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Cop Fires 12 Shots, Kills Unarmed Man

Aired September 18, 2013 - 19:00:00   ET


JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, HOST: Stunning new information just in. We will play you the hysterical 911 call that triggered a very controversial deadly police shooting.

Good evening. I`m Jane Velez-Mitchell coming to you live. Thanks for joining me tonight.

Why did a police officer shoot at an unarmed man 12 times, killing him, a man who was trying to get help after his car crashed? Could the newly-released 911 recording shed light on what went so horribly wrong?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There`s a guy breaking in my front door.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There`s a guy breaking in your front door?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, he`s trying to kick it down.

GEORGIA FERRELL, JONATHAN`S MOTHER: Jonathan was a very happy, outgoing person.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: An officer shot an unarmed man.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was an all-American young man who survived a horrific accident.

CHRISTOPHER CHESTNUT, ATTORNEY FOR FERRELL`S FAMILY: Looking for help, running to the police like a child would run to, you know, his mother.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His family said he was just trying to get help after an auto accident.


CHESTNUT: This was an unwarranted, irrational, inhumane shooting.

FERRELL: I want my son to bury me. I don`t want to bury him.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: That 911 call sent cops to a Charlotte, North Carolina, neighborhood early Sunday, where one of them fired 12 times. Ten shots allegedly hit 24-year-old Jonathan Ferrell, a star football player at Florida A&M University, who was recently engaged, studying chemistry.

He died at the scene. He was unarmed.

Ferrell crashed his car at about 2:30 in the morning, and then he walked about half a mile to a neighborhood, looking for somebody to help. Ferrell knocked on a woman`s door. She opened it, thinking at first it was her husband, who works nights.

When she saw that it was Ferrell, she suddenly panicked. She fought to shut to door on him. Then she actually hit her panic alarm, and then she called 911, hysterical. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I need help. There`s a guy breaking in my front door.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There`s a guy breaking in your front door?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, he`s trying to kick it down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is he still there?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s OK. I`m right here. Is he still in the house? Did he leave yet?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He`s not in the house. He`s in the front yard yelling. Oh, my God, please. Oh, my God. I can`t believe I opened the front door. What the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) is wrong with me?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You thought it was your husband.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Eleven minutes after she first dialed 911 three officers arrived, and Jonathan Ferrell is reportedly seen on dash cam video, approaching the cops. One of the three, Officer Randall Kerrick, 27 years old, allegedly fired 12 times at Jonathan Ferrell, striking him ten times and killing him on the spot. Tonight Officer Kerrick is charged with voluntary manslaughter.

Ferrell`s heartbroken mother had this profound message for the man who killed her innocent son.


FERRELL: You took a piece out of my heart that never can be put back, but I do forgive you. I truly forgive you.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Passions and opinions running high tonight in this case. Call me: 1-877-JVM-SAYS, 1-877-586-7297.

And we have an incredible panel in the Lion`s Den tonight, including the lawyer for the dead man`s family.

So we`re going to start with Blog Talk Radio host Rolanda Watts.

Was this shooting panic by the police or was it profiling?

ROLANDA WATTS, HOST, BLOGRADIO`s "SUNDAYS WITH ROLANDA": You know something, Jane, I don`t know what was going on in that cop`s brain. But I don`t care what color you are, where you`re from, you have got to know that this is extreme, excessive force by a police officer, someone who is in a position to protect and serve the community.

Why -- why did he have to shoot the guy ten times, for goodness sake? And from what I understand, he shot. Then he paused. Then he shot some more, paused and then shot some more. Where is the civility in that? Where is the humanity in that? Couldn`t he have asked him questions? Couldn`t he have shot him in the leg, for goodness sakes? That`s excessive force, and if one person is in trouble than all of us in this nation are in trouble.

I don`t care what color you are. If you`ve got cops who -- it seems like they`ve been watching too many "Rambo" movies running around in communities, we all have an issue. And it`s not even about race. It`s about who is running around here with guns and taking liberties, taking lives.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Anne -- Anne Bremner, criminal defense attorney, the former prosecutor, as well. Four shots then a pause, allegedly; then six shots, another pause, then two shots.

ANNE BREMNER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, the fact is, and I`ve also, as you know, Jane, defended police officers for decades out here in Seattle, a lot of different departments. They`re taught to shoot until the threat`s gone.

We don`t know enough about what happened in this case as far as what this officer thought, and that`s part of the equation when you look at whether this is reasonable or not, in terms of whether there was a threat.

