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Robot Approaches Mail Truck

Aired January 31, 2003 - 14:20   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And just in the nick of time, we have J. Kelly McCann, who's a man who knows a lot about tactical situations such as this. Kelly, good to have you with us. As we watch that robot make its way toward the vehicle, what could they possibly do with that remotely operated device?
J. KELLY MCCANN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Well, there's a couple of things, Miles. They've contained the situation. They're going to control the vision through the front windshield. You see that large truck parked in front of them. That takes away the ability for the perpetrator to be able to see everything that's going on.

They can do everything from deliver communication devices to the inside occupants of the vehicle, which of course, is dangerous to him because he'd have to present himself to take it, to also use remote cameras to get a better look at what's going on in and around that vehicle.

These are tense situations. Mike was right. Of course, time is on the side now of the police, and there's concurrent operations going on. No. 1, the negotiators are trying to gauge the emotional state through voice stress analysis, and some kind of a communication dialogue with this person, while the tactical team is responsible for setting up initially to do a hasty assault, if they need to, in case he becomes an actor, while the tactical unit commander sets up a deliberate action plan.

So he's taking information from the reconnaissance, surveillance elements that are co-located with the snipers, looking at everything. The overall information that they can get through their scopes and binos. They might be using a camera on that remotely piloted vehicle. And then the TUC, the tactical unit commander, is going to put that together into a long-standing plan, which they will enact and stand by while the negotiators basically tell them, Hey, we've either got this under control or we're going to lose control of it.

O'BRIEN: Could we get that last picture back up there, please, of the control room? I wanted to call your attention to what appears to be a piece of light blue paper on the end of that robotic device. I'm just looking at the picture, along with everybody else here, and I suspect this might be some indication, Kelly, that they're having a hard time, Kelly, establishing communication.

MCCANN: It very well good. I mean, that might be a signal. It might be -- something may be written on it. Then again, it may be covering something that they don't want the media to take a look at. So any number of things can be going on. Miami has a very, very practiced and skilled SWAT team, and these men are very, very professional. So I'm imagining that they have it well in hand at this point.

O'BRIEN: Now, one of the things that I'm always struck with in these situations is the difficult balancing act there is between the waiting game, and taking some sort of action. Take us through kind of the decision tree, if you will, as to when to start doing things which could have very serious consequences. Even this robot if it, you know, lurches toward that vehicle, could have disastrous consequences.

They won't take action unless two things have happened. Either he suddenly becomes an actor and acts out and actually conducts a violent act, or if they think that he's about to do that, based on an analysis of his aggressive language over a time graph.

Now, sometimes you can do that technologically. There are machines that measure voice stress. You can also do it, once you establish contact, by subjectively gauging his language as aggressive, passive, or neither, just kind of a deadline, which is an indication of itself, over time. As the time decreases and the communication gets more rapid and the aggression in his voice becomes more apparent, that's an indication to the negotiators that he is losing control, and sometimes that's enough to make the SWAT team move. Other than that, they're going to observe what they see physically. That can tell a story as well.

O'BRIEN: Now, we heard a report earlier, possibly, of a young girl in a bulletproof vest on the scene. Don't know much more about it than that except that one of the affiliates there was reporting that. But let's talk about this larger issue of bringing in people who -- the perpetrator of this might know and might have some play. As we watch that robot move toward the vehicle, I just want to ask you, is that the stuff of movies -- there does appear to be some kind of note at the end there -- is that the stuff of movies, or is it -- do the relatives, do the friends often save the day, so to speak?

MCCANN: Usually, it's very, very ticklish. They don't like to bring in a family element because not knowing the whole background of the story, it could exacerbate the situation because how they promote themselves to the police as, maybe, a tool to get this person to do one thing or another may not, in fact, be the actual effect, and there's no way to know until the introduction of that element, which is precisely the thing you do not want to do with so many variables...


O'BRIEN: All right -- Kelly, can you see this right now?

MCCANN: I can.

O'BRIEN: Can you see what's going on? This arm is lifting up here. You got any insights as to what might be going on here?

MCCANN: Well, I can't really -- because we don't have a close enough picture -- see if there's a written note on there. That's what it appears to me to be, that it might be in marker, and, basically, that's how they're going to establish communication. It might be giving him instruction or telling him to do something, to reach out and grab something, or that, you know, please contact us, communicate us -- cell phone, here's a number.

