Return to Transcripts main page
Ferguson Police Refuse to Name Police Officer; Ferguson, Missouri Braces for More Protests; How Surplus Military Equipment Winds Up in Hands of Police; Sen. McCaskill Says Demilitarize Situation in Ferguson; Two Different Accounts of What Happened in Ferguson
Aired August 14, 2014 - 13:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Jeffrey Toobin is with me.
Normally, they would release the name, right, but, in this particular case, the police chief told me and others that they are afraid this guy could be in danger, that he could be threatened if his name were made public before the proper authorities go forward with the process.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right. Missouri, like many states, has a sunshine law that says, within a very short period of time, most public records of the kind like these police reports can be made available to the public. They have said. Under these circumstances, the chief said there's an exception to the law that says, because of death threats and the like, we are not releasing the name. The American Civil Liberties Union, with this paper we have just seen, has filed a lawsuit saying they want the name.
As I read the law, it's sort of a close question over whether there is this exception for -- when the person might be in danger. But they also have the public safety issue of the public demanding this name. You can always protect a person. He can have police protection. But the fact that the citizens of Ferguson and of Missouri and of the country don't know who did this is significant. There's a significant public interest. Does this guy have a prior record of bad shootings? Does he have a prior record of humanitarian actions? All of that, we'd want to know and can't know, unless his name is public.
BLITZER: He addressed the other sensitive issue, the website, Anonymous, put out a name and the police chief said the name is inaccurate. But there were death threats against this individual whose name was mistakenly put out there by Anonymous.
TOOBIN: Certainly what Anonymous is doing isn't right either, but this is what happens when you don't fill an information gap with accurate information. You have people filling it with inaccurate information. Obviously, the police chief knows who it is. It's only about 60 people in this police department. I'm surprised local reporters who know these people haven't released the name. I have to believe in the next day or two it's going to come out, whether through official channels or unofficial channels.
BLITZER: We'll take a quick break and continue our special coverage here on CNN. Giving police forces military equipment, part of a federal program,
now coming under fire as anger boils in Ferguson, Missouri. We'll show you how a surplus of military equipment winds up in the hands of county police officers.
BLITZER: Just got a statement from the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus here in Washington: "What I saw last night reminded me of violent uprisings around the world. We are supposed to be better than that. Law enforcement is supposed to protect and serve, not intimidate and assault."
Strong words from the Congressional Black Caucus.
Let's go back to Ana Cabrera in Ferguson, Missouri, outside of St. Louis.
Are they bracing for more of the same later tonight, Ana? What are we hearing?
ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are bracing for more of the same if not more escalation tonight, Wolf. However, we know that officials on the scene are saying they are going to take a different approach tonight. We don't know what that is, but they say they are getting the message.
The protesters behind us, others we have talked to today say there's been a sense of intimidation by police officers at the peaceful protests. That seems to happen primarily at night when police officers come in with their tactical gear, their riot gear, so to speak. We have seen them pointing their arms at the protesters, leading up to these escalations where we have seen the tear gas deployed and the flash bangs. And reports of Molotov cocktails coming from protesters towards police during that time.
You mentioned some of the national leaders speaking out on this issue. We heard from the president and the governor of Missouri talking about an operational shift here on the ground. We just saw, in fact, the U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, whose constituents are here in Ferguson, she just walked through the crowd of people behind me and into the police station, fire station just across the street. She's here on the ground. She released a statement earlier calling for the demilitarization of this situation. Also saying, "This kind of response has become a problem instead of the solution."
So I think there's a united front on both sides saying what's been done so far isn't working. Protesters feel they are being oppressed. Police feel this is a dangerous situation and they need to be there with their tactical gear in order to keep the peace. Unfortunately, peace is what everybody wants, but nobody so far has been able to accomplish -- Wolf?
BLITZER: We heard the president call for calm in Missouri right now. Ana, standby. We also learned that Ferguson, Missouri's police force does receive military equipment from the Pentagon. It's part of a federal program that distributes surplus military equipment across police forces across the country.
