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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
ISIS: Target of Attack Was U.S. Consulate; Deputy: I Regret Killing Unarmed Black Man; Walmart Gave Gun to Suspect, May Have Been Improperly Locked. Aired 7-7:30p ET
Aired April 17, 2015 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[19:00:09] ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT next, breaking news. Target America. The first ISIS attack against the United States. ISIS claiming credit for a suicide bomb outside an American consulate today.
Plus, new video of a man brutally hit by a speeding police car. You'll going to see him moments before the collision stealing a gun from Walmart. A gun Walmart says was locked and safe. And OUTFRONT, exclusive investigation.
And a Texas man spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to shoot an endangered rhino. He says he's saving the species. Let's go OUTFRONT.
Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. On this Friday night, OUTFRONT, breaking news. ISIS attacks America. ISIS claiming responsibility for a suicide bomb attack today on the American consulate in Erbil, Iraq. Bombers waiting for an IED to explode in the street and then they charged the consulate. The car loaded with explosives. It was fired on then by security personnel and that car blew up just before it reached the consulate. It appears that terrorists in the car detonated their bombs on purpose. Officials said that at least four people were killed, 18 injured in the blast. Those numbers, though, could still rise, because there are bars and restaurants. This is a very heavily American frequented area of Iraq. The blast occurred immediately across the street from a strip of cafes and shops that are popular with ex-pats. The assault marks a milestone in the war against ISIS. The first official direct attack by ISIS militants on American personnel in the Middle East.
Matt Wolf is an American journalist working in Erbil. He's been based there since January. He was very close when the blast went off. And Matt, what did you hear, what did you see today?
MATT WOLF, JOURNALIST: Well, the first thing is that I felt a bit of a shock wave, maybe a nanosecond before I actually heard the blast. (INAUDIBLE) I was about 200 meters from the blast site in a residential area and as you know, this area is mostly residential, but it also houses the U.S. consulate here. From there, we saw a lot of black smoke shooting up in front of the consulate. And I think everyone knew that it was probably some sort of attack or a suicide bomb, something like that.
BURNETT: And I know that, as you said, you were only, you know, just over 600 feet away when you felt this. Then you actually heard it. I know after that shock wave, you then ran to the roof. What happened then?
WOLF: From there, now, we had already started hearing the shooting going on in the street. I didn't actually see the shooting, but I could hear it. As soon as that explosion went off, there was some sort of fifth shooting. We're not sure if it was going both ways or people shooting at people, if it was just people shooting at the vehicle itself, but something was going on. We could see that from the roof, but we couldn't see -- we could hear it from the roof, but we couldn't really see it from the roof. And at the same time, we had more and more black smoke rising up from the blast site.
BURNETT: Now, ISIS says, Matt, of course, this attack was on that American consulate. But as you've been pointing out, this area of Erbil was such that they didn't even need to get to the consulate, if they were trying to kill Americans.
WOLF: No, the consulate itself had a high wall. It has a lot of security. Most of the security you actually see uniformed Peshmerga, uniformed Kurdish police officers. It has concrete barriers that do a zig zag if they want to come into the area. It's very, very secure. But immediately across the street, you have a series of cafes and bars and hotels that are really popular with ex-pats and staff and other Americans and foreigners living and working in the area. And those are incredibly soft targets. They all have wide open glass front windows and I was down there this evening, most of those are completely gutted. The blast and the fire that came after it, completely destroyed both. And I've heard the casualties so far are very low. But looking at the damage it did to those buildings, we're in a way lucky they are so low.
BURNETT: It sounds very lucky, and of course we're still waiting for final numbers of exactly what happened. I know this area is very well protected. You talk about the security at the consulate. The area overall, where there's a lot of ex-pats, there's a lot of Americans. Were you surprised that ISIS was able to get there? Was able to pass all of that?
WOLF: Yes, I was incredibly surprised. And a lot of the foreigners, and even the Kurds I've been speaking to are surprised, because this is an incredibly safe area to even get close to Erbil from the countryside, you go through many, many checkpoints and many security checks and they check the back of your car and they check everything. And then when you begin to get even close to this site, there is even more security from this. So I think it has everyone very, very surprised that they were not only able to get into Erbil, but get wide on top of the U.S. consulate as well.
[19:05:11] BURNETT: Matt, thank you very much.
WOLF: Thank you very much.