O'BRIEN: It almost looks like a bag, doesn't it? It's hard to say what's going on here.

MCCANN: It is hard. But they'd write on just about anything if they needed to get a message to him. So it could be a bag with marker written on it.

O'BRIEN: Precisely. And as you say -- once again, I think we could probably, without going too far out on a limb here, say that they haven't really established a good solid line of communication if this is what they're doing right now.

MCCANN: Unless they are showing something that that perpetrator asked them to. In other words, a show of faith. He might be talking to them by a cell phone. There's no way to know, and he may have, as a test of good faith, said, Look, I need to have X point of contact, or whatever, give me a phone number, and I want it done this way. There's no way to tell, Miles, because it's so -- there's so many variables that could be in play here.

O'BRIEN: How do you, when you start a conversation with a person in this situation, as we see whatever it is -- it appears to be -- I can't quite make it out, of course. I'll tell you what, Kelly, stand by there as whatever it is -- oh boy. They dropped it. Whatever it was it dropped on the side there.

MCCANN: Murphy's Law.

O'BRIEN: Yes. This will probably test the skills of the robot operator in just a moment. But I'll tell you what -- let's -- Kelly, stand by there for one sec, don't go far.

CNN's John Zarrella has made his way to the scene. He's about a block away. John, can you see this robot operation from where you stand right now? There are too many rings of security.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: Too many rings of security, Miles. I'll give you an idea -- we are actually on 183rd Street, that's Miami Gardens Drive. You can see right there in the distance is the police roadblock.

And you can see a lot of squad cars in the distance. We can't, from our vantage point right here at this point, even make out where the mail truck is. I can give you another perspective, though. If Claude Paslange (ph), you can pan off to the left, they have moved all of these media helicopters way back. You can see now, considerably off in the distance, Miles.

And one of the reports that we had gotten earlier was that one of the times that the mail truck stopped and information was passed to the bystanders, apparently this hostage taker did ask that helicopters be sent away, get the helicopters back away from me, you're too close. So that was apparently one of the messages. That's what we're hearing. Not substantiating. You see other television crews are here, lots of people watching from our vicinity. Again, it is just about a block -- I'd say not even more, Miles, a couple of hundred yards ahead of us is where that intersection with 27th Avenue and 183rd Street is.

We are standing in a blocked-off area of the street. All of this area around here is completely sealed off. We passed about half a dozen public schools, middle schools, grade schools as we made our way up here. All of them were, as has been indicated, locked down. Nobody was coming. Nobody was going from those schools.

So again, Miles, from our vantage point you can get a good idea of the numbers of people that are here, that are watching what is transpiring, people waiting for the developments. And of course, no one knows exactly how long we're going to have to -- have to wait as they make decisions on how long they're going to wait out this hostage scene -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right. John Zarrella, keep us posted from there. Give us a holler if you see anything.

And Kelly McCann, let's get back to you as we watch this robot operation continue. We were sort of talking about the conversation that, you know, Hello, this is hostage negotiator calling. How do you go about that?

MCCANN: Well, first you've got to establish the identity of this person. I mean, culturally who is he, emotionally who is he, and usually, the initiation point starts with, Why are we here, what are we doing?

Because, obviously, this isn't an act that a person, you know, totally rational would undertake unless it was a mission-type thing. And once they...

O'BRIEN: I'm sorry. What do you mean by "mission kind of thing"? What do you mean by that?

MCCANN: Well, and I'm not intoning anything here, but if it's a person that basically is barricading to create a media show for a, say a terrorist incident, that's one thing. If it's a person who's grandstanding to have focus on an issue such as was depicted in the movie "John Q," that's another thing. If it's an emotionally unstable person who has a domestic dispute with that mail carrier, they may be husband and wife. There's no way to know.

You've got to determine that first. And then that's going to rudder steer a negotiation process, and they'll develop the hot buttons that they need to press. And it's give and take. The danger here is that they're monitoring radio -- public radio inside that vehicle or that there could be an LCD television in there because what the police absolutely do not want is for him to have any information. They don't want him to have an outside vantage point. He has no eyes and ears. So if he's able to hear that over the radio or if he's able to see it over an LCD TV, it nullifies what the police are trying to do, which is gain an advantage. So this is kind of where the differences between the police and the media's need to report are at odds.

