Guest: Maureen Smith, Bree Smith, George Smith III, Susan Filan, Pat Brown, Jack Hickey, Joe Tacopina, Stacy Honowitz, Willie Brown, Adriana Gardella>
Children; Education; Rape; Debra Lafave; Houston; Hurricane Katrina;
LISA DANIELS, HOST: Right now on SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, five months after George Smith IV was lost from his honeymoon, his family speaks out, and tonight the cruise line is responding. We will have the very latest and ask will the grieving family finally get some answers.
And outrage on the streets of San Francisco. Twenty police officers suspended after a shocking videotape of cops being racist, sexist, and spoofing the homeless. We have got the tapes and the full story.
And thanks so much for being here. I‘m Lisa Daniels in tonight for Joe, but we have much more of his interview with a family of missing groom, George Smith.
Plus, her lawyer says Debbie Lafave is too pretty for prison, but a Florida judge has thrown out her plea deal. Now the teacher who had sex with a 14-year-old student could face 30 years behind bars.
And a camera catches this huge brawl involving Katrina evacuees, students fighting students. What is going on there?
But first, the family of missing honeymooner George Smith speaks out. The Smith family held an emotional press conference today announcing their legal action against Royal Caribbean. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAUREEN SMITH, GEORGE‘S MOTHER: We have lived a nightmare for the last five months. My son boarded a Royal Caribbean ship for his honeymoon, and he never got off, and we want to know why.
JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST: Sir, is George your only son? And how in the world do you cope with something like this?
GEORGE SMITH III, GEORGE‘S FATHER: It‘s hard.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DANIELS: They are now demanding answers from Royal Caribbean about what happened to George on that cruise. You will remember that George Smith disappeared just days after his fairy tale wedding. And when his family finally decided to break their silence, they went to Joe first. Now as Joe‘s interview continues, he asks the Smiths about the rumors in the days after George disappeared that it may have been a suicide or just a terrible accident.
SCARBOROUGH: Every time something happens on a cruise line, they always talk about that the person had to be an alcoholic, or they were depressed and committed suicide. Sounds like George just doesn‘t fit those profile.
BREE SMITH, GEORGE‘S SISTER: No.
G. SMITH: He was so happy.
B. SMITH: I mean, yes, he had a few drinks that night. It was his honeymoon. He wasn‘t driving. You know, he was having fun. It was the time of his life. And, you know, I think that the cruise lines used that bit of information to try to shift the blame and to make it look like an accident, but it‘s fairly clear to us from, you know, what we have heard in the media that this was not an accident.
And it was definitely not a suicide. And I think that the individuals that were responsible need to be held accountable, as well as the cruise line for the cover-up afterward as well.
SCARBOROUGH: I was shocked by what I saw. Again, being from the state of Florida, these cruise ships go in and out all the time. High school—I mean, high schools will take their senior trips on these cruise lines.
B. SMITH: Right. I know. I know.
SCARBOROUGH: People send their parents, their loved ones. And I never thought anything about it, until I saw what happened to your son. And that‘s what I want to ask you all because you always hear about all the stages of grief, when you lose a loved one, and I am sure it‘s multiplied 100 times if you lose your son or your daughter, but there‘s so many things that have to be difficult for you all.
First of all, a terrible loss of George. Then you add on top of that the cruise line, and the botched investigation, and you said the cover-up, which is what we have been saying all along. What has been the hardest part of this terrible ordeal?
M. SMITH: Not knowing.
G. SMITH: The lack of information.
M. SMITH: Not knowing.
B. SMITH: That‘s right.
G. SMITH: Especially from the cruise line.
M. SMITH: We just don‘t know, and you cling to a glimmer of hope that maybe he survived it, and he is out there, and, you know, he needs us. And then reality sets in, and you think, no, he couldn‘t possibly have survived it, but not knowing I think is the hardest thing.
B. SMITH: And it‘s in your mind constantly. If your mind thinks of a different thought, then all of a sudden George will pop into your mind, and it just feels like you have been hit.
SCARBOROUGH: What are some of the main questions that you all want to ask about what happened to George?
