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Teen Ordered to Rehab; School Lunch Outrage; Leno's Last Laugh; Terror Fears Cloud Start of Olympics

Aired February 6, 2014 - 08:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


REAGAN WYNN, ATTORNEY FOR ETHAN COUCH: I think the real issue was that she recognized the serious psychological issues that Ethan suffers.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, there's an easy way to test it. Have you ever heard of a poor kid or someone other than this kid getting this kind of sentence with this type of damage?

WYNN: Yes. Yes.

CUOMO: Really?

WYNN: Yes.

CUOMO: Probation with having killed four people?

WYNN: I don't know of a case specifically like this, but I can tell you that the juvenile justice system is geared towards rehabilitation of the juvenile offender. The adult system is clearly more about vengeance. In the juvenile system, kids who do bad things are often sent for rehabilitation.

And I would point out that the crimes Ethan was accused of, I mean the charging instrument itself said that he committed these acts by accident or mistake. And I would submit to you that kids who do things by accident or mistake probably shouldn't be locked up with a key thrown away.

That instead we ought to be worried about kids we're scared of. Kids who do things on purpose. And I've handled a lot of intoxication manslaughter cases. And I think almost universally the clients I've represented, none of them intended anything bad to happen. And I just don't think 16-year-old kids who didn't intend to do anything harmful should be locked up.

CUOMO: I understand that, but you have what the ideals of the system are versus what the practicalities of the system are. And even though you've handled a lot of this, you can't point me to a single other situation where a kid in the juvie system who killed four people wound up getting off with probation. What does that tell you?

WYNN: It tells me that this was such a bizarre set of facts and unthinkable tragedy, really, that there probably isn't a good case to compare it to.

CUOMO: What do you say to the families who feel like there is no justice in this because the lives that were taken were not treated with any kind of consequence for this kid in any real way?

WYNN: What I would say is that there is no winner in this case. Ethan is going to live with what he did for the rest of his life. And I can tell you that he certainly feels remorse. The doctors say he's suffering from PTSD following the accident.

CUOMO: That was missing also, though, here, right? We didn't hear Ethan Couch say how sorry he is, apologize to the families, show that remorse. Why not?

WYNN: If you'd heard the testimony, you would have heard that Ethan, right now, is so basically shell-shocked by this whole process, he has a very flat affect. He's able to express remorse, but, quite frankly, I don't think there's anything he was going to say to anyone that was going to make them feel any better, especially not coming from him.

CUOMO: So you're saying the fact that we didn't hear from him isn't because he doesn't care, it's just he's not capable at this time because of the trauma? That's what you're saying?

WYNN: Exactly. And not to mention, Ethan -- the testimony was that he is emotionally and socially arrested to where he is effectively like a 12-year-old. I don't think he is capable of expressing his true feelings in a way that would be satisfactory to anyone.

CUOMO: And yet you can understand, if it were your kid, your loved one who were taken in this accident, how you'd feel if you heard about this sentence, right?

WYNN: Absolutely I can understand. But what I would ask people to think about is how they would feel if it was their child who had been involved in it. I don't think very many people would just say, OK, go ahead and lock my 16-year-old son up and throw away the key.

CUOMO: Reagan Wynn, thank you very much. This has driven a lot of debate. It was important to hear your side of it. Thank you for coming on NEW DAY.

WYNN: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Coming up next on NEW DAY, imagine a child pulled out of a school lunch line, their food thrown away, their hands stamped all because their parents owe money. This happened and has sparked outrage and a debate. We're going to figure out what's behind this and talk to a principal who lost her job standing up to such a policy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: Welcome back. I know you're busy, but we have a problem and I need you to listen to this because it's not going to get better on its own. Here's the situation. Cafeteria workers in schools taking lunches away from kids who don't have enough money on their prepaid accounts.

They then throw the food away right in front of the child. In one stance, they even stamped the hands of the kids to mark them out from all the other kids so that everyone can know you didn't have the money to pay for your lunch today.

Our guest this morning stood up to this policy. Her name is Noelle Roni. She's a former principal from Colorado who was fired in November after she demanded that cafeteria workers stop stamping hands. She joins us now from Denver.

Ms. Roni, thank you for joining us.

It's not just a Colorado issue. We're talking Texas to Colorado, Utah to New Jersey, similar problems. Tell us, what was the policy in your school?

NOELLE RONI, FORMER PRINCIPAL: The policy was, if students didn't have enough money in their accounts or they were low, they would get their hand stamped. I knew that it happened a few years ago and I had already talked to the head of the lunch program and put a stop to it. And then she moved on to envelopes. They got spread all over the lunch room and all over the playground.