O'BRIEN: All right, Kelly, we've got Mike Brooks here on the set, who has made his way in. And we can talk about the whole issue of broadcasting these things live in a separate journalism college kiwi (ph). We do know this -- CNN is not out on that truck because there's no cable hookup. But let's talk about what we're seeing right now with that robot and where it is. Good news? Bad news? Desperation move on the part of police? How would you put it?

MIKE BROOKS, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's great news, what I'm seeing right now, Miles. That shows, with the robot near the truck, the police had to talk with the subject to negotiate themselves into a position to get whatever that robot took up to the truck there. Otherwise, they would not -- otherwise they would not have been able to bring that robot out there.

So they worked with the person inside that truck and -- to allow them to bring that robot up there. So I think this is a positive -- I was just speaking a short time ago with one of my former colleagues. He was my former partner as a hostage negotiator in Washington, D.C., Pete Managua (ph), who now teaches crisis management for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. And he and I were talking about this, and right now time, and both of us agree that time is on the side of the police.

That is the big thing right now. They're not in a rush. They want to make sure that everyone who's involved in this, the police, the person who's taken this woman, who's kidnapped this woman, and the taker are all brought out alive and well. And that's the bottom line, and that's what law enforcement is trying to get to now. So this is a positive step right now, Miles, seeing...

O'BRIEN: Well...

BROOKS: ... this robot up there.

O'BRIEN: Mike, I've got to ask you, though, anytime, even if it's a robot, of course, you're not putting any law enforcement officials in the line of fire, but there is a hostage in this situation. The decision-making on that has got to be kind of tricky because just the approach of that robot could prompt somebody to pull the trigger.

BROOKS: Exactly. Well, as I was saying, that robot would not have been able to get up to that truck if they had not worked with the person inside the truck to negotiate that robot up there. So that was probably negotiated with law enforcement and the person inside that truck. Otherwise, they wouldn't have brought that robot anywhere near that truck. And the...

O'BRIEN: OK, so you think there was some kind of communication? BROOKS: Absolutely. There has to be some kind of communication...

O'BRIEN: Suddenly the robot appears is not a viable...


O'BRIEN: ... scenario?

BROOKS: ... no, you know, one of the first things you do when you get on the scene of one of these, they had the chase. The chase was an hour and a half. The emotions of the people inside that truck and law enforcement are really high.


BROOKS: they stop the truck.

O'BRIEN: Right.

BROOKS: then you've got -- then we're talking about a very, very important part right then, the time starts where you try to talk to this person, this -- I call it the initial stabilization and control phase of a situation like this -- where you try to bring the emotions to a level where you can talk to the person and try to start dealing with this situation, find out what the person -- what happened within the last 24 hours to bring this person to the situation. You know, and we don't know right now.

There's, you know, speculation, it's domestic, there are some other things. But we don't know right now. And I don't like to speculate about those kinds of things, but this particular situation we see now with the robot, I think that's a great thing. They probably introduced, either talked to the person via public address system, the bullhorn, or maybe voice-to-voice from inside one of the trucks on top of the special truck right there you see the bullet resistant armored truck right in (UNINTELLIGIBLE), you see people talking up on top of there. That could be a negotiator possibly, or it could be in one of the other cars, trying to make some kind of contact with them, trying to develop, establish a rapport with that person inside the truck.

O'BRIEN: All right, and we do have confirmation, just to make it very clear, according to The Associated Press, police in Miami do say negotiations are in fact under way, which is clearly what Mike underscores, exactly what Mike Brooks was telling us, but just to give you the firm confirmation there.

Let's check in with somebody who has an interesting relationship to all this. The Reverend Mark Cooper is on the line with us, and he actually received a call from somebody inside the vehicle. Reverend Cooper, can you hear me OK?

REV. MARC COOPER, WITNESS: Yes. I didn't receive a call from someone in the vehicle. I am the one that gave the mail lady the cell phone. She happened to be riding during the chase, and I observed her coming my way. I rolled down my window and asked was she OK. She said, Please, can I have your cell phone?

O'BRIEN: OK. So back this up. Where were you, and how did you become aware that she was in some kind of harms way there?

COOPER: Well, earlier this morning -- or early going into the afternoon when I first got up this morning and went out to the corner of my street, the police presence was there, and I was the first one at the light. And she came passing by my avenue where I live, heading down 183rd Street. I observed her driving and the suspect in the back seat, and then I got on my cell phone and began to talk to different ones at my church office and asked them, did they see what was going on. They told me. I kind of followed around to see if it was going to end quickly. It didn't. I ended up on 441, and my secretary told me, they're over in your area right now on 441.