B. SMITH: Well, I think, you know, foremost in our minds is who would
have done this and why. You know, we just—we don‘t know any of those
things right now. You know, there haven‘t been any arrests. We don‘t have
we know the FBI has a lot of information, but we don‘t have that information. and we just want to know what happened to him.
And secondly, I think we would like to know where he is. I mean, I think we have an idea, but if we had at least George, we could bury him and have a grave to visit and pray for him, but instead, you know, he is in the middle of sea, and we don‘t have anything of him. So it‘s really devastating for my family.
M. SMITH: We have been robbed. We have really been robbed, haven‘t we?
SCARBOROUGH: You have been robbed. You don‘t know who robbed you.
M. SMITH: No, no.
SCARBOROUGH: You don‘t know how you were robbed.
M. SMITH: Our lives will never be the same again, never.
SCARBOROUGH: And again, he is with you all the time. If you lose a son or daughter ...
G. SMITH: It‘s for this reason, you know, we feel that Congress needs to make changes in the laws, so other families don‘t go through what we have to go through now, and go through this suffering, and the not knowing. Every day, it‘s a struggle, you know, but we‘re holding it together.
M. SMITH: For the first ...
SCARBOROUGH: It seems to me like there were so many things the cruise industry could have done ...
M. SMITH: Right.
SCARBOROUGH: ... in those first two days ...
M. SMITH: Right.
SCARBOROUGH: ... to help solve this case, but they didn‘t do it.
M. SMITH: No.
B. SMITH: No, they did the complete opposite.
M. SMITH: At Turkey, it was a crime scene. At Turkey, that ship was a crime scene.
SCARBOROUGH: It should have been a crime scene.
M. SMITH: Should have been yellow taped, passengers sent on their way that weren‘t guilty. They could‘ve—and then paid to send them home.
B. SMITH: They should‘ve been shut down. Now the FBI has to do a catch-up game.
G. SMITH: They have to put it all back together.
B. SMITH: There‘s answers all over the world, you know, there‘s agents all over the world working on this case, and it‘s because that ship was not locked down.
SCARBOROUGH: Let‘s talk about what you hope to accomplish if a lawsuit is filed. Mr. Smith, I will start with you. You put the cruise line on notice that you want answers.
G. SMITH: Yes.
SCARBOROUGH: If you don‘t get those answers and you are forced to sue them to get those answers, what do you want to come out of this terrible tragedy regarding your son?
G. SMITH: Well, you know, I want them basically to change their policy. It‘s got to change. They just can‘t do what they would like to do. There has to be regulations set down.
If there‘s sexual assault on a boat, there should be, say, rape kits or something like that. If there‘s somebody overboard, they should follow certain procedures. Stop the boat, not continue going on. You know, in Turkey, right there they should have stopped that boat and just shut it down and interview all passengers, keep them apart. Do a proper investigation, not just some, you know, half deal that they felt like putting a little bit of an effort before they took off for the next port.
The FBI needs more power. There‘s no doubt about it. The FBI has minimal power. They do have power, but they need more power to go on and search ships. It took them two or three days to get onto that boat, and they should have been able to walk on that boat immediately.
I think there just has to be a load of changes made. For years, the Cruise Industry Council has been making changes that have been helping them. We have got to reverse this trend and give the trend back to the people.
SCARBOROUGH: Protect the people that actually go and pay, like you said, all that money that they make.
G. SMITH: My son, you know, all that money there, and, you know, what they did—they didn‘t even—you know, it was just like, well, he is overboard, and it‘s over.
B. SMITH: Business as usual.
G. SMITH: Business as usual.
SCARBOROUGH: All business.
M. SMITH: It‘s all business, and the people that call you, they are not humane. They speak to you like he‘s gone. This is an accident.
B. SMITH: It‘s the risk management department.
M. SMITH: Yes, they are not humane.
G. SMITH: It‘s started by—every person that you talk to that has had somebody go overboard, it‘s like after the one phone call to the cruise line, you are basically passed from one secretary to the next, and eventually you just get frustrated, and since you can‘t meet the six-month time limit to file a lawsuit, then basically they have won.
M. SMITH: I think if we had closure, and we knew what happened, we could do what we had to do, funeral and go on. And then we could start living a normal life, but right now ...