BURNETT: And Ben Wedeman has spent a lot of time on the ground in Iraq. As a matter of fact, he was just in Erbil and he was at this consulate. So, I want to bring you in now, Ben. How significant do you think this attack is?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Erin, it definitely shows that after almost daily coalition air strikes on ISIS targets in Northern Iraq going back to last autumn, ISIS is still capable of conducting this kind of brazen, broad daylight attack on such a high level, high-profile U.S. target, as the U.S. consulate in Erbil. Now, last autumn or rather, late last summer, ISIS was able to get near to Erbil, but they've been steadily pushed back. But what today's incident underscores is that despite all of that, ISIS still has enough supporters, sympathizers, perhaps sleeper cells to conduct this sort of attack. Now, until today, most western diplomats I've spoken to in Erbil have been confident that Kurdish intelligence and security forces would be able to prevent the kind of daily car bombings and suicide attacks that you see in places like Baghdad. But perhaps that confidence was premature -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right, Ben. Thank you very much.
And now I want to bring in Phil Mudd, former CIA counterterrorism official. He managed the Iraq analysis at the CIA. And retired General James "Spider" Marks, who served as the senior intelligent officer in combat during the Iraq war. General Marks, you just heard our reporter in Erbil tonight who was there, who witnessed this. And he said it was shocking that ISIS could get into this heavily fortified area. You know, a city that's considered safe, an American stronghold. But you say that they clearly have the ability to do this.
MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, RETIRED U.S. ARMY: ISIS as the momentum. What that means is, they can choose the time and place of their engagement. And when you do that, you put everybody else on your heels. So we really shouldn't be surprised with the fact that, understand, that Erbil, most likely, has a very large presence of Peshmerga. We have a presence there, in the form of intelligence and exchanges that we have, as a matter of routine, but what really needs to take place is, if we want to prevent this type of terrorist activity, you have to have increased presence on the ground. I'm not suggesting that the United States is going to do that. Clearly, the U.S. has options. And they've chosen not to increase presence or to put presence on the ground, other than what we see right now in the terms of training by way of advisers.
BURNETT: You know, but it is a key area. And part of the reason the President said that he was going to conduct air strikes against ISIS in Iraq was to keep Americans in Erbil safe, Phil. I mean, this area was considered the safest area for Americans in Iraq. I mean, I've been there. I mean, there are things like drag racing. I mean, it's very American in a lot of ways. I mean, what do you make, Phil, of the fact that ISIS successfully targeted Americans, directly, really for the first time here?
PHIL MUDD, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: Look, what we've been talking about in the past few weeks are military operations, in places like Baiji at the oil refinery, the Tikrit operation, the Ramadi operation. Those are military operations where ISIS is trying to hold territory to set up this caliphate, this sort of religious governance. This is fundamentally different as a counterterrorism analyst. This is a political act, designed to tell the Americans, look, you got engaged in our backyard, you left years ago, you're now conducting air operations. If you're going to come into our backyard, we're going to make you hurt. My takeaway from this, Erin, isn't just that ISIS can reach a facility up north, in a relatively safe place in Iraq, it's the indication of intent this gives me about ISIS leadership. If they're thinking about the consulate, are they also thinking about using some of those North Americans, Canadians, and kids from the United States, who have gone over there to come back home and strike targets here? It's telling us we're on the radar.
BURNETT: And it certainly sounds like the answer to your question is, yes.
MUDD: It has to be.
BURNETT: I mean, General Marks, Arwa Damon was on the ground, our reporter there during the Ramadi battle with ISIS this week. And last night, she told me ISIS has made some, quote, "significant gains." This is the same week President Obama said that the United States is making serious progress in pushing ISIS out. You know, it's interesting when you hear these two very different perspectives, you actually equate the American battle with ISIS right now to Vietnam.
MARKS: Yes, Erin, what we need to see is, or what we need to realize is what we're seeing right now in Iraq is not too similar from what we saw during the Tet Offensive in Vietnam in '68. The Vietcong attacked in multiple locations throughout South Vietnam. But as a result of that, they lost and they were slaughtered by the U.S. and the South Vietnamese forces. What happened subsequently is most battles that then occurred in Vietnam were U.S. and South Vietnamese forces against North Vietnamese regulars. But what happened is, the perception was, is the Vietcong were everywhere. Oh, my, dear, they can get to every location --
MARKS: And they set the time and they set tone of the engagement. That's what we are seeing now. Possibly in Iraq.
[19:10:20] BURNETT: And Phil, we all remember Benghazi, with an American ambassador murdered. Now you have the first ISIS attack directly against Americans at a consulate in a place that's considered a lot safer than Benghazi was. You're worried about what this means for their intent to the American homeland. How big is the risk?