There`s a lot more information in this case about what happened at the door of this woman that called 911 than we`ve heard so far in your show, in terms of kicking down the door and a lot more fear. But that aside, that goes through the officer`s mind, too, and the totality of the circumstances of what he was presented with at the time.

CHESTNUT: What we do know is the other two officers -- what we do know is the other two officers didn`t feel threatened because they never drew their gun.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, here`s what...


JON LEIBERMAN, HLN CONTRIBUTOR: But one of the other officers, to be factually correct, did put the red dots, you know, did use the Taser on this victim. So at least one of the other officers felt threatened in some way.

But Jane, probably the most troubling, you know...

CHESTNUT: He did not draw his gun. That`s factually consistent. It`s factually correct. He didn`t draw his gun, and he didn`t fire. He never fired a gun, especially that...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Let me ask this question.

LEIBERMAN: What we don`t know is we don`t know the proximity between the victim and the police officer. That`s one thing we don`t know.

CHESTNUT: That`s on the video.

LEIBERMAN: Probably the most troubling part -- probably the most troubling part, however, is that it does appear that none of these police officers warned this victim, said, you know, "Get down" or "put your hands up." They -- you know, they fired first, and they asked questions later. That`s the biggest troubling part.

WENDY WALSH, PSYCHOLOGIST: They waited until he was down and then said get down.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Wendy. Wendy, you were going to say something. Then I want to give a chance for the attorney to speak.



WALSH: They waited until he was down, and then you hear the cop say, "Get on the ground." Well, he`s not getting up now, he`s had ten bullets. What was he thinking? And we also don`t know the state of mind of this young man. He was in a car crash. He could be dazed and confused. He could have hit his head and had a head injury. We don`t know what state he was in.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Christopher Chestnut, you`re the lawyer for Jonathan Ferrell`s family. You -- I understand, viewed the dash cam video. Apparently, it`s very short, some 20 seconds long. But we`ve heard the 911 call. They haven`t released this dash cam video. What does the dash cam video show? Paint a picture for us.

CHESTNUT: It shows murder. It shows Jonathon walking up down the sidewalk. He`s flanked by police cars. He approaches the police cars and without any warning, without any command, there`s a dot placed in the middle of his chest that is a laser dot that apparently is a Taser. And the Taser at some point, we believe, is fired. It does not strike Jonathan.

He then raises his hands up, out forward, and he`s walking towards the officer. I think he`s like "Wow, they`ve rescued me." And so he`s kind of excited. He`s walking towards the officers. Then he goes off the camera and then you hear shots. You just hear, about at this time they do say, "Get on the ground, get on the ground." Then you hear shots: one, two, three, four, pause; one, two, three, four, five, six, pause; one, two. All those shots from one officer.


WATTS: Ten times.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: What are you saying, Rolanda?

WATTS: I`m just ten times. The guy is already on the ground.

CHESTNUT: There`s no justification for it.

WATTS: I just -- the mentality.

CHESTNUT: He wasn`t aggressive; he wasn`t yelling. He had on a tight shirt and tight slacks. He had no weapon, nor could he have harbored a weapon.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Let me say this.

CHESTNUT: It`s extremely troubling, but you also -- go ahead.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Let me put this in context, because it`s the dead of night. And remember, they believe they`re responding to an attempted break-in. For all they know, it was -- they thought it was possibly a home invasion.

The woman who called 911 was panicked. And she said she was awakened in the middle of the night with this loud banging on the door. She thought it was her husband, who works the night shift. She opens the door and finds a complete stranger. Terrified, she hits the panic button, which sounds this very loud alarm. And she calls 911, and it`s a scene of chaos. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God. What if he smashes in my back window?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He`s not going to smash in your back window. He won`t.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh my God. Thank God. Where are the cops? (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Oh, my God.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Now, even though it turns out it`s totally unjustified, you can hear the fear, the real fear in her voice as she waits for cops. She has misinterpreted the situation.

Out to the Lion`s Den. This caller is clearly terrified. Even though she talked to the dispatcher, not the responding officers before the shooting, could the panic in her call have unduly influenced the officers` response?

Again, they thought they were responding to some kind of attempted break in. They didn`t know who they were necessarily dealing with. And I`ll throw it to Anne Bremner, and then we`ll debate it.

BREMNER: Yes, but there`s two things to this case. Yes, but the dispatcher gives the info to the officer.

The other info was that there was a robbery. Robberies are armed by definition. That`s what the officer knows.

