Return to Transcripts main page


District Attorney Says, Fatal Shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. was Justified; Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) Says, I Cannot Support Bipartisan Deal on January 6 Commission; Israel Hits More Targets in Gaza as Hamas Continues Rocket Attacks. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired May 18, 2021 - 13:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Dr. William Moss, grateful, sir, for your time and insights today. We'll continue this conversation. And grateful for your time with us this hour and a busy hour of Inside Politics, we'll see you back here this time tomorrow.

Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage on a busy news day right now.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, and thanks for joining us, I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

And we begin in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, where District Attorney Andrew Womble who says sheriff's deputies were justified in the shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. last month. Womble says, the officers involved won't be charged. He says deadly force was necessary and that Brown ignored their commands.


ANDREW WOMBLE, PASQUOTANK COUNTY, NORTH CAROLINA DISTRICT ATTORNEY: The deputies who fired the fatal shots perceived an actual apparent threat, evaluated the situation in seconds, decided and acted. The deputies' actions appear reasonable under all the circumstances of the case. The deputies faced both actual danger and apparent danger as perceived by them on the scene. This apparent threat was reinforced by Brown's dangerous and felonious use of a deadly weapon.

As tragic as this incident is with the loss of life, the deputies on scene were nonetheless justified in defending themselves from death or great bodily injury.


CABRERA: The district attorney there says deputies were serving Brown with arrest warrants for the sale of drugs. He says the entire exchange between the officers and Brown lasted 44 seconds. And after weeks and weeks of calls to release body cam footage, the D.A. finally showed this portion publicly for the first time today. But I want to warn you, the video is disturbing.

I want to go straight to CNN's Brian Todd in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Brian, how is the Brown family reacting to this news and them showing this video?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESONDENT: Well, Ana, I just got off the phone with a Brown family attorney and you have a completely opposite view of what the district attorney just said. According to a Brown family attorney who I spoke to just moments ago, this attorney said in the video we were able to see at that news conference, at no point, according to this attorney, again, at no point is it apparent that Andrew Brown uses his vehicle as a weapon.

This attorney also says that the district attorney, Andrew Womble, they believe, did not adequately explain the shot to the back of Andrew Brown's head. They believe that Andrew Womble, the district attorney, should have off this case and the family and its attorneys are going to petition for the release of all of the body camera footage and the release of all the findings from the state investigation into this case.

A very dramatic announcement, Ana, just a short time ago, the district attorney, Andrew Womble, concluding, he says, that he believes that the shooting of Andrew Brown was justified, that he believed based on the state investigation that the deputies in question had a reasonable fear for their safety and that they fired as a result of that fear for their safety, and that he would not bring any criminal charges against those deputies.

But, again, Ana, the real story here is, the Brown family and its attorneys based on what they were able to see of this footage, and the district attorney based on what he was able to see and show us, still with completely opposite views of what occurred. The Brown family attorney again telling me moments ago that they believe that at no point in this video is it apparent that Andrew Brown uses his vehicle as a weapon. And, again, the district attorney, Andrew Womble, saying that he believes it is clear that Andrew Brown used his vehicle as a weapon.

The district attorney again went over kind of with a tick tock of how this incident unfolded, a lot of detail in his account there, but basically saying that Andrew Brown was sitting in his car when deputies got there. There were commands shouted.

The district attorney claims that Brown ignored those commands, put his car in reverse, and in doing so, made contact with a sheriff's deputy who he said had his body pulled over the hood of the car, apparently as he was either trying to grab it or hang on to it, that as the car was going in reverse. Then Andrew Womble says as the car was going forward, he makes contact again with that same deputy who tries to get his arm and his leg out of the way.


From the video, again, two different versions here, the family says they believe from that video that it is clear that he's not using his vehicle as a weapon, and was simply trying to get away. Whether any clarity is added to any of this by what we just saw in there and what the Brown family is saying, Ana, it really isn't all that clear, I have to say. But it is a very dramatic announcement that no charges will be filed against these deputies.

CABRERA: Right. And I'm curious, because we have covered the protests that have taken place there in Elizabeth City in the folks following the Brown shooting. At this point, is there any reaction from the community?