MUDD: I think the risk is significant, just because of volume. Look, when we sat at the threat table at the FBI years ago, you would say, okay, we've got four or five guys on the radar, maybe ten guys on the radar, and then there's a bunch of wannabes out there. We might be looking at four, five kids that have gone to the tribal areas of Pakistan for training, significant problem, but compared to what we're looking at here, when you're talking about thousands of foreigners going, I can't imagine sitting at the threat table today. We saw this happened in that courtroom, the indictment yesterday of that kid who have gone over for training, I can't imagine compared to looking at five or ten, now saying, now we've got to follow a couple hundred. That is impossible for a security service.
BURNETT: Pretty terrifying, as you say. Significant risk to the homeland. When you see this first major terror attack by ISIS on Americans today. Thanks to both. And next, the volunteer deputy who shot an unarmed black man and he speaks out. You're going to hear him say, sorry, it was an accident. The victim's lawyer responds OUTFRONT.
Plus, new video of the Arizona man run down by a speeding police car. You're going to see him steal his gun from Walmart and a clerk just hand him the ammo. An OUTFRONT exclusive investigation, tonight.
And a Texas man wants to kill an endangered rhino and hang his head on this trophy room wall. Our exclusive report, ahead.
[19:15:36] BURNETT: The reserve deputy accused of manslaughter for killing an unarmed black man, breaking his silence for the first time. Speaking to NBC, Deputy Robert Bates apologized to the victim's family, as you can see here, appearing with his family in this somewhat strange shot. He said it was an accident, confusing his gun for a taser.
Ed Lavandera is OUTFRONT in Tulsa.
UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER: Roll on your stomach, now!
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the video, you can briefly see the bright yellow taser strapped to Robert Bates' chest. Then you hear the gunshot that would kill Eric Harris.
ROBERT BATES, OKLAHOMA RESERVE DEPUTY: Oh, I shot him, I'm sorry.
LAVANDERA: It's a mistake that 73-year-old reserve deputy told the "Today" show on NBC, he can't explain.
BATES: I saw the light and I squeezed the trigger and then realized I'd dropped the gun. This was not an intentional thing. I had no desire to ever take anyone's life. I don't understand how this can happen. You must believe me, it can happen to anyone.
LAVANDERA: But it's Bates' training that is still under intense scrutiny. The "Tulsa World" newspaper reports that it has five sources that say that Bates' training records were falsified. Sheriff Stanley Glanz has acknowledged that some gun certification records are missing, but Robert Bates and the sheriff's department insists he was properly trained and prepared to work on a dangerous assignment, like the undercover sting aimed at Eric Harris. MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS: You did the training and you can prove
that you were certified?
BATES: That is absolutely the truth. I have it in writing.
LAVANDERA: The Tulsa Sheriff's Department still refuses to release Bates' detailed training records and they are trying to discredit a former deputy, who claims the training records were falsified. Tulsa sheriff's officials have said the source is not credible, because he's currently in jail on murder charges, but the Tulsa newspaper says there's an easy way to resolve this.
ZIVA BRANSTETTER, ENTERPRISE EDITOR, TULSA WORLD: The sheriff's department can clear this up very quickly by producing the names of the people who signed off on this training, produce the records.
LAVANDERA: Eric Harris' brother says he also wants to see Bates' full training records.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you trust the investigation the Tulsa County Sheriff's Department has done?
ANDRE HARRIS, BROTHER OF ERIC HARRIS: No, sir. They not going to tell you the bad things about themselves, they only going to tell you the good things. But now what we ask and we hope is that they let an outside entity come in and investigate this thing.
LAVANDERA: And Erin, the public relations battle is in full swing tonight here in Tulsa. Just a short while ago, officials with the sheriff's department here in Tulsa released an announcement saying that they've launched in a, quote, "We're listening tour" to battle misinformation and rumors that are being spread by local and national media -- Erin.
BURNETT: Mm. All right. Thank you very much, Ed Lavandera. They're going after the media. It's interesting, you just heard Mr. Bates say, you must believe me, this could have happened to anybody. Well, the Deputy Robert Bates, also in that interview, apologized to the victim's family, saying that the shooting, that killing this man is the biggest regret of his life.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BATES: First and foremost, let me apologize to the family of Eric Harris. You know, this is the second worst thing that's ever happened to me, or first, ever happened to me in my life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, Dan Smolen, the attorney for the family of Eric Harris, the unarmed black man shot and killed by Mr. Bates in Tulsa. So, Dan, you just heard Robert Bates apologized with the deadly shooting. Actually, the way he said it was rather interesting, he said this is the second worst thing, than he corrected himself, and said, no, it's the worst thing that's ever happened to me. But he said the first thing I want to do is apologize to the family. Do they accept his apology?
