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Abducted Kids in Cuba; Russell Brand Swatted

Aired April 9, 2013 - 11:30   ET


PATRICK OPPMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Of course, these crimes are not political. They're not revolutionary. And the government may decide to send them back. But what we're getting so far is that Cuban and U.S. authorities are working very, very closely to try to resolve the situation, which is something of a rarity here where certainly these two governments almost never see eye to eye.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And it just seems like such an odd way to end this journey, or at least rush from justice to just sort of be sitting on the boat in a marina. Does that appear that's where they're staying? That's their home? They're not looking for cover on land anywhere. This is it? This is where we're going to stay for now any way.

OPPMAN: They were very much hunkered down in the boat, the child playing on the boat. It was such a peaceful scene. And if josh hasn't been so aggressive that I was there, you might have easily walked by this boat, but his demeanor changed very quickly when I approached the boat. And certainly, guys running at you, you know, their hands on their sidearms, certainly, is not something you take very lightly here. But the officials realized we were CNN. They told us we can't be there, can't talk to this guy on camera, without ever explaining why, through. That's the big mystery. They don't appear to be in custody but they don't appear to be roaming around either.

BANFIELD: Doing some stunning reporting. I want to clear you and let you continue doing your reporting, Patrick, and possibly get us some of the video that you may have been able to shoot before being shut down by the Cuban authorities.

But confirming for CNN officially, with line of site, that the Hacken family has arrived in Cuba, at least three members, not only Sharon, but Joshua, the parents, allegedly having kidnapped those two children from the maternal grandparents. An incident in a hotel room that involved strange declarations and weapons and drugs. They found out they lost their parental rights the day before. They allegedly took off on board that boat with those two children. And our Patrick Oppmann confirming that one of those children -- Chase is 2, Cole is 4 -- one of them playing happily on deck in the marina on that sailboat in Cuba, while we wait official word from the U.S.

I want to bring back in Danny Cevallos.

I don't even know where to begin. This is the most unusual circumstance. As you heard the description from our Patrick Oppman, Danny, does that sound like they are still on the ground in Cuba trying to figure out what to do?

DANNY CEVALLOS, ATTORNEY: That sounds like exactly what's going on. I think Cuban officials, my guess, are recognizing that this is a highly political issue and they no doubt recall not too long ago the Elian Gonzales case which in ha way was the reverse of what we're seeing right here. It was a custody type issue involving children and the return of children to the native country. Only here, it's reversed.

In this case, the parents do not have legal custody of these children. So, in essence, they are in the custody of the state or the guardian, because they've been seized temporarily or permanently, depending on the legal status of the case back home in the United States.


BANFIELD: Danny, can you, can you see -- when you brought up Elian, and I know that the Florida congressman said, make no mistake, this is nothing like Elian Gonzales. It's not even a reversal, other than just travel direction. She was so adamant about it. But could you see a scenario playing out legally where the Cubans might consider extraditing those children back to their rightful custodians, which are the grandparents, and allowing those parents to stay behind and physically separating a family by law?

CEVALLOS: Respectfully to the representative, she's correct in that this is vastly different because these parents did not have proper legal custody. But, however, from an international perspective, there's really very little difference because the Cuban government can either choose to recognize any of our laws or none of our laws. So in that since it is very much like Elian Gonzales. Because as a nation, we decided that we would honor the laws of Cuba that recognizes parental rights. The reverse is going on here, and Cuba will have to make a decision. And it concerns me because they may look at this or frame it in parents having their children taken away from them. This is a country where we will give these people asylum from the evil empire. And of course, I'm just ripping the way they may frame it to their people. So in that sense, because Cuba then has the ability to just ignore what the United States demands from it, which may be extradition, that could very much become a highly politicized international issue. And Cuba, wisely, is probably putting everyone in custody and figuring out how to proceed from there.