TODD: Well, there were protesters here during the news conference. We could hear them from inside. We could hear them shouting outside, no justice, no peace, and that they obviously are saying what they've been saying the entire time, that they want justice for Andrew Brown. They feel they're not getting it. They've also been saying they feel that they have not been getting any transparency.

Now, the question is, will they come out again tonight and in nights subsequent to this and voice that opinion. We expect they probably will, and will call for justice in this case. You would imagine that they will be disappointed in this news. But, again, you know, we'll have to see how this plays out in the community and whether the district attorney's playing of this videotape, his displaying of this videotape, adds any clarity to anyone's mind in this community.

CABRERA: Okay. Thank you so much, Brian Todd, reporting in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

Joining us, former Philadelphia Police Commissioner and a CNN Law Enforcement Analyst Charles Ramsey, he's on the phone with us, along with Criminal Defense Attorney and CNN Legal Analyst Joey Jackson, as you can see there in studio.

Let me start with you, Commissioner Ramsey. The district attorney said Brown's death was justified because of a perceived threat, and that Brown's actions caused three deputies to reasonably believe it was necessary to use deadly force to protect themselves and others, that is a quote. Based on what you saw in the video and the D.A., what he laid out, do you agree with his conclusion?

CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST (voice over): Well, first of all, let me -- I was having internet issues here so, unfortunately, I wasn't able to see the video. But it is important to see the video in order to really make that determination.

And I don't know what their use of force policy is as it relates to moving vehicles. I know that in the cities where I worked using deadly force against an individual in a vehicle is truly a last resort, and not something that you would normally do. You just simply get out of the way if it's at all possible. And so not having seen it, it's going to be very difficult for me to comment. But, clearly, his description of what took place is totally different from what the family and their attorneys described. That, by itself, means that it's problematic. And whether or not a special counsel or whether or not DOJ needs to take a look at it to make an independent determination is something that -- it certainly needs to be considered because this is not going to go away. And, you know, the two opinions are really starkly different. So --

CABRERA: Joey, what's your reaction to this decision?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, I have so many, Ana, I don't think we have time to cover the concerns I have about the disturbing press conference that we saw and let me explain why. Number one, I have a real problem with a unilateral determination being made.

What do I mean? You have a local district attorney who works with law enforcement day in and day out in order to resolve and bring to justice people, right? So you're going to have that same district attorney who is reliant upon the police department in that community make pronouncements with respect to the police conduct involved in the case. That, to me, is woefully inappropriate and I think we need to look and examine structurally how we're dealing with cases.

How do you expect and anticipate the community is going to have any level or measure of trust when you're the guy who's depending upon police for all other cases, right? But now, you're sitting across from them having coffee one day and now you have to opine as to the appropriateness of the conduct. That's a broken system. That's number one.

Number two, you can never cherry-pick facts, Ana, you can't do it. You're going to have 20 people look at the video, you'll have 35 opinions as to the video, and, therefore, that's what the process of a grand jury is for. Wow, what a concept, that you could bring a case to a grand jury and have people from the community make an assessment as to the propriety of conduct. Was it justified, not justified? That's why you have jury trials, because you have 12 people that sit in judgment that you pick and select. And so for a unilateral determination to be made, I'm very troubled.

I know we have to go, Ana, but just a couple of other things. The fact is that you then savage the victim in this press conference. You talk about his prior convictions. You talk about the fact that he's a drug dealer. You talk about the fact -- I mean, everything about disparaging the victim. Well, you didn't even meet with the family because you had a dispute with them? Don't you think, sir, as the elected district attorney, you should sit and speak with them?


Don't you know someone's dead here?

And then you talk about the law and his use of the law, I mean, is so disingenuous and misleading. It doesn't matter how fast the car is driving. Well, sir, didn't you just say, Mr. D.A., that the car was a dangerous weapon? If it's dangerous, isn't it relevant how fast it was going, the direction it was going in, who was it pointed to?

So there were just so many things, I could go on forever as I sat here in frustration, Ana. So, sorry.

CABRERA: And I have several questions for you because I want to hear more from you, Joey, because there were so many things I was thinking as I was watching this presentation as well as, you know, he was walking through step by step what the video shows according to his interpretation, and yet he used still images of those critical moments in which he could have played the video as he was describing the motion of the vehicle, but he chose not to.