And then when I discovered that hands were being stamped again this year, I went directly to her and said, this needs to stop. This is not how we communicate with parents through branding children and humiliating them and marking them. And we don't even know if the message is getting to the parents by the time the children get home.

But what's happened to them throughout the day with having their hand stamped, you know, could affect them. And from what I'm hearing from people that have gotten a hold of me, for the rest of their lives. This is a nationwide problem.

CUOMO: All right, so, it's definitely nationwide. But I just want to be clear about this. In your experience, how would it affect the kids who got the stamps, who had the envelope given to them, who were singled out in line for this particular reason, that they couldn't pay for lunch? What did that do to the kids?

RONI: It was humiliating. I had students who did not want to go into the lunch room. I was in the lunch room every day, fortunately, so I had one of the parents come to me and say, my child does not want to go into the lunch room, he's afraid his hand is going to get stamped and I'm concerned that he's not going to eat lunch. This is how he got lunch every day.

CUOMO: And you then make a stink about it, say I don't want to treat my kids this way. We don't do it with anything else, why the heck would we do it with this when it's not even the kid's fault. And you get fired and you think it was because of that? RONI: Definitely. I went in and spoke - I spoke with the lunch room supervisor directly. And then she went and told my boss. Because we were K-12, normally I would be in charge of all programs at the school if I was a - just an elementary principal. But the structure at my school didn't work that way. So I was called into my boss's office and the director of operations, who is in charge of her, was there. And I told them expecting them to be outraged and they weren't.

About a week later, I told two board members and the policy continued despite this. It finally stopped after a parent came to me and I found out it was still going on and I went in and I said, this has to stop. The director of operations said, all right, we won't stamp the hands of kids who are on free and reduced lunch because, I said, you're breaking a federal lunch law.

And I said, you can't know who's on and who's not. And this is not how we need to communicate. We can call families. We have a system that can tell us if school is going to be late, we can program it in, we can e-mail them, we can text them. This is the age of technology. And if you have relationships, which I did with these kids, I have no problem calling home.

I think the problem is the mindset. If you have the mindset that these are freeloaders and they're not paying, versus the mindset, hey, something's going on, let's find out what it is, let's solve this problem together, which is the way I operate because you have to think of these kids as our kids.

CUOMO: Yes, but it's also like, you know, you guys are acting, the school, like you were the IRS. You're not a school where, you know, the kids are what you're supposed to put the premium on. And just to be clear, I know you have a lot of support in the community who say you should be brought back, that this should be taken off your record at a minimum. But, to be clear, was there anything else that they had against you as a reason to fire you other than this incident?

RONI: Well, this is the only thing they had in my personnel file was that the lunch room person quit and they -- my boss wanted me to take responsibility for her quitting. And I said, I'm sure that me bringing this up to her and the long lunch lines, which was another problem, I had big concerns about kids not eating. And we've got to work together and get kids, you know, to eat in order to learn.

And so, like I said, I'm a very hands-on principal. I was in the lunch room every day. I saw what was going on. I had great relationships with the kids and families. And so I directly spoke with families and kids about this.

And I want to be fair to the workers in the lunch room. They didn't want to be treating kids this way. So it wasn't -- you know, they were -- wanted to feed kids and it was just a really bad policy that should have been put to an end.

CUOMO: So who can we get after on this because, you know, nobody wants to talk to us. The supervisors don't want to talk to us. You know, in New Jersey they've thrown out lunches in front of kids who don't have the money to pay. They're throwing out the lunch. With all the problems we have with food and all the need, they're throwing out the lunch instead of letting the kid eat. They won't talk. They saying there's pending litigation.

But we know that that is often an excuse, as it is an explanation. Who should we go after for this because you know it's a policy that has to change? So where is the level of accountability?

RONI: You know, I would like to say, instead of going after someone, as a community, really just putting a voice to it and saying, how can we solve this problem? I know that there's a program I just found out about yesterday called "Community Eligibility" that's going to start next school year where if a school is 40 percent free or reduced, all the kids in school can get free breakfast and lunch. And I think that's a start.

And then people need to get creative. I started a discretionary account at my school. And so I wanted all kids to be able to eat no matter what. And then I think you say, hey, your child, you know, took advantage of this fund, can you please refund it or maybe even add a little extra. Or you do something at the auctions. You set some money aside.

I think people want to help. I think it's a matter of communication. And when they find out this happened, no matter what side of the spectrum they're on politically, they are outraged. And that's the stance schools should take.

I know it's difficult. We're trying to make budgets, you know, meet budget deadlines and all of that, but we've got to get creative about, how are we going to feed our kids and help them learn.