DAN SMOLEN, ATTORNEY FOR ERIC HARRIS FAMILY: Erin, the family does accept Mr. Bates' apology. However, the apology from Mr. Bates isn't going to bring Eric back. What this family is seeking and what they've been seeking all week and over the last several weeks is just that the truth come out.
BURNETT: And when you say the truth, there's several levels of this. And one of the levels is, was he qualified to be on the streets? He says in this interview and he said it, you know, his lawyer said this to me last night, very aggressively, making the case, that all his records are accurate, they're in record, that he was completely qualified to be there. But you say that's not the case.
SMOLEN: It's not just me saying that that's not the case. It's five credible sources that I believe work still within the sheriff's department. And with respect to Mr. Brewster's statement regarding the lack of credibility of the affidavit. I mean, his point is that, look, Mr. Crittenden is in jail on a homicide charge, so he can't be believed. Well, Mr. Bates is also charged with a homicide. Is he saying that we can't listen to what Mr. Bates is saying because he's got a homicide charge?
[19:20:22] BURNETT: Hmm. It's an interesting point. And he did say this last night, he dismissed the credibility of the anonymous sources because he said, one of those men is in jail. But you're saying, not only do you not agree with that, the questioning of one of your sources, you say you have four additional people. So five in total, one of whom happens to be in jail on this charge, but five of whom are saying these records are falsified?
BURNETT: Okay. So, Bates today spoke about what led up to this deadly incident. And I wanted to let you hear him give his version of what actually happened. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BATES: And I was actually parked down the street at Sinclair station, several blocks away from where the activity took place. In other words, the drug buy of dope and the gun purchase. He decided to bolt from the undercover's truck and run and he came to me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So this is the point that they're making. Both of his attorneys have made this point to me in the past couple of days. They say that he wasn't actually there. That he wasn't on a live sting operation. He was a few blocks away and that your client, basically, ran into him and caused this to happen.
SMOLEN: Erin, I think that anyone can look at the statement that Mr. Bates signs, the four or five days after the shooting, and see Mr. Bates' statement, where he indicates he was in the tactical briefing that morning. He called the night before the briefing to ask what was on that day's itinerary. This doesn't seem like an individual who was just in the neighborhood at the Sinclair gas station.
BURNETT: So, what do you want to happen here? You've said the family accepts his apology, which sounds like, you believe him when he says, this was an accident. He didn't mean to do it. What do you want to happen? What is justice here?
SMOLEN: I'm not insinuating that we believe that Mr. Bates' version of what happened is the truth. My client's family has accepted his apology. Because they're forgetting people. They believe in forgiveness. But they believe in the truth, absolutely has to come out. And that's what they intend to do. They intend to investigate this claim to the fullest to see what potential claims there are.
BURNETT: All right. Well, Dan, thank you very much. I appreciate your time and it's good to talk to you.
Next, an OUTFRONT exclusive investigation. We have new video tonight of the moments before an Arizona man was run down by a speeding police cruiser. Here he is, stealing a rifle at Walmart. The story says that gun had a lock on it. So then, how did he load and fire it?
And Atlanta teachers fighting back today after a judge in the cheating scandal slammed them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: All I want from any of these people is just to take some responsibility. But they refuse. They refuse.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[19:27:12] BURNETT: Breaking news tonight on the suspect taken out by a police cruiser in Arizona. So tonight, we at OUTFRONT have information about how that suspect that you see here in this video got the rifle that he's carrying. He threatened a Walmart employee, who gave him that gun, and then gave him ammunition. But there are new questions tonight about how Walmart handled this situation. This suspect, Mario Valencia, survived the hit that you're about to watch. And a reminder, this dash cam video is very graphic.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER: Stay off.
UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER: Oh! Jesus Christ. Man down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: We have exclusive reporting tonight on Valencia's actions in those crucial moments leading up to that dramatic encounter with police. Miguel Marquez has our OUTFRONT investigation. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER: Oh! Jesus Christ. Man down.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Did this ever need to happen?
UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER: Oh, my God!
MARQUEZ: New video shows a Walmart loss prevention officer telling Marana police officers on the scene the gun this man had just stolen had a safety lock on it and couldn't be fired.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It's locked. He can't get the lock off.
UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER: Are you sure?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I'm positive. It's locked!
MARQUEZ: Ten seconds later.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Okay, never mind.
MARQUEZ: The Walmart loss prevention officer wearing shorts and sandals listening to the radio has his young son along for the ride.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Where we going to pop?
MARQUEZ: Police finally yell at the employee, back off.
UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER: Stop coming toward us you dumb (bleep), you don't have a gun or a vest on.
MARQUEZ: Minutes later, Mario Valencia mentally unstable on a crime spree all morning is handed a 30-30 lever action rifle by a Walmart clerk who told police Valencia seemed normal. In the video, you can see him inspected the rifle closely appearing to work the lever and trigger. He then turns his attention to ammunition, telling the clerk, don't do anything stupid, give me the ammo. The employee first resists trying to buy time, but eventually tells police she handed over the ammunition because Valencia was threatening to break the keys and if glass got on the other boxes of ammo, they could not be sold. She also told police that it's Walmart policy to give over items during a robbery. Walmart says, the store clerk acted appropriate, even alerting security to call police before handing over the ammo by dialing a code brown. One 911 call makes clear the gravity of the situation. A Walmart asset protection manager tells the operator, Valencia was trying to load the rifle in the store.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED EMPLOYEE: I have an armed customer in the sporting goods department.
911 OPERATOR: Okay, is he threatening anyone?
UNIDENTIFIED EMPLOYEE: I'm trying to find out. He's loading the weapon in the sporting goods department at the moment.
911 OPERATOR: He is loading it?
MARQUEZ (voice-over): A photo of the rifle stolen by Valencia shows the cable lock still on, wrapped through the lever once with enough slack that the lever could still be operated. Police say the lock appeared to be a handgun cable lock. A Walmart spokesperson insists the gun had the proper lock correctly installed in the store and either Valencia did something to it or the force of the patrol car hitting him affected the cable lock.
The Walmart loss prevention officer and his son were witness to Valencia being taken down by the patrol car.
BOY: Oh. Gotten killed.
EMPLOYEE: That guy's got (EXPLETIVE DELETED) up.
MARQUEZ: Walmart says it constantly reviews all its policies and procedures and this incidence in Marana is being discussed right now.
MARQUEZ: Walmart insists it had the right safety device on that gun and it was installed properly when Valencia is in the store. This is a blow-up of that gun. You can see, this is the lever. If this bit stays close to the butt, it doesn't fire and it disables the gun.
But everyone we talked to today, we did a lot of research on this, this cable has to loop through this loop twice and around the butt to make it inoperable -- Erin.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Miguel, thank you very much. Incredible reporting.
Now, I want to bring in Dave Cullen OUTFRONT, the author of the book "Columbine," who talks about the gun laws around and country and how they were exploit in that horrible tragedy.
Dave, OK, let's just the bottom line here -- you watch Miguel's reporting. I mean, it's pretty stunning on so many levels. What's your first takeaway here about what Walmart's saying? They're saying this gun was locked up the way it was supposed to be. Clearly, it wasn't, or you wouldn't have been able to fire it.
DAVE CULLEN, AUTHOR, "COLUMBINE": Right, they're saying a lot of things that don't make any sense. The gun went off, and that's the primary evidence that something was wrong. And if they're correct and they did everything right -- well, it's worse, because then their procedure, their whole setup is --
BURNETT: That they don't know how to lock a gun properly.
CULLEN: If stores across America are follow those procedures and they're wrong, that's a lot worse.
BURNETT: Right, which is a big question because obviously a lot of guns are sold at Walmart.
Then there's also this issue of the employee. We hear her call to 911, Miguel goes through that exhaustively, and you hear her say, she handed him the ammo. He has the gun, she's then worried, she actually gives him the ammo, and you think, why would she do that? And her reason is, she was worried that if he broke the glass, it would damage other ammo, and she wouldn't have been able to sell the other ammo. That's her reasoning.
CULLEN: That is at least that's what she said. I mean, that's a sort of crazy-sounding. I wonder if that's the way she rationalized after the fact, if she was trying to come up with something. The one person in the story I cut some slack is this employee. I don't know if she'd ever been in a situation like this before and she's under duress. But it still comes back to training.
I mean, is -- has she ever been trained for a situation --
BURNETT: She should be if she's selling guns, right? Then it's a Walmart issue.
