© 2021 Connecticut Public

FCC Public Inspection Files:
WEDH · WEDN · WEDW · WEDY · WNPR
WPKT · WRLI-FM · WEDW-FM · Public Files Contact
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

News Brief: N.C. Shooting, DOJ Investigates Louisville Police, Mask Policy

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

First, North Carolina authorities said they had to wait to release video of a police shooting.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Now they've shown a small part of it to Andrew Brown Jr.'s family. That video apparently shows just a bit of Brown's arrest and death in Pasquotank County. The family's lawyer, Harry Daniels, is not satisfied.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HARRY DANIELS: I was told by the district attorney that the family will get to see the raw footage, not the redacted version. Show the tape. If you ain't got nothing to hide, show the tape.

INSKEEP: NPR's Sarah McCammon is in Elizabeth City, N.C., where this story has been unfolding. Sarah, good morning.

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So we have to note here the public at this point has seen no video. So what we have are lawyers' descriptions of a bit of the video. What do they say?

INSKEEP: Steve, lawyers for Andrew Brown Jr.'s family say they were allowed to view a 20-second clip from one of the officer's body cams from last week. And what they describe is disturbing. Here's one of the family's attorneys, Chantel Cherry-Lassiter, speaking to reporters yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHANTEL CHERRY-LASSITER: Let's be clear. This was an execution. Andrew Brown was in his driveway. Andrew had his hands on his steering wheel. He was not reaching for anything. He wasn't touching anything. He wasn't throwing anything around. He had his hands firmly on the steering wheel. They run up to his vehicle shooting. He still stood there, sat there in his vehicle with his hands on the steering wheel while being shot at.

MCCAMMON: And Cherry-Lassiter said that during that 20-second video, she lost count of how many shots were fired. She says there were several officers present. They all should have been wearing body cams. And the family wants to see all of the footage.

INSKEEP: This is the first I'd learned, Sara, of the allegation that Mr. Brown was in his driveway when he was shot, for example. But we only know this from the lawyers. We reported yesterday that North Carolina police say they can't release body cam video without a judge's permission, and that takes time. OK, but how did they come to show one portion to the family without just releasing the whole thing?

MCCAMMON: Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten and other county officials have taken the position, Steve, that they have the authority under state law to release parts of the video to the family at their discretion. But they've said they need a court order to release the full video to the public. Wooten is asking for patience and for the public to allow the investigation to play out. Here he is in a video statement yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TOMMY WOOTEN II: This tragic incident was quick and over in less than 30 seconds. And body cameras are shaky and sometimes hard to decipher. They only tell part of the story.

MCCAMMON: And late in the day yesterday, after several days of public pressure, Wooten said he had asked for that court order. He says he needs to release the footage.

INSKEEP: And asked for it. OK, we'll wait for that. What did you hear from people around Elizabeth City last evening?

MCCAMMON: Since last week, there've been daily protests in the streets. From what I've seen, they appear to be growing here in Elizabeth City. Certainly last night, people were reacting to the news that the family saw some of this footage. They were chanting, release the tape and then, the real tape. I met Kirk Rivers last night. Like Andrew Brown Jr., Rivers is a black man in his 40s. He was wearing a T-shirt that said on the back, who's next? And he says he was disturbed by what he heard from Brown's family about what they saw in that video.

KIRK RIVERS: We don't want not one single person for the family to have to go through what the Brown family is going through right now. We don't need another community to lose a individual over when their hands were on the steering wheel, no threat to nobody.

INSKEEP: Well, where does the investigation go now, Sarah?

MCCAMMON: Well, the state Bureau of Investigation has taken it over. Seven deputies with the Pasquotank County Sheriff's Office are on paid administrative leave. Family, community leaders still pressing for more details. And the family of Andrew Brown Jr. has commissioned an independent autopsy. We expect to hear more about that later this morning.

INSKEEP: NPR's Sarah McCammon, thanks for your reporting.

MCCAMMON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: President Biden's Justice Department has made it clear it will be far more aggressive at monitoring local police for bias.

KING: Right. So last week, the DOJ said it would investigate the Minneapolis police, asking if there's a pattern or practice of bias. And now it's doing the same in Louisville. Like in Minneapolis, this probe follows a high-profile killing. Police killed Breonna Taylor last year during a raid on an apartment. Louisville Police Chief Erika Shields welcomed this inquiry.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ERIKA SHIELDS: I think it's a good thing. I think that it's necessary because police reform, quite honestly, is needed in near every agency across the country.

KING: And it would seem that she's speaking from experience. She resigned as the head of Atlanta's police department last year after a man named Rayshard Brooks was shot and killed by police in June.

INSKEEP: NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson joins us now. Carrie, good morning.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What makes the DOJ think there could be or there's worth looking for a wider problem in Louisville?

JOHNSON: Well, the Justice Department has been looking at some publicly available evidence. And now it's going to be looking more deeply for patterns of unconstitutional policing by that Louisville Metro Police Department. That includes things like use of force. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced this investigation yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MERRICK GARLAND: It will determine whether LMPD engages in unconstitutional stops, searches and seizures, as well as whether the department unlawfully executes search warrants on private homes.

JOHNSON: Now, that last point about search warrants is especially relevant after police shot and killed Breonna Taylor in her home in March 2020 in that botched law enforcement raid you referenced. There is an ongoing federal investigation into her death, as well. That's separate from this new civil rights probe, though

INSKEEP: it sounds like, at least on the surface, that the Louisville police are open to this outside examination.