I mean, if -- if, in fact, you want to leave no question about, you know, the judgment in this case, and the conclusion he came to, is this the way to present it?

JACKSON: I have a major problem with respect to the manner in which it was done, and then you disparage the attorneys and say they made comments that were totally false. The fact is, is that everyone is entitled to have their perception and opinion measured. It's not up to you to opine on a videotape and tell me what I should see and tell me what I shouldn't see and tell me what should have occurred and didn't occur.

And so when you have that analysis that's being done and you don't have a videotape that's released for the public to see, be transparent about it, let everyone. Oh, but the judge doesn't release it, we have to depend on the investigation, et cetera.

And so the bottom line is that we see this so many times, when unilateral decisions are made that really exonerate people, it's a problem. That's why we have a process that you're really avoiding. And then you misrepresent the law. You just can't shoot at people.

You have to ask legal questions like what, Ana? Are you in immediate fear of death or serious physical injury? Did the force you used, was it proportionate to the threat posed? Firing all types of shots, the D.A., nothing to see here, we shoot until the threat is cleared, and then the reasonableness of the conduct. I just think that there were so many misrepresentations.

And the fact is, Ana, people can disagree with me right now as they're looking, they saw the videotape, but that's what courts are for, have a prosecutor present the case, have a defense challenge the case, and a jury will make a determination ultimately who's neutral and detached. But don't work with the police and say, nothing to see here, unjustified, drug dealer, convicted, bad guy, you know what, police do what they do, he's dead and there's nothing -- it's just so highly problematic.

And it really charges and inflames tensions and does nothing for the divide between police and community who need each other both and they need each other in a really important way. And this did nothing to further and only really inflamed tensions, as far as I was concerned.

CABRERA: And so, Joey, I guess what's next? Because we know the family in the past has called for somebody else to take over this case, that there was a conflict of interest. They said, you and your office not only work with Sheriff Wooten and his deputies daily, you're office physically resides in the Pasquotank County Sheriff's Department. And yet the prosecutor was asked about this. He says, no, there was no conflict of interest. What do you think and if there is going to be a next step in this, what does that look like?

JACKSON: Yes. You know what happens, Ana, in these instances, generally, you have the federal government, as here, which will conduct an examination in any case. But the federal government standards for bringing forth any charges are wholly different from state standards.

When you prosecute someone at the state level for something like this, if you prosecute here, nothing to see, no prosecution, right, but the fact is, is you can charge officers, if you think it's appropriate, for acting negligently, they were careless, perhaps they acted too soon, perhaps they were reckless, perhaps there're so many tools in your tool box from a state level.

In a federal civil rights prosecution, you have to show a willful, that is an intentional violation of a civil right. So it's a totally different standard. And so from the federal government to move in, it would be a very hard lift for them. So, we have to look at the state, we have to look at the fact that this D.A. was involved in the first instance, you have to look at the re-examination of it.

And all I'm saying, look, I didn't know what happened. I don't have -- I didn't see the videotape. The family saw snippets of it. All I'm suggesting is allow for the process to unfold. That's why we have grand juries from the community to come in to take a look. That's why you have jurors, if there's a trial to examine it. Just don't make a unilateral determination where you disparage the family, you disparage the attorneys, you disparage the victim. But the police, they had to keep shooting until the threat was ended, and therefore he's dead. That's a problem to me.

CABRERA: Really quick though, Joey, is there any reason for them not to release the video fully at this point? Because when the D.A. was asked if that was going to happen now that the investigation is, quote/unquote complete he said, no.

JACKSON: So, you know what happens, Ana? In every jurisdiction, there are laws with respect to the release, and I get that in this jurisdiction in North Carolina, there was a law passed, 2016, it was not that his body cam subject to the freedom of information law, you have to go through a judge, I get that process, I'm not suggesting we circumvent it.


But when a judge made a determination that it should be held, it was predicated upon, wait, we have to wait for the investigation.

CABRERA: The ongoing investigation, exactly. JACKSON: Exactly. But a couple of weeks ago, Ana, I heard the D.A. in court, at least I thought I did, saying it was justified then. They haven't moved off that conclusion.