CULLEN: Out in the infantry, before they even handed our M-16s or any kind of ammunition or anything, we drilled things over and over and over. It's instinctive. You don't orally tell people or give them procedures to do and then expect, you know, when somebody is life threatening you, that you're going to react in that way.
BURNETT: Right. So people here, there are people who say that this was excessive police violence, right? And had this guy been killed and he wasn't, he survived that hit by the car, had he been killed, this would be an even more significant story. But the reality of it is, is none of it would have happened, that's what it seems like, if he didn't have this gun. Which he fired into the air.
CULLEN: Or the ammo. Both of those.
BURNETT: Right, so it wouldn't have happened if it weren't for Walmart.
CULLEN: Uh-huh. Two different instances, the gun that was unlocked and the ammo for a man with a gun. Yes, that's just -- it's hard to understand why somebody hands ammo to a person who's kind of threatening, obviously, already committing a felony, stealing a weapon, and handing him ammunition for it.
BURNETT: Yes, it's a tragic comedy, actually, when you look at this but obviously, Walmart, with very, very serious questions to answer tonight.
Thank you so much, David. Appreciate it.
And I want to note that we asked Walmart to come on this program tonight and respond to these very serious questions. They declined our invitation.
OUTFRONT next, teachers going to jail for cheating. Firing back today after an Atlanta judge ranted against them, our report on what went down today.
And a Texas man paying hundreds of thousands of dollars, big bucks. He's going to shoot an endangered animal and he's going to put its head on his trophy room wall.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't grant an animal eternal life anymore than I can.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[19:38:29] BURNETT: Educators convicted in a widespread testing scandal firing back tonight, saying they are innocent.
The judge in the case made headlines this week when he imposed harsher sentences on the former Atlanta school officials, who refused to accept a plea deal. They got seven to ten years. Some of them seven years in prison for their role in fabricating and falsely certifying test answers.
Martin Savidge is OUTFRONT.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): How in the world did it come to this?
JUDGE JERRY BAXTER: I'm going to put you in jail, if you yell at me, point at me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're yelling at me, judge.
SAVIDGE: Atlanta's public schools cheating scandal has been dividing the city for years, but it's not until the scandal went from the classroom to the courtroom that it exploded.
BAXTER: All I want from any of these people is just to take some responsibility.
SAVIDGE: It was cheating, but not by students. Prosecutors say teachers, principals, and administrators changed wrong answers and made them right, making the kids look smarter and the educators look better, earning them raises and praise.
Because prosecutors said they conspired, they were charged with racketeering. That's the same law used to bring down mobsters and drug dealers. And after a five-month trial, 11 of 12 were found guilty.
And the judge shocked the court by immediately demanding they all go to jail.
BAXTER: They have been convicted of felonies, serious felonies.
SAVIDGE: Judge Jerry Baxter was clearly angry that only two of the 10 educators took a last minute plea deal, and said, nobody seemed concerned about the kids.
[19:40:03] BAXTER: There were thousands of children that were harmed in this thing. This is not a victimless crime.
SAVIDGE: At sentencing, Baxter threw the book at them. Most of the educators expected to now serve prison terms, ranging from 1 to 7 years and up to 13 years probation. Now, the teachers finally have a turn to talk, saying that they were stunned by the sentences and the community that seemed to want vengeance more than justice.
DANA EVANS, FORMER ATLANTA PUBLIC SCHOOLS PRINCIPAL: It has been an overwhelming burden. When it first happened, I just was immobilized. With the notion that not just a few people thought we hurt children, but it felt like the whole world was against us.
SAVIDGE: Others say they couldn't take the deal because it went against all they believed.
TAMARA COTMAN, FORMER ATLANTA PUBLIC SCHOOLS ADMINISTRATOR: When you are completely innocent and you're asked to stand up and say that you're guilty, I believe that's still perjury. And I wasn't willing to compromise my integrity and say I did something that I did not do.
SAVIDGE: Nationally, critics say the scandal is an indictment of standardized testing, which places too much emphasis on scores and not enough on education.
Meanwhile, many of the convicted say they plan to appeal, which means Atlanta's long and embarrassing civics lesson is far from over.
SAVIDGE: What's interesting, Erin, is that those who took that plea deal actually got far less difficult sentences. In fact, they almost got creative. The judge gave one six months in jail, but the person only has to show up on the weekends. Somebody else got confinement to their home for a year, but it's only in effect from 7:00 p.m. until 7:00 a.m.
But they're all under the threat of something else that could be serious. They could lose their pensions. That has yet to be determined, Erin.