Brian Todd is here to explain what this program is all about.
What are you learning?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, just in Ferguson alone, you see the images of the police wearing Kevlar vests and helmets, camouflage, carrying sophisticated weapons. There was M-16s, an MRAP, a photo of one standing in front of an MRAP, a mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle that's built to withstand armor-piercing shrapnel and explosions.
The ACLU has done a report on this, not on Ferguson specifically, but the excessive militarization of police departments around the country. The Pentagon has a program that's been in place since the late 1990s to give police departments, free of charge, a lot of the excessive equipment that they have not used in war. As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have wound down, the police departments around the country have been getting a lot of this type of equipment. You're talking about advanced tactical vehicles, advanced weapons, things that, according to civil libertarian groups, really contribute to the excessive force used in a lot of these cases. They call it the militarization of police departments around the country. And they say they have got to ramp these down. These situations when they use this equipment escalate the problems -- Wolf?
BLITZER: Just got a statement from Representative John Conyers, who said, "The removal of the St. Louis County Police Department from any involvement in the policing of Ferguson is an important step towards restoring peace and allowing for an independent, thorough investigation to take place. The people of Ferguson deserve nothing less."
So there's a fight going on. Who should be in charge of policing that area?
TODD: Right. As far as who should be policing it, that's an open question. Should that be under the jurisdiction of maybe National Guard, the state police? That's something for people at a very high level to decide.
BLITZER: The governor is considering that right now?
TODD: Sure. Sure. Those are things that have to be decided at a high level.
But as far as the weaponization and the militarization of these police departments, a lot of these smaller police departments are getting these weapons, too.
Now we do have to say that Ferguson police themselves have only gotten two Humvees and a generator and a trailer from the Defense Department. The Ferguson police department may not have gotten such heavy weaponry. They don't have MRAPs. But the state police departments around Missouri, Wolf, 20 MRAPs they have gotten since 2006, according to defense officials, 500 M-16 rifles. People who observe this from civil liberties groups say this is excessive equipment. And a lot of times, these police officers, especially in the small towns, are not trained on how to use it properly. That's a big problem.
BLITZER: That's causing a lot of concern.
Brian, thanks very, very much.
Still ahead, as protests intensify over the police shooting of the unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, we're going to hear two different accounts of what happened.
BLITZER: "It just didn't look right," that's a quote from a witness of the shooting of Michael Brown who says Michael Brown wasn't the aggressor, never entered the police officer's SUV and wanting nothing more than to get away. This witness isn't the only person who was walking with Big Mike when police ordered both off the street. You've have heard this story on CNN, but they give very similar accounts.
Here's what Tiffany Mitchell told Don Lemon on CNN tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIFFANY MITCHELL, WITNESS: I saw the officer pulling him in and I saw him trying to pull away. I tried to get a video because it just didn't look right. I didn't know what was going on, but it didn't look like for someone to be wrestling through the window. I didn't get the video because a shot was fired through the window. So I tried to get out the way. As I pull into the side, he kid finally gets away and starts running. As he runs, the police get out of his vehicle and he follows, shooting. The kid's body jerked as if he was hit from behind. He turned around and puts his hands up like this. The cop continued to fire until he just dropped down to the ground. His face just smacks the concrete.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Did you see a weapon by anyone other than the officer?
MITCHELL: Nobody else had a weapon besides the officer.
LEMON: How many shots did you hear or see fired?
MITCHELL: I didn't count the shots, but it was more than five or six shots.
LEMON: What did the officer look like?
MITCHELL: He was a white male, kind of tall, not too big, but he was a white male.
LEMON: Did he say anything -- did anyone say anything, Michael or the police officer?
MITCHELL: I didn't hear anyone say anything at all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: This video was shot by Tiffany's friend and co-worker from her balcony. We obscured Michael Brown's body on the pavement. The man who approaches and is turned away by police is Brown's uncle.
Let's bring back our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.