BANFIELD: And I just want to remind people that the custodial parents that we are talking about now, the maternal grand parent of these children, Patricia Howser, that would be Sharon's mother, was tied up. And those children were allegedly kidnapped, forcefully from her home last week. You're seeing the picture of that home now on your screen. She is currently at the sheriff's department in Tampa. That, that sheriff is the Hillsborough County office. I don't now if she knows the news yet. I'm not sure that she knows that at least one of those children has been spotted with those parents by our Patrick Oppmann here at CNN. I now they're trying to connect with her on that information that we have.

Danny, you brought up such a great point, recognizing custodial parenthood. When it came to Elian Gonzales, that's why that child was clearly returned to Cuba. And the Cubans will not forget that case. So if Ms. Howser wants to make the same case now saying, in reverse, send those children back, they technically belong to me, is it thought that the Cubans will respond to that? Or because we have a new administration or essentially a new administration there, it will be apples and oranges?

CEVALLOS: Well, we have a -- when it comes to the guardian asking for the children back, we have a couple different issues here, because there are two kinds of having your children taken away from you. The first is in this case where they saw the children or the parents may not have the present ability to parent, they can put them into a foster home. That doesn't mean the parental rights are per se terminated. The parents have the opportunity to show their best stuff and get the kids back. However, if they're unable to do so, the parental rights may be terminated. Cuba may look at this, if it's a case of the children were recently taken by the state, recall that the grandmother didn't take them. The state deemed them not safe and that their needs were not being met. So if the Cuban government frames this as the American government -- and that's what it was. It was police that took those children hay way. If they view that as some kind of oppressive event -- then the Cuban government could potentially make this a political issue of the government wrongfully taking away children. It's possible. It's something we need to consider.

BANFIELD: I am going to test your mettle like you've never been tested before. And I apologize for doing this live on television. But do the Cubans have the same kind of statute that we have whether it comes to these kinds of domestic issues, family law, is family law pretty much state to state here in the United States? Do we have any idea what they base their statute on? Is it common law, British common law, international law? Or is it a bit willie nillie?

CEVALLOS: I can't necessarily do the origins of Cuban law, but I will tell you that even if they do have law that mirrors our own -- and moist countries have some sort of parental rights and parental take- aways if children are in danger. However, I think the problem in Cuba, likely, is administration. They simply don't have the infrastructure to necessarily seize all children who are potentially in danger. And candidly, Cuba has a different standard, a different definition of children, whose, who are not safe and whose needs are not being met. That's typically the standard we use here. But here in America, that could be more than three, four kids in a single bedroom. In Cuba that couldn't possibly be the standard, because it's an impoverished shake and they simply can't have the same standards for children being in danger. So while they may have laws that approximate ours in terms of terminating parental rights certainly in application and in practice think are going to be vastly different to what we are accustomed here in the states.

BANFIELD: Let remind our viewers of what we're speaking, our Patrick Oppmann has made a verbal confirmation and eye witness confirmation that this family that's been on the run for several days now, at least one of those children and those parents have been spotted at a marina in Havana. They were none too interested in continuing the conversation and our Patrick Oppmann was canvassed by the authorities in Cuba, who he so aptly pointed out had sidearms and were asked to back off. But there you have it. On the deck of the boat, Patrick saw one of the children playing. Did not get a bead on the second child.

But in the meantime, I want to bring in a former juvenile judge, Glenda Hatchett.

I want to ask you about the issue of stripping someone of their parental rights. That's what happened in the United States. Those two people have been stripped officially of their parental rights. And her mother, the maternal grandmother, now is officially the custodian of those children. Look, the Cubans may or may not recognize when or when you don't get those rights back. But these people have left the country. They are fugitives from justice. They can't expect to get their American parental rights back now, can they?

GLENDA HATCHETT, FORMER JUVENILE COURT JUDGE: No. And I think most critical piece of this is the fact that these children were taken from their parents. Custody was given to the maternal grand parents for very specific reasons. The court determined that these children were at risk, given the problems with the drug abuse, with the allegations that there may be some reference to suicide, that these children are not safe. And I cannot -- and I absolutely hope that through diplomatic channels, very, very quickly, that they will understand that they need to be back with the custodian, grandparents in this situation, because there was a compelling reason for these children to be taken from their parents. And I worry about their safety.