BURNETT: Right, and that would be significant. But as you point out, those who didn't take the plea deal, seven to 10 years. I mean, it is incredible. Thank you very much, Martin Savidge.
And OUTFRONT next, you are looking right now at the last white male rhino on the planet. Ahead, the Texas hunter who paid $350,000 for the rights to kill an endangered black rhino. He's going to make his case on why that's good for the species.
And it's Facebook for people with a passion for pot. But there are no friends on this app, just a lot of buds.
[19:46:38] BURNETT: A majestic animal is on the brink of extinction. So there is one male northern white rhino left on the planet. You see him there with all those men with guns around him. They're there to protect him from poachers, who could kill him. Armed guards will be around this rhino 24 hours a day. On the black market, a pound of his horn could be sold for $30,000.
And now in an exclusive interview with CNN, a big game hunter says that killing a rhino will actually help save the species.
Ed Lavandera is OUTFRONT with tonight's money and power.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Corey Knowlton paid $350,000 to hunt a black rhino, one of the most endangered animals in the world, it unleashed social media attacks and even death threats. Now, more than a year later, after months of debate and public outcry, Knowlton has just received permission to set out on the hunt, permitted by the African country of Namibia.
But first, he agreed to sit down with CNN. Knowlton still wants to convince his critics that hunting an endangered animal is a way of saving the species.
COREY KNOWLTON, HUNTER WITH PERMIT TO KILL BLACK RHINO: It wasn't like I was some person hell bent on going to kill a black rhino, I'm a person hell bent on the survival of the species of black rhino, period.
LAVANDERA: There are only about 5,000 black rhinos left in the world. Poachers ruthlessly slaughtered these animals for their horns, the Namibian government says the $350,000 will help them fight poachers and protect the black rhino.
(on camera): Knowlton will hunt a black rhino that is one of a small group that has been pre-selected by the Namibian government. The rhino will be an older male that no longer reproduces and that many experts say is a threat to younger, healthier rhinos. And that's why Knowlton argues that if you can kill that animal and raise hundreds of thousands of dollars at the same time, it's a good thing.
You're essentially saying that to sacrifice one black rhino, you're actually doing the entire species good?
KNOWLTON: Ed, you can't grant an animal eternal life anymore than I can. I believe hunting through sustainable use is an awesome tool in conservation that can help keep these animals going forever, as a species. LAVANDERA (voice-over): The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and
the World Wildlife Fund say if done right, hunting as conservation can be an effective way of helping endangered species population.
But some animal welfare groups say that idea is a threat.
AZZEDINE DOWNES, INTERNATIONAL FUND FOR ANIMAL WELFARE: I think it's just rubbish. Frankly, we just simply don't believe that trophy hunting has any place in serious conservation.
LAVANDERA (on camera): This is your trophy room?
KNOWLTON: That's what people would call it, yes.
LAVANDERA: To people who say that you want to do this black rhino hunt because you want a black rhino in this room, what do you tell them?
KNOWLTON: I don't think they understand what it means to be a hunter. I think, you know, as part of a hunter, these are memorials of the whole hunting experience and conservation and everything that it means to us.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): Corey Knowlton isn't backing down from the critics, as he prepares for what he expects to be one of the most memorable hunts of his life.
Ed Lavandera, CNN.
BURNETT: And joining me now is wildlife biologist and the host of ABC's "Ocean Mysteries", Jeff Corwin.
And, Jeff, you just heard Corey's argument. He says, look, he's going to kill an older male rhino that isn't able to reproduce, a rhino that probably threatens the healthier and younger black rhinos. Plus, he says, look, I'm paying $350,000, that money is going to go to help preserve rhinos, it's money desperately needed.
[19:50:05] Does he have a point?
JEFF CORWIN, WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST: Well, the authority that basically is allowing this to happen is the Namibia Department of Tourism and it is this incredible ministries program which really have been instrumental in restoring the black rhino population. So, I guess, yes, that money will go to conservation. They heavily manage these rhinos in Africa. They have a program where very few are selected to be hunted like this, they tend to be older animals that are no longer producing but this is a critically endangered species. There are only 5,000 black rhinos left and there is also the argument that every rhino matters.
BURNETT: Right, right. So, it's interesting what you're saying, like he might be right, he might be helping the rhinos, but at the same time every rhino does matter. I mean, they are classified as, quote/unquote, "critically
endangers", Jeff, when we talk about the black rhinos, one level from distinction.
So, what does that mean? How vulnerable is the black rhino?