Then the officer goes -- there`s a case called Tennessee vs. Garner. That`s if someone has committed a felony, a dangerous felony, and they`re fleeing, they can be dangerous to others, you can use deadly force.

There`s another case, Graham (ph) vs. Conner (ph). Our Supreme Court has said we don`t look at officer`s use of force in hindsight 20/20. We have to look at all the circumstances. So I think this case bears some more examination.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: I want to give Christopher Chestnut a chance to respond to that. Christopher, your response to that.

CHESTNUT: Let`s look at the totality of circumstances. First and foremost, the officers respond to protect and to serve. This woman was in panic. One of the officers, when they stopped at her house, go in and see how she`s doing. They get back in their car as soon as they realize that Jonathan isn`t there.

BREMNER: Exactly.

CHESTNUT: And they chase -- they go throughout the neighborhood. So they`re bounty hunters at this point.

Secondly, totality of circumstances. These are trained professionals. Now first of all, they`re three on one, so there`s no need to use deadly force, because there are three grown men against one guy who`s 5`11" and 175, 180 pounds. Third -- and they are trained to physically restrain assailants.

Lastly, Jonathan is wearing a T-shirt and tight pants, tight T-shirt, tight pants. He cannot conceal nor hide a weapon. There were no weapons in his hand, nor does he own a weapon. There was no threat. They had to take the totality of circumstances and deescalate the situation.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: All right. Let`s go to the phone line for a very quick call.

Johnny, Texas, your question or thought. Johnny, Texas.

Johnny, Texas.

All right. Well, guess what? You`re getting a chance to talk right now, Jon Leiberman. You`re Jonny Leiberman from New York City.

LEIBERMAN: Yes. Exactly, exactly.

You know, one thing that`s going to be important in this case are the forensics, too, and that is if the first shot that the officer fired indeed disabled the victim and then he continued to fire and fire and fire, that obviously does not bode well for this police officer.

And say the second shot, if the second shot were to then disable the victim, and he still keeps firing and firing and firing, these are the things we don`t know yet but we will when the ballistics tests come back.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: On the other side of the break, we`re asking tough questions. And we are taking your calls. Johnny, where did you go? Johnny in Texas.

We`re going to ask the question, was race a factor in this? Was there an element of profiling going on?

Stay right there. We`ll be right back.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was Saturday, about 2:30 in the morning. The woman inside panicked and called 911.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where are you at?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There`s a guy breaking in my front door.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There`s a guy breaking in your front door?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. He`s trying to kick it down.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jonathan Ferrell`s hands had no weapons as he moved toward them.

That`s when police say that Officer Randall Kerrick shot and killed Ferrell.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s devastating.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kerrick is now charged with voluntary manslaughter.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Jonathan Ferrell was not armed, and authorities acknowledge this was not an attempted break-in, when he knocked on the door of a house because he had had a car crash and needed help. In light of that, did the officers make a false assumption about Jonathan Ferrell based on his race? Here`s his attorney.


MICHAEL GREENE, OFFICER RANDALL KERRICK`S ATTORNEY: We`re confident that at the resolution of this case it will be found that Officer Kerrick`s actions were justified on the night in question.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: And that is the officer`s attorney. So it`s worth noting, since we`re talking about a possible racial component, that Officer Kerrick`s defense attorney is African-American.

Let`s go right back out to the Lion`s Den. Did Officer Kerrick make a false assumption? Is there a racial component to this case? Rolanda Watts.

WATTS: I think there is a racial component to the this case because so many people observing it are saying that there is. Why? Maybe there`s so many stereotypes against young black men already present in America. Why? Maybe because there are too many victims of racial violence.

However, I don`t want to point the race card in this issue, because I think it`s an American citizen issue. I think all of us need to be concerned when anyone is shot ten times by a police officer and they`re unarmed. I think we should be afraid of this, whatever...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Wendy Walsh. Wendy Walsh, psychologist.

WALSH: You may not point that -- you may not point that finger, but let me do it, my dear. My children are multiracial. I have extended family who are African-American. To think of the mothers out there worried that their sons cannot even get help after a car crash, that they`re in danger of being thought of as hoodlums because they sought help. This needs to stop.

LEIBERMAN: We don`t know...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Christopher Chestnut. Do you feel -- you are the attorney for Jonathan Ferrell`s family. Do you feel that there is a racial component to this?