BANFIELD: I want to bring in Danny Cevallos again.

The judge mentions the at-risk nature of these children. I can only imagine that this won't require protracted diplomatic conversations with the Cubans to sort this out when you have children who have been deemed at risk. Am I wrong?

CEVALLOS: I think that that -- again, we're talking about an individual, not only an individual country, but an individual state judicial determination that children are at risk. And that dates back not to the fact that they took then on a boat, but that certainly, given the size of the boat could be an argument that they're not safe and their needs are not being met if they're living on a boat of their apparent size. But it dates back to that incident in the hotel room. And for whatever reason the parents wouldn't understand that the state was having temporary custody or ultimately permanent custody of the children and placing them. And they decided to buck that system. In this case, the Cuban government could just as easily potentially, not knowing what they're going to do, they could look at the children and sigh they look happy to us. These are two parents who seem like good parents to us. And they may not --


CEVALLOS: -- they may choose not to honor a judicial determination.

HATCHETT: I disagree. There is compelling evidence. This is so, so compelling that they cannot look at these parents and make any determination these children are safe, given the history -- not just the fact that three are on ha sailboat, but given how they were taken from the grand parents, given the situation of why the grand parents got custody, I can't see any way the Cuban officials could begin to say that.

BANFIELD: Let's talk about why it is considered that these parents are unfit to even have parental rights. And I'm just going to give you the background. This comes straight to us from the Louisiana Police Department. Back in June of 2012, the Hackens, parents and both children were in a hotel room. There was a disturbance report, and here's the quote from the police. "When police arrived both parents were acting in a bizarre manner that alarmed officers. They talking about completing their ultimate journey and they were taking a journey to the Armageddon. Let it be noted that both of their children were present in the hotel room at the time. Because of their behavior, the fact that narcotics and weapons were located in that hotel room, the children were taken by child welfare officers. And approximately two weeks later, police were notified that the father showed up at the foster home demanding the return of his children. The foster parents called 911. The father fled without his children and now we find ourselves in the situation we are in now.

And I take you directly to Patrick Oppmann at a marina in Havana, Cuba, where he has now spotted the Hacken family.

Can you update me, Patrick, on what you've been seeing there?

OPPMANN: Yes. Since we last, I got back to our office here in savannah. I'm looking at the photos. There's not a doubt in my mind that the man I spoke to was Josh Atkins. The boat, it doesn't look like that anymore. It looks like the paint's been stripped off. Maybe it's because they came across very rough water.

But to bring you back to the beginning of what happened. This morning, as we were trying to get some answers on this very strange abduction case, we went out to one of the places we thought they might be, the marina in Havana. A lot of boats, a lot of boats in fact from the United States there. And we were asking people about the Salty Main. No one apparently had seen it. We got to the last slip in the harbor. And, you know, you almost couldn't believe it. It was sitting right there. And I knew we were in the right place as soon as I set up the camera and started shooting security came over and told us to stop filming. They wouldn't tell us why, filming this boat. And we're shouting at them, saying is this guy under arrest. He's wanted in the United States. We talked to the couple on the boat. And Josh, his demeanor was totally changed from when I first started speaking to him. He didn't want to look at me. He had sunglasses on. He was sort of under a tarp on the boat. And the son was playing on top of the boat. The wife there didn't want to speak to me until I asked her are both boys OK. I only see one boy here and she nodded and said yes. I said some people are very worried about you. Why don't you come and talk to us. And we were escorted out of the marina, but the mystery, the several-day-long mystery of where this family is has now been solved. They're under the close eye of the Cuban government as the United States and the Cuban government try to figure out what happens next to this couple and their children.

BANFIELD: As you continue to do your reporting there, obviously one of the big questions, do they have any idea how many people know about their story and that they have been the target of a manhunt that's been going on for several days, as they've been at sea without a lot of communication.

We're going to take a break.