CUOMO: You think about all the money that's spent in education and all the things that get written off through waste and need, I can't believe that this should be at the top of the list of things to crack down on, poor kids who can't pay for their own lunches. But, Noelle Roni, I'm sorry you got caught up in this situation the way you did. Hopefully your situation finds a favorable resolution for you, but it's an important issue. Thank you for speaking out on it.

RONI: And thank you so much for having me on because I really think we need to talk about this as a nation.

CUOMO: And we'll keep it going until we make it stop. Thank you very much, Noelle.

Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up next on NEW DAY, Jay Leno is set to bid farewell to "The Tonight Show." So what's in store for his final show and what's in store for Leno himself? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: End of an era is right. Welcome back to NEW DAY everyone. Tonight, Jay Leno bids farewell. "The Tonight Show" host has been at the helm for 22 years. Now he's passing the torch to successor Jimmy Fallon. But even though it's his last show, tonight is far from Leno's last laugh, we can assume. CNN's Nischelle Turner is here with more on this.

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, we can say that because we know he's going to do some stand-up. He's not going to quit doing that.

But so many people have been asking, what is Jay Leno going to do next? Will he do another late night show? How about a show about his first love, which is cars? Or will he just kind of chill and hang out for a while?

Jay is not saying much about that. But before we get to all that -- time for the reigning king of late night to take his final bow.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNNY CARSON, FORMER TELEVISION HOST: Here's a man who needs no introduction -- Jay Leno.

TURNER: Endorsed by Johnny --

CARSON: I love this guy.

TURNER: -- and confirmed by Hollywood.

BILLY CRYSTAL, COMEDIAN: I mean, he just continues to be number one all of these years.

TURNER: But in the end, it was Jay Leno himself who killed as host of "The Tonight Show" 4,610 times in all.

CRYSTAL: The country has turned to him for all these 22 years to keep it going.

TURNER: Known for his fierce loyalty, it's no surprise Leno's final guest will be the same as his first, good friend Billy Crystal.

CRYSTAL: The build-up for this, you know, has been tremendous, and I just want to say, I'm going to miss you.

He called me and asked me. I said, of course, I'll do it. And it will bring the whole -- his whole incredibly successful run to a full circle.

TURNER: Leno's swan song also includes country music legend Garth Brooks.

CRYSTAL: I can't say we're working on a song but we're going to do a couple of few special things to help him out the door.

TURNER: Out the door and on to his next adventure along with his popular web series "Jay Leno's Garage". LENO: We've got to take it up on the freeway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly.

TURNER: First up for Jay will be stand-up.

MIKE LACEY, OWNER, COMEDY AND MAGIC CLUB: If there's anything Jay is, he's a stand-up. And, you know, he -- I am sure everything I've heard from him he plans on doing even more of that.

TURNER: A lot more, in fact, Leno already has dates booked for Miami, Detroit, Las Vegas and, of course, his regular post at Mike Lacey's Comedy and Magic Club in Hermosa Beach, California where the 63-year- old legend has been performing Sunday nights for 35 years.

LACEY: If it wasn't for Jay, I'm sure the club would have closed years ago. Through all the rough times he's always consistently there for his friends.

TURNER: The latest friend to feel Leno's love?

JIMMY FALLON, TALK SHOW HOST: Thank you, Jay Leno.

TURNER: His successor.

FALLON: I'll do my best to make you proud every single night. Thank you.

"The Tonight Show" starring Jimmy Fallon kicks off February 17th.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TURNER: It's going to be interesting night tonight because Jay has really been reserved about all this. He's been even a little awkward when his guests bring up the fact that he's leaving.

BOLDUAN: Oh yes.

TURNER: So, I'm anxious to see what's going to happen tonight. Because we, you know guys, it hasn't all been smooth sailing for Jay and the late night gang.

BOLDUAN: There have been some rocky roads.

TURNER: Well, it started, you know, back in '92 when he was named the host of "The Tonight Show". There was controversy because people thought David Letterman would be the successor because he was on after Johnny Carson. And then, of course, in 2009 when Conan replaced him and then he ultimately replaced Conan. He had to fight to get back to number one.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN HOST: Those late night wars. So funny that that has been such a place of like contention all these years. It's supposed to make us laugh, supposed to be a nice --

BOLDUAN: And you know, you kind of grow up with him. TURNER: I think for me, you think about what kind of changed the tide and I think for a lot of people that Hugh Grant interview in '95 that kind led Jay on the road to number one.

CUOMO: There's a softness to him, though. And I think that's important there. Certainly that's the legacy of Johnny Carson.