CHESTNUT: I think Officer Kerrick was overzealous. I think he was looking for an opportunity to shoot -- to shoot someone to put a feather in his cap, and this was the opportunity. I think there are a number of factors at play here, the principle being that this guy never should have been on the police force, had a badge or a gun.

But we cannot ignore the fact that race is one of the factors that -- We have an image problem in America with black men. There`s an image problem that we need to address. And he wasn`t...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: We`re going to try to phone lines again, Shannon, Arizona, your question or thought. Shannon, Arizona.

CALLER: Well, my question is this. If it comes out that the 911 caller lied and, you know, he wasn`t trying to kick in her door, he wasn`t in her back yard trying to bust in her window, can she be liable? Can she be responsible...

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Great question.

CALLER: ... for his murder, for his death.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Great question. Anne Bremner, criminal defense attorney, former prosecutor.

BREMNER: Yes, it is a great question. But she wouldn`t be -- there`s not enough proximate causation to link her for liability to his death. Could she be in trouble for some kind of malicious, you know, institution of a prosecution? Maybe.

But generally, you know, what someone says in a 911 call, she says he was trying to kick the door in. She doesn`t just say he was trying to, like, knock on the door. He was trying to kick the door in. There`s probably going to be some evidence of that, right, and some things to look at.

She hit the panic button; she called 911. That kind of corroborates that she thought that something was happening that wasn`t a just a cry for help. So it`s a tough question.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, it was 2:30 in the morning. It was 2:30 in the morning.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: And they`re responding -- and listen. I -- this is completely unjustified, 12 shots. I mean that I think we can say unequivocally.

But just to try to understand to get to this deeper why, cops are human beings. I have to admit something. As part of a reporter assignment many years ago, I was a police officer for the day. And they gave me all sorts of tests, and they told me, "You will never, ever be a police officer." Why? And this is embarrassing to admit. But I did a film where I was supposed to, like, go turn corners, and I shot at a lot of people that I wasn`t supposed to shoot at because I reacted.

I`m not saying that that`s justification. But what I`m saying is that panic can strike sometimes officers. I`m not excusing it. I`m just throwing that into the mix, Jon Leiberman.

LEIBERMAN: Absolutely. And look, we don`t know if race played a factor -- let me just say something. We don`t know if race played a factor or not.

In my mind the biggest factor in the beginning of this, at least, was the 911 call and the 11 minutes of build-up until the police got there. Obviously, they`re headed into a scene where they think they have somebody who`s armed, they think they have a crime in progress with a potential victim. And so all of that adrenaline they`re bringing to the scene.

Now does that justify 12 shots? Probably not. But let me tell you this, Jane. This is going to be key. I think the reason why this cop was charged so quickly is because of the testimony of the other two that were with him, that what the other two told investigators must have been pretty damning for this police officer to be charged so quickly with voluntary manslaughter.

So keep your eyes on their testimony.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: On the other side of the break, we are going to give you a biography of this victim and his unbelievably wonderful life that he was leading, majoring in chemistry, aspiring to be an engineer, with working two jobs, with a fiance.

But there are also tons of questions coming in from our viewers as to why he had that car accident, single-vehicle car accident at 2:30 in the morning.

Stay right there. We`ll get to it in a second.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Police say the shooting was excessive and charged Kerrick with felony voluntary manslaughter.

GREENE: We`re confident that the resolution of this case, it will be found that Officer Kerrick`s actions were justified on the night in question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ferrell`s mother says she forgives the officer who killed her son.

FERRELL: I pray for him each and every day. But I do want justice.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Police say Ferrell was unarmed when he approached the three officers who responded. One of them used a Taser to try to subdue Ferrell without success. Police say Officer Randall Kerrick fired 12 shots, 10 hit Ferrell killing him.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Friends and family describe the victim, 24-year-old Jonathan Ferrell, an all-American, a family man who had everything going for him, a huge future.


FERRELL: Jonathan was a part of my heart. Jonathan was my second to the oldest baby. He was such a sweet kid, so loving, so kind. Jonathan, I don`t care what go on, how I feel, Jonathan knew how to make me laugh because he always had a smile. Jonathan was the most kindest, loving people that you could ever have met.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: All right. He was recently transferring to a college closer to his fiance. Remember, he was a sports star. He was aspiring to be an engineer, studying chemistry. He was going so far as to work two jobs in order to pay his way through school. He was an animal lover who had a cat and a dog.

Christopher Chestnut, the attorney for Jonathan Ferrell`s family, a lot of our viewers are calling in and asking on Twitter why was he driving at 2:30 in the morning and how did he have a car accident that apparently involved only his vehicle?