BANFIELD: Breaking news of the family now being confirmed to have landed on the shores of Cuba tucked away nicely in a marina in Havana. He has seen the kids playing on the small yacht that apparently he had purchased before leaving the shores of America with those two children, children from whom the parental rights have been severed as well as with the mother.

I want to get you to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office in Tampa, where our Victor Blackwell is standing by live.

Victor, the reason you are there is because this is where the custodial grandmother, Patricia Howser, last saw the children a week ago when she was tied up and alleged the kids were kidnapped by the parents. Can you let me know if you have seen her?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We saw her about an hour ago. She was wearing a purple top and dark pants. She has been inside since then. We do not know exactly what is happening inside. I am waiting to see what the next move is on this part of the grandmother and the detectives. At the point of which she walked in there was no confirmation that the family was there. Does this now go to a plea to bring them back? Was this an interview to get information to find out where they would go? It was five days ago that this woman in her late 60s was tied up in her home and her grandchildren taken from her, the grandchildren the previous day the custody was given to her after the relationship severed on the Tuesday. Wednesday morning, at about dawn, she was bound and the children taken out. We know that there is a connection to, as you mentioned, that moment in which Joshua went to the foster parents home in July of 2012 to try to take his children by force. We are told by police that he walked up to the house with a gun. He faces charges of aggravated assault, felony, criminal trespassing. The list of charges growing for him.

The question is, what about Sharon? Is she also in danger here? What we have not heard is if there are charges filed against her and working with him in this kidnapping. We are set up inside the building hoping that their comments are coming. There has not been a news conference announced. We have cameras and mics at a podium hoping that they give us information. We know that the grandmother is here. We are hoping that more answers come out, as well.

BANFIELD: That is a great question. Is the mother a victim or a suspect? I recall police suggesting that they are both suspected being involved in this kidnapping. Clearly, they are not on our shores.

Victor Blackwell watching that for us in Tampa. Thank you for that.

We have a lot more news, as well. Patrick Oppmann has been killing it on this story and breaking incredible news. He is continuing to canvas that marina to find out how long they have been there and get more video of the family as say set up home on board the small yacht called the salty with the paw print on the side of it, a tell-tale sign this is the family being sought. Fugitives from justice, Joshua, Sharon and two children, Chase and Cole. Three very violent incidents they could have watching on U.S. shores involving their parents and weapons. Hopefully, this will end well.

Charlie Sheen and Rihanna and Justin Timberlake and Kim Kardashian -- and look at all of the faces -- they all have one thing in common. They have been victims of squatting. It is expensive, illegal and it is a problem.


BANFIELD: Actor-comedian, Russell Brand, has been the latest victim of something called swatting. It involves a caller telling police that something very violent is going down at a celebrity's home. The police arrive looking like they are in SWAT gear and they find there is absolutely nothing happening and they have been wasting their time, energy, everything. The Los Angeles police were called to Rihanna's house. Before that it was Ashton Kutcher, Justin Bieber.

Miguel Marquez is following this story live in Los Angeles.

This costs upwards of $15,000 each time these SWAT teams have to be called out to these. Are they doing something serious about this in California?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are starting to crack down. There is a hearing in Sacramento on a bill that would crack down on the practice.

Keep in mind, In the Ashton Kutcher and Bieber cases, it was a 12 year old that was responsible for this. The latest one happened yesterday afternoon where reports of a man with a gun in the House. Police show up. A few days earlier, Rihanna had a case where they say somebody shot inside her house. Aside from the cost, which is mounting in the tens of thousands here in California, it is the danger. You get there. These are high pressure situations. There may be other people there. In the Rihanna and the Russell Brand cases, there was nobody at home. There may be others around. Innocent bystanders could get injured or killed. The list goes on as well, from Paris Hilton, Sean Combs, Justin Timberlake, Selena Gomez and Chris Brown. All of those have been victims of swatting as well. But they want to stop this now.


BANFIELD: Not funny. Expensive and dangerous.

Miguel Marquez, thank you for that.

Lots of breaking news. I want to turn things over to AROUND THE WORLD, which is next.