I said, Wait a minute, they're coming my way, they're coming my way. And the police cars were blocking off traffic as they would get ahead of the mail truck. She turned onto 191st street, where I was. I rolled down my window, being that she was moving slow because cars were in her way. I said, Are you OK?

She said, Please, can I have your cell phone? I said, Cell phone? She said, Please give me your cell phone.

I put my car in park at the light, and ran over to the truck, maybe about 10 feet away, and gave her my phone. At that time I did look in the truck. I did not see a firearm in his hand, that he was brandishing a firearm, but I did observe him. He was not saying anything. He wasn't saying, Hey, get that cell phone, or Hurry up, don't say nothing. He was not giving any orders. He seemed to be, at that particular time, kind of calm, and she seemed to be pretty calm.

O'BRIEN: Can you give us a description of him?

COOPER: Dark skin, bald, shaven, with a skully (ph) cap on his head. I couldn't tell how tall he is, but, I mean, based on his medium build, I would guess he was maybe about 5-10, 11, maybe into 6 feet. He appeared that he could be kind of tall.

O'BRIEN: Did you tell police all this, by the way?

COOPER: I have talked to more media than I have the police. I have tried to -- at the time when I gave the phone, I tried to discuss with the police and let them know at that time that I had given the cell phone right then, but they were busy trying to follow. They said, Get out of the way, get out of the way, get out of the way. So I just moved out of the way. I made sure I moved out of the way. And then traffic was jammed up, so I couldn't get to an officer after that. It was maybe three minutes down the road, I pulled over and called my secretary and told her to call 911 and let them know that there was a cell phone in the truck that I had given them in the truck, and told them to give 911 the information.

O'BRIEN: Reverend Cooper, we are just told by John Zarrella, who is on the scene just outside the perimeter there that that delivery that we witnessed, we were trying to figure out what was in the bag, or whatever, by the robot was, in fact, another cell phone. So perhaps...

COOPER: That sounds correct, because I had been calling my cell phone over the past 20 minutes, and it appears that my phone now was going straight to the answering machine, which means that maybe my battery went dead shortly.

O'BRIEN: So your phone has served its purpose in all of this.

COOPER: I guess it has served its purpose up until now.

O'BRIEN: Now, I've got to ask you a personal question, Reverend Cooper, and this is one of those things that, perhaps, you fully consider in retrospect. Did you feel in harm's way, in any jeopardy through all of this?

COOPER: Not at all.

O'BRIEN: Really?

COOPER: Not at all. Not at all, because if I had had a chance to even get on the phone with them, I would have tried to speak to him the same way that the negotiators are, and I would have tried to offer him to maybe drive to the church to give himself up. You know, maybe to a place where he would feel safe. Because obviously, him driving around is just trying to prolong him being arrested, if there is no relation between the suspect and the person that is driving the car. He's just trying to prolong the time of something that he knows will occur. We pray if -- he does not do anything drastic. So we're praying that he doesn't do anything drastic, and that he would just soon give up.

O'BRIEN: Reverend Marc Cooper, thanks very much for spending a little time with us, and thank you for your role in all of this, in hopefully helping police reach a nice, peaceful conclusion to this.

Kelly McCann in Washington listening to that conversation with Reverend Cooper and then add to that the fact that John Zarrella has confirmed on the scene that that delivery was in fact an additional cell phone. Put that in the category of good news, as well?

MCCANN: Absolutely. As Mike pointed out, you know, certainly when they brought that out, when we talked about what could it be and we said it might be a method of communication, you know, the longevity of a battery, there it is. So now he continues to want to talk. The police officers that are negotiating continue to want to talk. And as Mike correctly pointed out, nobody wants to see these things end badly.

I mean, they all want to be brought out peacefully and then sort out the kind of emotional things that made this happen. However, there is the responsibility publicly by the police to be able to move effectively if they need to, if it starts to tailspin or get out of control. So it's a very delicate dance between negotiators who are really working with the hostage taker, and the tactical unit men who have the responsibility for public safety and balancing that. And...

O'BRIEN: Mike...

MCCANN: ... nobody likes to be in a position...

O'BRIEN: Kelly...

MCCANN: ... to get that call to go.