And so how do you really prevent the community from seeing it in the first instance if we're going to build trust between law enforcement and communities? Let's show everything we need to see and let people judge it for themselves.

Don't you make a decision saying, well, I'm the elected D.A. here, it goes by me, I'm the guy that's accountable. But, you know what, my office is in the sheriff's office with the police department. And you're not going to protect me? It's a broken system, we have to reevaluate it. And the system, as it goes down with this press conference, just so disturbed.

CABRERA: Joey Jackson and Commissioner Charles Ramsey, my thanks to both of you.

Meantime, President Biden's focus on the economy taking him to Michigan today, where he is touring a ford plant, as we speak. Just ahead of some planned remarks.

Meanwhile, he's undergoing pressure to stop the deadly Middle East violence. We'll discuss.

And House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy says he is against the bipartisan commission that would investigate the January 6th insurrection. Why? We'll tell you.



CABRERA: Any hopes for a thorough accounting of what happened on January 6th at the Capitol are facing growing headwinds this hour. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy says he opposes a bill creating a bipartisan commission to investigate the Capitol insurrection and what caused it. Now, this is all after negotiators from both parties announced a long awaited deal on this issue last week.

CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill. Manu, a key Republican lawmaker helped craft this deal. The commission would have an equal number of members selected by Democrats and Republicans, both parties would have subpoena power, so why doesn't McCarthy support it?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He claims that this is redundant in his view. He also claims that this would look into other matters, not just what happened on January 6th, but other acts of political extremism, including left-wing extremism as well, protests that occurred last summer during the whole racial injustice movement, other episodes, including a recent issue in which a Capitol Police officer was killed by a person who came and rammed into a barricade outside of the Capitol building after the January 6th insurrection. And that has caused a lot of tension behind the scenes, particularly with Democrats, but also some Republicans too, who have pushed back on the idea of broadening out this probe. I asked one of them, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, someone who is signaling the support for this idea of a bipartisan commission, and she raised concerns by going too broad and could take the focus off of what really is the most significant thing in her view, which was the attack on the Capitol.


SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK): I will look to what he has stated in terms of how broad it needs to be. If you are -- if you're really making this a very broad brush approach, it might be difficult to really get a value from a specific type of commission. But, again, I think this is something where you need to look closely to the details and how it's configured.

RAJU: Do you think former President Trump should talk to this commission and detail what was happening on that day?

MURKOWSKI: If you put together a commission that is focused on the events of January 6th, I think he's obviously a very key individual.


RAJU: So, suggesting there that perhaps Donald Trump should talk to this commission if, in fact, this bill passes.

But, first, they need to actually pass the bill. That is going to be the big question here. On Wednesday, the House will take up the legislation. It is expected to pass the House, which the Democrats control by a narrow majority. Some Republicans are expected to vote for this. But then it will go to the Senate where it's a 50/50 Senate, they will need 60 to overcome a filibuster.

They can probably expect the support of someone like Lisa Murkowski, also Mitt Romney, who told me earlier today he believes there should be a narrowly focused commission on the January 6th attack. But will they get those other senators? That's still a key question, even some members of the Republican leadership on the Senate side are joining with Kevin McCarthy in opposition.

CABRERA: Okay. Manu, thank you, I appreciate it.

As violence rages in the Middle East, the White House is slamming the Trump administration, saying it didn't do anything constructive to bring an end to the conflict in the region.



CABRERA: There was a brief quiet overnight in the fighting between Israel and Gaza, but that quiet was shattered this morning with Gaza militants renewing their rocket fire into Israel. Israel Defense Forces launching their own airstrikes early this morning, targeting what the IDF says was a tunnel system in Gaza and homes of Hamas commanders.

The White House says President Biden expressed his support for a ceasefire in a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But today, Netanyahu announced Israel will continue its operations as necessary.

CNN's Ben Wedeman is in Jerusalem. So, Ben, what is the situation there now?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, which is really where the fire was lit. This was the spark for this current round of hostilities between Palestinians and Israelis.

Now, today, Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank have been observing a general strike in solidarity with their fellow Palestinians in Gaza.