CORWIN: Incredibly vulnerable, especially as of late. Erin, in the last few years, we've seen a dangerous and accelerated spike in the poaching of rhinos throughout the world. There are five remaining species. There's two Asian species, and there's an Indian species, and there's two Africa species.
If you took all these species and you added up every surviving individual rhino there would be less than 30,000. The Borneo rhino, or the Javan rhino, we're looking at 60 animals. Sumatran rhino, 100 animals. The northern population of the white rhino. We're talking four animals left.
So, they are highly pressurized.
BURNETT: You also talk about the rules about how hard it is for people to just go out there, and leave the United States and go big- game hunting. How common is it that people can just go and kill these big game animals, these endangered animals?
CORWIN: There are somewhat they call the big five species that hunters will go out and try to get. And the rhino is considered one of the most iconic of species but they are critically endangered, they are protected.
Namibia, the Department of Tourism and the Environment, they only allot a few of these animals every year for this and they have to fit within a certain protocol of where they are physically in their lives and they have to follow the Convention for the International Trade of Endangered Species.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, they are incredibly strict about this stuff, this is their business. They know this stuff. So, you really kind of have to separate the wildlife biology and the wildlife management from your own personal ethical view point of this situation.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Jeff Corwin.
Let us know what you think about that story.
Next, the man who wants to be the Mark Zuckerberg of marijuana.
[19:57:00] BURNETT: Facebook for stoners. Ana Cabrera is OUTFRONT with tonight's "IDEA", which is our series on new ideas.
ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They are a group of tech savvy 20-somethings launching a hot new app. Only this is no Silicon Valley start up.
ISAAC DIETRICH, MASS ROOTS CEO: Sometimes you smoke for three hours and sometimes you smoke for six hours.
CABRERA: And Isaac Dietrich is not your stereotypical business exec. The 22-year-old is the co-founder and CEO of Mass Roots.
DIETRICH: This is a global feed.
CABRERA: A free social media network similar to Facebook or Instagram, but this one is just for people who love weed. Instead of friends or followers, Mass Roots users have buds. It is a place where people can remain semi-anonymous while posting pictures of pot, shots of smoking while skiing and other expressions of cannabis creativity.
Much of the Mass Roots marijuana conversation is about different products or pot shots. In just a few months, Mass Roots amassed more than 275,000 users. The social network is only accessible in the 23 states in the District of Columbia where some form of marijuana is currently legal. To sign up, you have to give your location and must be at least 17 years old.
DIETRICH: Our goal is to hit a million users this year and we feel that if we can reach that threshold, we will be the dominant social player and then everyone in the industry is going to want to advertise on our platform.
CABRERA: Dietrich, who never went to college, moved to Colorado from Virginia Beach about a year ago. His success hasn't come without a struggle. He maxed out 20 grand in credit cards to start the business. He battled Apple for months just to allow Mass Roots into iTunes, and he fought the feds for a year to get approval to take his company public. It just started trading this month.
DIETRICH: It is the same way that Facebook went public. It's the same way that Twitter went public.
CABRERA: Through investors, Mass Roots has raised more than $1.5 million. Dietrich now employs 16 people. He makes enough to rent a penthouse apartment in the heart of downtown Denver, where his team gathers delay to talk strategy, during a so-called smoke fest (ph).
(on camera): Were you all marijuana enthusiasts to begin with?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would say so.
CABRERA (voice-over): Originally from Virginia, Minnesota, and California, Dietrich's staff is united by their passion for pot.
ADAM BUCK, CONTENT STRATEGIST, MASSROOTS: I was in the Marine Corp for five years and now, I'm doing this. I love them both in different aspects but I'm living the green dream. (LAUGHTER)
CABRERA: A green dream that will soon be paying real dividends.
HYLER FORTIER, CO-FOUNDER, MASSROOTS: This is our plan and it is our plan. There is no safety net and we're just going for it.
CABRERA: With Dietrich at the helm, hoping to become the Mark Zuckerberg of the marijuana industry.
DIETRICH: We're in an incredible position, you know, right at the convergence of marijuana, technology, scalable technology, social networking. It's an awesome place to be.
CABRERA: Ana Cabrera, CNN, Denver.
BURNETT: And this Sunday, it's all about pot on CNN. At 9:00, "Weed 3", the marijuana revolution. At 10:00, the premiere of the original series, "High Profits".
Also this weekend, we sure to watch the global edition of OUTFRONT Saturday and Sunday on CNN International. This week, more of our exclusive reporting from South Korea.
Thanks for watching. Anderson starts now.