that bad police officers are held accountable, you see support amongst Republicans and Democrats, people from the north, the south, the east and the west.

Certainly, there's a hard core group that maybe opposed, but is this about that or is this about stepping up and doing what broadly -- the broad expanse of the American people want to see, and that is a new tool, a stronger tool, to hold police officers accountable at the federal level. We will not stop at our quests. We will not stop at our work. And we will not be deterred.

And what Laura Ingraham should do is understand that there has been an average of some 1,000 people killed by the police each year in the 21st century, and only 138 have been charged and only 44 have been convicted. Now, if that's not an example of a broken system, then I don't know what is.

But you see, we have to recognize that the broad numbers of the American people, the protests we saw last year, they were black people and white people and Latin X, and Asians, and Republicans and Democrats, people from all stripes, these issues are issues of American integrity and values, not issues of partisanship.

CABRERA: Marc Morial, that's a great place to stop. Thank you for coming on and offering your perspective. I appreciate the conversation.

MORIAL: Thank you, Ana.

CABRERA: More on calls to pass meaningful police reform, but a bill with George Floyd's name on it has stalled in the Senate for months. So where do things stand now?

Plus, a new video and another life taken by police. Police in Columbus, Ohio, releasing graphic body cam video showing an officer shooting and killing a teenage girl who appeared to lunge at another girl with a life. We have details just ahead.

And any moment now, President Biden expected to address the nation on the state of the coronavirus across the nation. We are watching that. We'll bring it to you live.

Stay with us. You're in the CNN Newsroom. I am Ana Cabrera.



CABRERA: We can't stop here, President Biden making it clear he wants action on police reform after the Chauvin verdict. And we're learning this morning key lawmakers in both parties are planning for talks in the coming weeks to see if they can come together and overhaul a deal here.

Democrats are pushing to get this done by the one-year anniversary of George Floyd's death. That's about a month from now.

Manu Raju is live on Capitol Hill for us. Manu, the Democrats police reform bill is quite literally in George Floyd's name, it's called the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. First, what is in it?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the bill has a number of provisions that would essentially aim to force police departments to essentially be more accountable, banning chokeholds and the like, and also to make it easier to sue police officers in civil court. That's the issue called qualified immunity.

And that is the central sticking point in the negotiations that have happened in the days -- in the recent days and weeks, whether or not police officers can, in fact, be sued in civil court. Republicans have opposed the Democrats' approach to this issue. Democrats have tried to gut those protections.

But we are learning that there's actually been some movement on this issue in recent days. Senator Tim Scott, who is the Republican who has pushed an alternative Republican plan that Democrats blocked last year, he is floating a compromise, so not the police officers themselves can be sued in court but actually departments could be held accountable in civil court.

Now, this is something that he has talked about with Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey who is one of the Democratic negotiators, as well as Karen Bass on the House side, she's the House lead sponsor of that George Floyd policing bill. Bass' office declined to comment to me.

But Dick Durbin, who is a Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, the number two Democrat in the Senate, just talked to our call colleague, Ted Barrett, about this Scott compromise. He called it movement in the right direction, so a sign that perhaps this key sticking point can be resolved. And the view on Capitol Hill is that if that is resolved, perhaps these other issues could also be resolved.

The Democratic approach and the Republican approach, difference, in respect, but there is a lot of overlap. The overall difference is that the Democrats focus more on the federal level to try to impose ban on chokeholds, for instance, on the federal level.


The republicans are trying to incentivize states to take those actions. But there's a view that those differences can be bridged. And if they can bridge this key difference on qualified immunity, perhaps they can ultimately get a deal because, ultimately, 60 votes will be needed in the Senate to overcome a filibuster, 50 Democrats, 50 Republicans, can they get ten Republicans to break ranks, if all 50 Democrats join hands. That's a key question. But movement in among key players on this issue, let's see how it turns out then. Ana?

CABRERA: And we heard the Senate majority leader today, Chuck Schumer, saying they will not rest until they have some kind of deal on this issue of police reform. Manu Raju, thank you for that.

I want to discuss with someone who has been working on reforms within his own police department. San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott joins us now. Chief Scott, thank you for taking the time.

When we talk about what needs to happen to make sure this guilty verdict for Chauvin marks a new beginning, not an end, I am curious, what did you say to your rank and file this morning? Does it feel different today?

CHIEF BILL SCOTT, SAN FRANCISCO POLICE: Well, it does feel different in that -- let me ask you a question firsthand. And, first of all, good morning. This is a step in the right direction, a huge step, and I think it's transformative in terms of where we can go from here.

I put out a tweet and a message to the public and the rank and file about this trial, although it did justice for Mr. Floyd and his family, it doesn't end today. It can't end today. And I heard some of your previous speakers talk about this. We cannot lose this moment. The San Francisco Police Department has been in the midst of a major reforming issue for the last five years now, and we have implemented over 200 recommendations by the U.S. DOJ to get us to a better place.

But even that is just the beginning because that work has to be sustained and it has to be reinvented. We can't be in a place where we change laws and change rules and say we're done, because three, four, five years from now, we may have to change laws and rules again because we have to reinvent this work and keep to keep it going.

CABRERA: I think it's important that you note, this has been a many- year process for your own police department, which was determined to make changes five years ago when you invited the DOJ to come and take a look and assess the policies and practices.

The New York City mayor put out a statement today saying he thinks every police officer in America needs to be retrained to de-escalate conflict. Do you agree with that?

SCOTT: Well, I think that should be ongoing. And those officers who have not been trained in de-escalation has to be trained because some probably haven't. We have 18,000 departments. Those who have been trained, it's a perishable skill and you have to keep at it. So, in our department, in preparation for what might have occurred yesterday, we sent our entire operations meeting up the department back to training to make sure we refocus on de-escalation and compassionate response, and those types of things, humanity, those types of things. And we have to constantly remind our officers of those things. We have policies in place but those skills have to constantly be reinforced. And I agree with that statement, but for some people, they may not have had the training to begin with.

CABRERA: Are your officers onboard? What is morale like right now?

SCOTT: Well, it's a difficult time in policing. And I can't tell you that every officer is onboard. I would like to tell you that, but I can't tell you that. What I can tell you is that, by and large in this department, our officers understand what we have to do.

And one of the -- you know, it starts with the mayor's leadership, first of all, and our elected officials and they are onboard with this. And we -- our command staff has to be onboard with this. And one of the things that we say in this department is let's not be the department that has to be forced to change.

And what that means is we have to make some difficult decisions that aren't always popular decisions among the rank and file, but it's the right thing to do, decisions about stops and decisions that might help us reduce disparities, particularly when it relates to African- American and Latin X, people of color.

This city, we had some issues. We were out of whack (ph) there. So why do we have to have a death in order for us to realize that we need to institute change? Let's not be that department. And that's kind of the premise that we start from.

CABRERA: You put out a pretty powerful statement yesterday after the verdict came out, this part, in particular. Those of us entrusted with the responsibility of law enforcement must build trust where we have it, restore trust where we have lost it and earn trust even where we've never had it.


Chief, if you look at the initial Minneapolis Police report, they essentially blame Floyd's death on a medical issue.