JOHNSON: That seems to be the case. Justice Department lawyers on the ground there met with the mayor and the police chief yesterday. They got a pledge of support and cooperation. And the federal investigators are really going to look for input across that whole community. The attorney general says he knows that Louisville has already made some changes in the wake of Taylor's death, like banning no-knock warrants and paying a $12 million settlement to her family. And the attorney general says the Justice Department investigation is going to take all those things into account.

INSKEEP: Well, let's take into account multiple news events now, Carrie. We have a new administration, which in the space of a week has announced investigations of the Minneapolis police and the Louisville police. What do you make of that?

JOHNSON: There is a unified message here, Steve, that civil rights are going to be very important in this Justice Department. DOJ is going to use these civil rights investigations to look at systemic problems in police departments. But President Joe Biden has gone out of his way to say that the majority of law enforcement officers behave honorably on the job. And so did Attorney General Merrick Garland yesterday. He said the department is uniquely aware of the challenges faced by those who serve as police officers and that they need to be partners with the 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies out there as the federal government.

INSKEEP: Carrie, does the Justice Department have ways other than these investigations to influence police departments and how they act day to day?

JOHNSON: Absolutely. The DOJ does. You could think of it like a carrot and a sticks approach. The sticks are these big investigations, and the carrots are federal grant moneys. On the carrots aspect, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund wants DOJ to stop all federal grants to local police until it can be sure the police departments are not engaging in discrimination. The idea is that taxpayer money should not be supporting jurisdictions that discriminate in traffic stops and arrests and even use of force. Now, that would be a pretty big step. The Justice Department gave out more than $500 million in grants to local police last year alone. Justice says it's reviewing the letter. There's no commitment there either way.

INSKEEP: I just want to note you're saying that the default would be that - the assumption that police departments are not doing well, and they have to prove their way back into these grants. Is that the proposal anyway?

JOHNSON: That's the proposal. This major civil rights group says that we've seen enough, more than 17 deaths of Black people since Attorney General Merrick Garland took office alone. They think that something more needs to be done here, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Carrie Johnson, thanks as always.

JOHNSON: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: OK, the weather is getting nicer in most of the country. And more than half of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. So do people still need to wear masks outdoors?

KING: The CDC could answer that question today. The agency is expected to issue updated masking guidance.

INSKEEP: And NPR health correspondent Maria Godoy is here to talk about it. Good morning.

MARIA GODOY, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Why would now be the time to rethink the guidance?

GODOY: Well, one big reason is that the growing number of Americans who have now been vaccinated against COVID-19 - you know, more than half of the adult population has gotten at least one dose. And so that's helping pave the way for the beginning of a return to normal. Here's Dr. Anthony Fauci, America's top infectious disease expert, speaking on ABC.

(SOUNDBITE OF ABC BROADCAST)

ANTHONY FAUCI: It's pretty common sense now that outdoor risk is really, really quite low, particularly if you're vaccinated.

GODOY: I spoke with Dr. Monica Gandhi. She's an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco. And she notes that other countries with high vaccination rates don't have outdoor mask mandates.

MONICA GANDHI: Israel released their outdoor mass mandates a week or so ago. The U.K. does not mask outdoors. And so we're also probably looking at other countries who have very high vaccination rates, even higher than we. And they're saying, OK, this is the time.

GODOY: And studies have been showing that, unlike being indoors, when you're outdoors, the risk of transmission in general is lower.

INSKEEP: I think we've generally known this all along, right? I mean, it's been safer to - if you're going to meet with people at all, then meet them outdoors and a good distance away and that sort of thing. But now that the studies are in, how much lower is the risk known to be outside?

GODOY: Well, I asked Linsey Marr that question. She's a researcher at Virginia Tech. She studies how viruses travel in the air. And she's also looked at masks. And here's what she said.

LINSEY MARR: Virus just cannot accumulate in the air outdoors. It's like putting a drop of dye into the ocean. You know, if you happen to be right next to it, then maybe you'll get a whiff of it. But it's going to become diluted rapidly into the huge atmosphere.

GODOY: You know, one analysis suggested that the risk of transmitting the coronavirus is 19 times lower outdoors than indoors. But Marr says that's likely a conservative estimate, and the real risk is probably a lot lower. Another study out of Ireland looked at more than 230,000 COVID cases in that country through March of this year, and it found that just one in a thousand cases could be traced to outdoor transmission.

INSKEEP: Wow. So I'm getting a sense from this if I'm super close, jammed in a crowd, maybe I need a mask. But otherwise, do I just not really need it outdoors anymore?

GODOY: Well, first, I should note that some areas of the U.S. still have outdoor mass mandates, although that could change with updated CDC guidance. But in terms of the science, all of the doctors and researchers that I've spoken with say it depends on the situation. Like you said, if you're just passing someone on the street or whizzing by on a bike, there's no need to mask if you're outdoors. But if you're in a crowded situation like, say, an outdoor farmer's market or a concert - you're jammed in there - it still makes sense to wear a mask. Here's Linsey Marr again.

MARR: My general rules of thumb would be if I'm having a face-to-face conversation with someone and if I can, you know, put my arms out and they're within arm's reach for more than a minute or two, then I would mask. If I know everyone around me and I am vaccinated, then I wouldn't worry about it.

GODOY: So if you don't know someone's vaccination status, just follow that arm's length rule for when to mask outdoors, especially if you are in an area with high transmission. But if you're both fully vaccinated, no need for masks. And, of course, keep those masks on if you're in a public space indoors, like the grocery store.

INSKEEP: OK, so could be a dramatic change coming to daily life. NPR's Maria Godoy, thanks.

GODOY: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.