BOLDUAN: He has never come across as mean --

CUOMO: He was funny, but inoffensive. And Jimmy has that also.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

CUOMO: Jimmy Fallon has that also.

TURNER: You think -- you guys think it's a good time? You think it --

PEREIRA: Absolutely.

TURNER: -- it feels right this time?

CUOMO: He's also a very different kind of comedian. He does different things.

BOLDUAN: I hate to see Leno go, but you know.

CUOMO: Well, he's not going to be gone.

TURNER: You're right. Good point,

BOLDUAN: Exactly. We love you, Jay. We also love you Jimmy.

All right. Coming up -- we're going to have the good stuff coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: Welcome back.

Right now, you are looking at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. because we're waiting for President Obama to take the podium. And while we wait, instead of watching these guys, how about a little bit of the good stuff, all right? My favorite part of the show for me.

PEREIRA: We know.

CUOMO: We've been happy to tell you about a lot of big tips in restaurants around the country. Recently this one just may take the cake, all right.

Here's what we got. Three young waitresses working the Saturday breakfast shift in snowy Caledonia, Illinois were folding napkins, organizing silverware and just talking about what they call life stuff. Take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMY SABANI, WAITRESS: We were talking about school and braces and loans and everything that we can't afford.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Things that we all talk about, right? Need. Little did they know, a customer was listening. When she was done with her omelet, she asked the waitresses their names. She then took those names and put them on three checks for -- get this -- $5,000 each. That's right -- $15,000 for three young women just trying to get to the next stop. The waitresses, of course, were stunned.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SABANI: I work two jobs. I have a little boy at home, so maybe spend more time with him and do more things with him and get ahead of myself. And I hope that one day I have the amount to do the same thing for somebody else.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PEREIRA: Are you kidding me?

CUOMO: That's the dream. Just being able to get just a little bit ahead, just a little bit of help.

BOLDUAN: That really can make a difference.

CUOMO: It certainly did for them. The donor remains anonymous. She didn't want her name to be known. She even tried to pay for her $9 omelet on the way out which, of course, the ladies refused.

BOLDUAN: That's a good one.

CUOMO: And, you know, the message to them was, she's anonymous. The donor is anonymous. The waitresses say they hope that some day they're successful enough to help somebody out --

PEREIRA: And they can do the same thing.

CUOMO: -- in the same way. Because you know, it really is contagious. It's a big reason we do the good stuff --

BOLDUAN: We sure hope it's contagious.

CUOMO: -- is taking that stuff --

PEREIRA: The bad stuff sure is.

CUOMO: Right -- one step out of the ordinary can often be the extraordinary for people and certainly we see that here. Of course, very few have $15,000 to drop on a situation like that. But it doesn't have to be the $15,000.

BOLDUAN: Right, it's not the $15,000.

CUOMO: Very often, it's just taking that opportunity to help somebody in a way they weren't expecting. It can really be contagious.

PEREIRA: I love it. This is so great. That was a really good one, Chris, thank you.

CUOMO: Good, good stuff. All right.

BOLDUAN: Right.

CUOMO: A lot of news this morning as well. So we give you to the "NEWSROOM" and Miss Carol Costello.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you very much. "NEWSROOM" starts now.

Good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thanks for joining me this morning.

Topping the hour, security scares in Sochi. The last of the Olympic athletes are arriving amid new terror concerns. The Department of Homeland Security now says a terror plot could begin in a U.S. airport inside of an innocent looking tube of toothpaste.

Washington this warning, airlines say terrorists could hide explosive materials there to detonate in flight or once they arrive at the games. Just minutes ago we heard from America's top Olympic official in Sochi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT BLACKMUN, CEO, U.S. OLYMPIC COMMITTEE: The safety and security of our athletes and our whole delegation is always our primary concern as the team behind the team here on the ground. We, as we always do, work very closely with our state department, our state department is in very close contact with the local authorities, and you know, we react to situations as they arise.

But we also have a lot of planning exercises in advance and know these games are no different than any other games in that respect.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is in Sochi, he has more for you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Any type of explosive, concealed explosive can be extremely damaging. It could be enough to bring a plane down.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Airlines with direct flights to Russia on alert this morning. The Department of Homeland Security issuing another terror bulletin warning about the possibility that explosive materials could be concealed in toothpaste or cosmetic tubes on flights headed to the Olympic Games in Sochi. The possible devices intended either to be detonated on the flights themselves or smuggled into the Olympic village.

Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney who organized the 2002 winter Olympics discussed this threat with CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

MITT ROMNEY, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A real grave concern to hear a report of this nature. And you basically want to know more. Are we going to put in place immediately restrictions on any kind of tubes or any kind of cosmetics going in flights towards Russia?