CHESTNUT: Well, first and foremost, the reason behind the car accident is totally irrelevant to the fact that this officer shot him ten times.

However, we don`t -- we aren`t sure the circumstances -- of the circumstances surrounding the accident. We know that he crashed into a ravine. He`s a native Floridian. He`s new to Charlotte. This is a suburban place in Charlotte. The road is very dark. It`s narrow. It`s changes in grading. There are no street lights and it`s curvy. And so apparently, he just drove off of a curve into a ravine and was nose down into that ravine.

So we don`t know the circumstances that led to the car accident. His cell phone was buried in the floorboard because of the angle of the car, and so were his shoes. So we don`t know the circumstances. But again, they`re irrelevant in relation to the shooting.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Do you think that they are irrelevant, as the attorney for the family says?

BREMNER: The question of race?

VELEZ-MITCHELL: No. The question of the circumstances of the car accident.

BREMNER: Oh, I`m sorry. Yes.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: A lot of people are calling and saying, well, why was he driving at 2:30 in the morning? Why did he have this one-car accident?

BREMNER: It`s totally relevant, Jane. I mean, the fact is was he under the influence of anything? We haven`t heard about that yet. I mean, what were the circumstances? Was there any involvement...

CHESTNUT: How does that change what`s on the video? How does that change what`s on the dash cam? How does that change what`s on the dash cam?

BREMNER: You know what, I`m just saying that the totality of the circumstances we`ve been talking about tonight involve what happened before this. Everything that happened before this.

CHESTNUT: Well, how does that change what`s on the dash cam?


VELEZ-MITCHELL: I guess what she`s getting to is The time of day or night is important.

CHESTNUT: If he`s stumbling trunk or high as a kite if he`s unarmed when he approaches the officers, how does not pose a threat, how is that a factor? How is that relevant? It`s totally relevant.

BREMNER: That`s another assumption also.

CHESTNUT: Well, I`ve seen the video.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: That`s an assumption, but since people are asking the question, let me bring in Jon Leiberman. If in fact that was a factor, let`s say toxicology reports show that maybe he had a couple of drinks or whatever. I`m not saying that. Would that be relevant or irrelevant to the situation?

LEIBERMAN: Well, it would be relevant. You have to look at the totality of everything that happened leading up to the moment that he was shot and during, you know, the shots going off. So certainly, that`s something that will be part of the complete picture.

Now, you know, in the dash cam video, according to the attorney at least, it doesn`t appear that the victim is -- you know, is under the influence or anything like that. It looks like he`s simply stunned from the accident. But of course, this is something that investigators will look into.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: OK. I want to debate this.

CHESTNUT: Legally that officer lacked the personal knowledge of whether this gentleman had consumed any alcohol or any illegal drugs. And so it does not go to the mindset of the officer when he pulled the trigger 12 times. It`s irrelevant.

WATTS: And if the guy was high as a kite, 10 times shoot him and kill him? That`s still excessive. That`s the point.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Should the charge be upgraded from voluntary manslaughter to second-degree murder as some are demanding? Or is this too severe? I want to debate that starting with Wendy Walsh, psychologist.

WALSH: You know, again, I wasn`t there. I didn`t know all the circumstances, but it certainly sounds like it should be a full-on murder charge, don`t you think? Manslaughter? Ten bullets into one person`s body?

LEIBERMAN: I don`t think this officer went out that night looking to kill. I`m not convinced that this officer went out looking for -- looking to kill somebody that night.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: I want to go to the phone lines.

WATTS: I`m not sure this officer was even prepared to be there.

CHESTNUT: He was way overzealous.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Mary, Illinois.

COMMENT: Yes. I just have a comment. I just don`t understand why they just didn`t use Taser guns. There`s three officers. It would have brought him down. They could have handcuffed him and sorted the whole thing out.

I think this police officer was poorly trained and he freaked out and just shot wildly. Because the other two officers did not shoot.

COOPER: Well, this is another angle, Mary. This is another important issue you raise, and that is Rolanda, they tried reportedly -- purportedly, to use a stun gun, but it was unsuccessful.

I don`t know exactly whether that means it didn`t function because sometimes they malfunction. But there was a report that they had the stun gun trained on him, which may be one reason why he may have allegedly moved because if you have a stun gun trained on you, your natural human desire is to get away from those two -- two lights on your body.