Police officers often shoot to kill. Why do they have to shoot to kill? Why can't they shoot a warning shot in the air, scare someone off if they think they are in danger? Why can't they shoot to injure? Why do they have to shoot to kill?
TOOBIN: This is a -- has been in the past, at least, somewhat controversial in police training. At least the modern training, as I understand it, is you never fire a warning shot. You never fire a shot to injure. If you're going to fire your gun, discharge your weapon. You have to accept the risk that you're going to kill somebody. If you're not prepared to kill someone, don't fire the gun. That's the lesson that most cops are taught. Because the risk, they say, is that if you start telling cops it's OK just to shoot at the arm, fire warning shots, you'll have people fire too often. In a circumstance like this, maybe a warning shot would have been better.
BLITZER: Clearly, based on the eyewitness accounts, he was raising his hands. He did not have a weapon himself. He was a big guy, but he didn't have a weapon. So that's why a lot of people, especially people watching us overseas right now, they look at the way the U.S. law enforcement authorities usually work. Why do they have to shoot to kill? That's where a lot of questions are asked.
TOOBIN: If his hands are up, why is he shooting the gun at all? That's really the heart of the question here. Whether this shooting should have taken place under any circumstances because at least based on the two interviews we have heard, it doesn't look like Michael Brown was a threat at all. This is why the FBI is investigating. And what they will have to do is literally build a model, a drawing of the street, ask these witnesses to go over in meticulous detail where they were, who else was there.
BLITZER: When the president says he's ordered the FBI and Department of Justice to investigate, do they do this it jointly or separate investigations?
TOOBIN: That's the same investigation. The FBI are the agents on the street. The assistant U.S. attorneys and the U.S. attorneys office will be the courtroom wing of that investigation if, in fact, there's a prosecution. That's the same investigation.
BLITZER: A federal investigation. TOOBIN: Correct.
BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, thanks very much.
We'll take a quick break. Much more of our special coverage right after this.
BLITZER: Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill weighed in following the shooting of the unarmed young black teenager. The Senator issued a statement saying, "It's time to demilitarize the situation." She spoke out a few moments ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CLARE MCCASKILL, (D), MISSOURI: I know what the chief of police wants. He wants everyone to be safe. I know what these protesters want. They want to exercise their rights. We can do that without escalating it. And when police come out and take a stand and wear and have equipment that makes it feel like somehow the people who are protesting are assumed to be the bad guys, I don't think it helps take the tension out of the situation. I think it puts more tension in it.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE QUESTION). Senator, do you think there is enough information?
MCCASKILL: What the community has demanded and they have received is a lot of eyes on this investigation. There are a lot of cooks in this kitchen. And the top levels of law enforcement in this country are engaged. The top levels of law enforcement in the state and federal system are engaged. And everyone is looking at all of the facts, the evidence and the forensics.
Now, when you put out information in drips and drabs, what suffers is the case. There are many times that putting information out in an investigation can have a very bad impact on getting to justice. So if the community would allow the investigation to be completed, the information will become public. The facts will become known, all of them.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What about something like the officers involved is a public servant?
MCCASKILL: I'm not going to second-guess law enforcement at the state and local level about information they are giving out. Because I know they are all working to try to get all the facts, all of the forensics, all of the physical evidence, and make sure they find the truth.
BLITZER: Make sure they find the truth.
Jeffrey Toobin, the Department of Justice, FBI investigation only just beginning. That could go on and on and on.
TOOBIN: It really could. I mean, this is -- you know, it happened very quickly, this shooting. But it's a complicated situation. We already know of several witnesses. There is going to be ballistic evidence, toxicology evidence, other kinds of scientific evidence. It's going to take a while to pull it all together. And it is far more important to come to the right result than to come to a quick result.
BLITZER: Because if there are going to be charges pressed, homicide charges, shall we say, that's going to be a huge, huge deal.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jeffrey Toobin.
We're going to stay on top of this story.
I'll be back, 5:00 p.m. eastern, another special two-hour edition of "The Situation Room." See you then.
In the meantime, NEWSROOM with Brooke Baldwin will begin after a quick break.