O'BRIEN: Kelly, now, what we're looking at here is sort of not the mail truck. It is a mail truck that is on the scene or nearby the scene. I'm going to make a supposition here that some people are learning how the latches work and so forth. Is that correct to say, do you think?

MCCANN: That and the configuration of the vehicle, the angles of vision. In other words, they're looking at what can he see from inside there. They're going to try to identify the avenues of approach that are safest if they need to take them. And they're going to look at the potential ballistic performance of different weapons and the characteristics of the truck.

O'BRIEN: Mike Brooks, talk about instant training.

BROOKS: Yes, absolutely. Having been on both sides as a negotiator and also as an operator on a tactical team, what they're trying to do, they're looking at the latch. If this does -- and again, if, and again, we're not hoping it comes to this. But if they have to end this with a tactical resolution, they want to know how to open the truck up quickly, safely. And we have to be careful also, the kind of things we say, because...


BROOKS: ... as we know, CNN, you know, is on the radio. So that's one of the things, and the reverend was, Reverend Cooper was very positive also and because everyone wants to see this come to a peaceful conclusion. Time is on the negotiators' side. There's no rush, no rush whatsoever, and they're taking their time, and it sounds like that -- you know, when I see that robot there, to me that was a great sign that things are going well.

O'BRIEN: Kind of a dog day afternoon in Miami, and let's send it down to the pavement, where John Zarrella is on the scene. John, what can you tell us?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Miles, not a whole heck of a lot has changed here except for our vantage point a little bit maybe to give folks, viewers a little better idea of the location. We're still on Miami Gardens Drive, but as you look around, you can see the top of the mail truck, which is literally right below the Chevron sign. Now, because of the blockade, because of the roadblock there, we cannot see that robot, but we know the robot has backed off a little bit.

And of course you know now the reports that we're getting, and I imagine you may have already reported this, was that at about 11:15 a couple of men approached the mail truck, one jumped in, another one did not. That man is apparently, from the reports we're being given, being questioned by the Metro Dade Police at this hour. And of course, we also understand that a cell phone was dropped off by that robot, and now the robot's backed off.

That's what we're being told here. I lost the communication with you folks earlier. You may have already reported all that. But again, right now folks are just standing. We saw a Fugitive Task Force group arrive here. Whether that is any indication or that that means anything, but a couple of police officers wearing shirts that said "Fugitive Task Force" arrived may be indications, Miles, that the men involved here were wanted.

There were some reports of an incident over on the West Coast in Ft. Myers, so perhaps that's why they are here. Saw some folks from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement also here, and again, large crowds standing on the corners here at Miami Gardens Drive and 27th Avenue. And to give the viewers a little bit of perspective who know this area, just to my left to the north would be really coming into the Broward County area.

You can see an affiliate news truck. You can see all the helicopters flying overhead. We are not far from Joe Robbie Stadium, formerly Joe Robbie Stadium where the Miami Dolphins and the Florida Marlins play, pro player stadium. So that would give folks an idea of where we are in northwest Miami-Dade County.

But again, here on the ground folks just standing and waiting and really not quite sure exactly, obviously, how things are playing out up there. Literally, Miles, only about -- I would say no more than 200 yards from where I'm standing is that mail truck -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: CNN's John Zarrella. We did not report previously, by the way, that there might have been another person involved in this. And we do have to take a break, but quickly I wanted to ask our two experts, the fact that there might be another potential accomplice here being interviewed, very significant, isn't it, Mike Brooks?

BROOKS: It is. That way there's more intelligence information as they are talking to this person, as negotiators are talking to the person inside the truck, trying to find out who he is, who she is. All that information can be fed, and that's probably why the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, FDLE, is on the scene. They are (UNINTELLIGIBLE) statewide criminal investigation unit. The Fugitive Task Force, it could be folks that are all part of the SWAT team, part of the special response team there, all working together to try to find out exactly who this person is and try to get some background so that can also enable them while they're talking to and negotiating with this person.

O'BRIEN: Kelly McCann, a quick final thought.

MCCANN: It goes to psyche, exactly what Mike said. Basically, they need to find out who he is, what motivates him, so that they can find the most peaceful means of resolution.

O'BRIEN: All right, gentlemen, we're going to not go far from where we are. We're going to be watching this very closely. Kelly McCann, Mike Brooks staying with us. We hope you'll stay with us. We will give you additional information on this the moment we have anything to give you.


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