WATTS: The bottom line is, I mean I think when you are trained to protect and serve a community, you are taught a certain amount of discernment when you approach a situation. My understanding, based upon the background of this particular officer, is that he had not been on the force very long.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Two and a half years.

WATTS: And his last job he was with the animal department. So maybe he wasn`t prepared.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: All right. Listen. Thank you, fantastic panel. We`re going to stay on top of this story.

On the other side is a former squeaky clean Disney star facing that Disney jinx? Unbelievable story next.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nice talking to you. There`s all this screaming going on behind me. And that`s you`re life now. (inaudible)

ZAC EFRON, ACTOR: It`s not my life. It`s probably me at premieres. That`s it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you`re just walking to the grocery story or - -

EFRON: Oh no. When I walk to the grocery store there aren`t barricades actually. Not that many girls. It`s usually like one or two smiles --




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Another star who went from child to wild.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Zac Efron successfully completed a stint in rehab.

EFRON: This is intense. It`s really good. It feels really fun.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There`s conflicting reports about why he decided to seek help.

EFRON: This time around I`m much wiser and older.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Zac Efron what the heck happened? He was that voice and face of Disney for such a long time. We were pretty shocked this morning to hear that he too struggling with addiction.

EFRON: It does sort of light that fire in you. You know, God, I want to stretch. I want to see if there`s anything else I can do.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Tonight breaking news. Shocking new reports of former squeaky-clean Disney star Zac Efron secretly checking himself in rehab. TMZ reporting tonight Zac Efron quietly wrapped up a rehab stint just five months ago. Conflicting reports about why he decided to seek help.

Efron just at the Toronto film festival for the premiere of his new film "Parkland" and as you can see he looked healthy and, of course, darn handsome as per usual. But apparently he did not stop for many interviews. The 25-year-old heartthrob rose to fame as the squeaky-clean boy with the amazingly shiny hair on Disney`s popular show "High School Musical".


VELEZ-MITCHELL: He`s come a long way since then. TMZ reporting tonight well, a claim that Efron`s addiction spiraled last spring while he was filming his comedy "Neighbors". Sources claim Efron failed to show up on the set numerous times.

Again we can`t independently confirm this. We`ve reached out to Efron`s reps, have not heard back. He is certainly invited on our show any time. I would love to interview Zac Efron.

Efron`s reported stint in rehab shocking to many. Just a few years ago he was a kissy Disney star just taking in his newfound fame.


EFRON: We had to go to a school and these kids were actually taking scene from the movie and acting them out.

VANESSA HUDGENS, ACTRESS: And it was the most stunning thing.

EFRON: There`s these 10, 11, 12 year old kids doing it and it was just like --


EFRON: -- it was amazing.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: So young and innocent but unfortunately we`ve seen this happen over and over again with other Disney starlets spiraling out of control. Did the Disney curse strike again? Was Zac under too much pressure? I want to hear what you`ve got to say, 1-877-JVM-SAYS.

We`ve got a fabulous panel tonight in our "Lion`s Den" including host of "Celebrity Corner", Dorothy Cascerceri; and psychologist Wendy Walsh. First, straight out to Diana Madison from Hollywood Scoop TV -- wow, what is the reaction in Hollywood tonight?

DIANA MADISON, HOLLYWOOD SCOOP TV: Well, everybody is in shock. Nobody expected Zac Efron who is known to be a squeaky-clean actor be involved with drugs or even alcohol. Now there`s reports that he apparently checked in for alcohol abuse and other reports all are saying that he had a cocaine addiction.

I`ve interviewed Zac many times on the red carpet and he comes off as a really nice, respectful guy, very charming. You know, you would never be able to tell that he was involved with drugs or alcohol. And he`s not an actor like Lindsay Lohan or many other young stars that we`ve seen partying every night in the Hollywood club or falling out of -- outside of a Hollywood nightclub drunk. So it`s a big surprise and all. Everybody is shocked.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, TMZ is reporting Zac`s alleged problem got out of control last spring while he was filming the hot new comedy "Neighbors" alongside Seth Rogen. The movie is sort of an "Animal House" type flick about a young couple forced to live next door to a bunch of wild fraternity guys. Check out this trailer from Universal Pictures. Then we`ll debate it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ready for a show.

EFRON: Sorry my ball just got in your face.

SETH ROGEN, ACTOR: Stop doing this stupid --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why are you dressing up like Robert de Niro.

EFRON: Are you talking to me?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you have there, sweetie. Is that a balloon? That`s not a balloon.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Ok. I have to see that movie. That`s Zac playing a rowdy, hard-partying frat boy who is the head of his fraternity. TTMZ reports Zac was a no show on the movie set a number of days. Again we`ve reached out to his reps. They`re not commenting at this time.

Back to the "Lion`s Den". Dorothy Cascerceri, I got to say that sometimes it`s like method acting. I mean you`re supposed to play a wild, out-of-control guy in a movie. Could that sort of be contagious to your real personality? You hear about these actors like assuming roles, dropping 40 pounds for this role or that role. Could this have been sort of not his fault in that sense if it`s true?

DOROTHY CASCERCERI, HOST, CELEBRITY CORNER: Oh, you raise a very good point. Absolutely. I mean a lot of times, you know, these actors, especially young actors, they get so caught up in their work and so caught up in, you know, impressing the fans and impressing the people that they`re working with that they really do live and breathe the roll. And so potentially that did have something to do with his partying.

But Jane I just want to bring up one point very quickly. His knew movie "Parkland" is premiering on October 6 and this is about JFK. And isn`t it interesting that now five months later this report is coming out about him being in rehab. Do you think that that timing is a little bit strange?

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Very interesting, you conspiracy theorist, you. Listen, I`m not the one to point a finger at anybody. I`m 18 years sober. But you should have seen me before I got sober 18 years ago. Before anybody says this is none of our business, move on, nothing to see here -- it`s a serious subject and we need to talk about because there`s been tragedies that have made stories like this impossible to ignore.

And I`m talking about "Glee" star Corey Monteith -- the handsome talented, on top of the world, brilliant actor until he OD`d on heroin and alcohol in his hotel room just two months ago. What a tragedy.

So Anna David,, you talk about sobriety. Like it or not, these stars are role models for kids, kids mimic their behavior good or bad and it`s incumbent upon us to discuss these issues. It`s not just gossip. There`s an important issue at the heart of this -- this whole sobriety and addiction.

ANNA DAVID, AFTERPARTYCHAT.COM: Well, absolutely. And I mean maybe there is some truth to, you know, playing a fraternity guy is going to increase the rowdy behavior but nobody goes to treatment unless their treatment is severe. And I thought it was interesting that the report said he was treated for alcohol abuse and alcoholism and then there was a report oh no, it was more serious, it was cocaine addiction. It`s all serious. If you`re goings to rehab it`s serious -- it doesn`t matter if it`s for cocaine or alcoholism.

And, you know, many young stars do develop problems with addiction. It doesn`t mean being a young star because you`re in Hollywood you`re going to end up an addict. It just means that the brain is not fully formed until you`re 25 or 26. Zac Efron, you know, launched to worldwide fame at the age of 19. There`s a lot coming at you, a lot to do with ego and validation.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: On the other side we`re going ask is there a Disney curse. Check out Zac Efron`s new flick, "Parkland". we`ll be right back.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We do not know officially?


EFRON: Who`s the attendant?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right now. It`s just you.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is the President.

EFRON: I know who it is.

I need pressure right here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Zapruder, I`m Forrest Sorrels, United States Secret Service --



VELEZ-MITCHELL: Great news tonight. We have a happy ending to a very terrifying story. Cops say 14-year-old Avyani Perez has been found safe and sound in Conyers, Georgia. We reported her kidnapping last night, taken from her home at gunpoint Tuesday night by two men. They`ve now been identified.

And I got to tell you we very rarely get an opportunity to report good news. I was sick to my stomach when was reporting this last night just fearing for the worst. I`m so happy. Good news.


EFRON: We were in Germany and they played a clip of "High School Musical 1" and we looked like we were 12 years old. We are so young. We get so much fan mail. I`m not gloating. We had so much fan mail, kids write us every day saying that, you know, "High School Musical" inspired me to try out for my school play, join the basketball team.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Is there a child star curse? Lindsay Lohan just completed her sixth stint in rehab. She`s doing well. Former Disney Mouseketeer Britney Spears went to rehab in 2007 after that very public melt down. Actress Misha Barton who starred in the 2002 Disney Channel movie, "Ring of Endless Light" checked in after a DUI arrest, former Nickelodeon star, Amanda Bynes is currently getting treatment for a possible mental illness following a series of bizarre incidents and legal troubles. And then former Disney star Demi Lovato admitted to using drugs, she went into rehab to deal with eating disorders and self-harm.

Back to the "Lion`s Den". Wendy Walsh, psychologist, these child stars, they look like they`re on top of the world, they go through hell.

WENDY WALSH, PSYCHOLOGIST: Jane, it`s not some magical curse. It`s a very simple formula. If you give too much fame and too much money to a human being when they`re too young it hurts them. They`re told by our culture that celebrity -- fame and fortune, celebrity and money will make them happy. They get all that but they still don`t feel happy. Because guess what -- human beings are meant to feel sad some of the time.

Add to that, they live in a land of no-nos. No one says no. The amount of permissiveness they have is amazing. So they can do themselves so much self-harm before their brain is fully developed.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Diana Madison, TV host, Hollywood Scoop or Holly- Scoop, I like that -- Holly-Scoop TV. It`s also Hollywood; there are drugs a-plenty on the boulevards of Hollywood. I lived there 18 years. I know of what I speak.

MADISON: Yes, it`s very true. I mean I personally had an experience when I was at a nightclub in Hollywood, a celebrity hot spot -- many celebrities at this nightclub. And me and my girlfriends were offered heroin by a club-goer. And we thought it was so interesting because he was taking it so casually as if he was offering us a drink and we couldn`t get over it the entire night.

Like how someone can come up to you and just offer you heroin. I mean it`s that easy. And sometimes even if the stars aren`t seeking to do drugs, it`s around them and it`s kind of inevitable. And if you`re maybe at a low point in your life and you`re not feeling right, and someone offers you a drug like that, they think that can help them out and they`re going to dabble into it.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes. And boy the hangers on in Hollywood on these stars enabling, justifying, minimizing providing, pushing, that`s another nightmare.

Toxic friends -- that`s on the other side.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Time for Pet of the Day. Send your pet pics to

Ziggy -- oh, my God, you make me wiggy, Ziggy. Thaddy Mumford -- it`s been too long Thaddy, we remember the old days. Messe Jesse, you`ve got quite a look, I think it`s very studiously arranged. And Liberty and Justice for all -- that`s what I say. Patriots -- both of you.



VELEZ-MITCHELL: On the surface, it seems like heaven on earth, fabulous attention. You`re so young, everybody`s catering to you. But then you go from child star to sex symbol and that is a very awkward leap to make. You remember Miley Cyrus with this "Wrecking Ball" music video, all right. That and that performance, need I say more? She`s gotten some major backlash for trying to be all grown up, as they say, and I`ll throw that to Dorothy Cascerceri. You`re with "Celebrity Corner".

CASCERCERI: Yes, I mean I don`t know what`s happening right now with these young stars. In fact, the people that I really feel bad for are the parents of the kids who look up to these people because certainly Miley Cyrus is struggling in some way. Zac Efron if these reports of him being in rehab are true, he`s struggling in some way. But what about the younger kids? The kids that are teenagers; the kids that are 12 years, you know, that really look up to these stars and have posters of them in their room. I mean what`s happening right now in those households? What do those conversations sound like because I think it`s just really sad that constantly, I`m talking about all of these young child stars that have too much money, too much fame and they`re into drugs.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Anna David, I`m in sobriety and so I know what it`s like to be influenced by people who are out of control. I mean back in the day, whether you`re talking about some of the big rockers who are no longer with us, unfortunately, there`s a sort of perverse seduction of bad behavior that we`ve got to watch out for when it comes to drugs.

DAVID: Absolutely. We live in a culture that celebrates decadence and using and then we shame addiction. Basically, I did want to say Hollywood doesn`t make anybody into an addict. There`s a genetic predisposition that alcoholics and addicts have.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Also the environmental factors though. It`s a mystery. It`s obsession of the mind combined with a craving of the body, so it`s not all 100 genetic.

DAVID: No. But I just want to make it clear that I don`t believe Hollywood makes people into addicts any more than any other place. I mean there are plenty of --

VELEZ-MITCHELL: It`s a pretty crazy place. It`s a pretty crazy place.

DAVID: It is. I think it`s more about fame and what that does to somebody than actual like Hollywood living.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, it`s a good debate. One thing we know, we`re very happy for Zac Efron, if indeed he got through rehab and now he`s a big star and he`s on top of the world, just work that program and it`s all going to work for you. More on the other side.


VELEZ-MITCHELL: Tomorrow right here on HLN, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, she was famous at hiccup girl -- her hiccups wouldn`t go away. Now, she`s infamous -- accused of murder. We will update that story for you tomorrow right here, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, so please join me.

Thanks for joining me tonight.

And Nancy Grace is up next.