B. SMITH: A new normal.
G. SMITH: A new normal.
M. SMITH: A new normal.
B. SMITH: It will never be normal again, but it‘ll be a new normal eventually.
M. SMITH: Right. I just want to know what happened that night on the cruise ship. What happened to my son? That‘s what I want to know.
DANIELS: You can see this family is suffering. They are really in the middle of their grief, and when we come back, more of Joe‘s interview with the Smith family.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
M. SMITH: We were just a family. And we have broken apart, we have been destroyed, haven‘t we? And we would like to know why.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DANIELS: Will they ever get answers and justice for George? Our all-star panel is here to tackle that one. Plus, the cruise line responds. What they are saying about the investigation.
And the judge says, hold on. Wait a minute. The surprise twist in the case of the middle school teacher who had sex with her 14-year-old student. It is a big night in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY. Do stay with us.
DANIELS: George Smith IV waves goodbye to his family, thrilled to be setting out on his honeymoon and begin his new life. It was actually the last time his parents and sister ever saw him. Days later, he disappeared in the Mediterranean. As we continue our exclusive interview, Joe asked them at what point they realized that George may never come home.
B. SMITH: I think the hardest part was when we were told that the search was being called off in the water.
M. SMITH: Oh, right, right.
G. SMITH: Four days.
B. SMITH: Because it was four or five days later, I was pushing to extend the search, and the Greek authorities agreed to extend the search. I was trying to get the U.S. Navy in and, you know, we had contact with a lot of high-level captains and admirals to extend the search, but we were told if the American vessels went into foreign waters it would be a declaration of war without their permission.
M. SMITH: When we went to Greece—what is it, a week later—we really still thought that maybe he was somewhere, and we went to the Coast Guard, we went to the hospitals, we around the hospitals. We put flyers out, didn‘t we?
And we went searching for him ourselves at nighttime, and we left after about a week, because my daughter was alone at home, and we still just couldn‘t believe it. We couldn‘t believe that he was gone.
B. SMITH: And to this day, we still can‘t believe it. I mean, if we had the information about what happened to him, or if we had him, then we could sort of move on, but we don‘t have that, and it‘s just—the uncertainty is what really eats away at us, I think.
SCARBOROUGH: You talked about your son. Is there a particular time when you miss your brother the most? Is it when you‘re with him or ...
B. SMITH: I think it‘s thinking about how my sons, you know, growing up from week to week, and the fact, you know, George doesn‘t see this. He sat up by himself a few weeks ago, and George isn‘t here to see it. His first tooth came in two weeks ago, and George isn‘t here to see it.
M. SMITH: I miss his phone call, two or three times a day, and he wasn‘t a momma‘s boy, not at all. He would not a momma‘s boy ...
G. SMITH: He was definitely not a momma‘s boy.
M. SMITH: But he‘d go and say mom, and he would tell me things, two or three times a day. And I just have the cell phone, and I think he‘s not calling anymore.
G. SMITH: Basically I worked with George every day. So, you know, when you walk in the door in the morning, he‘s not there.
SCARBOROUGH: Tell people something you want them to know about George. We‘ll start with you, Bree.
B. SMITH: I think what was very touching was when he met my son for the first time, because Grayson (ph) was born in Hong Kong, and we flew back for the wedding.
He took a picture of Grayson on his cell phone, and that was his screen saver, and he e-mailed the photograph to all of his friends. And I think, you know, that‘s one of the most recent things that really touched my heart before we lost George.
SCARBOROUGH: Mrs. Smith, what do you want people to know about your son?
M. SMITH: His kindness. He always brought lovely gift for people. He always thought out well gifts, didn‘t he? He was always—you would open these gifts and you‘d think, how did he think of this gift? And this is what he always did. He had such—and his friends coming to me all the time and saying they have never met such a loyal friend, and the best man came to me the other day, and he said to me, I will never have another best friend.
SCARBOROUGH: Mr. Smith, what do you want people to know?
G. SMITH: George has been just special to me, you know, working with him and sharing our life. And he was always there.
G. SMITH: If I had a problem with the computer, George was there.
M. SMITH: He would get very antsy about it.
G. SMITH: Dad, I don‘t want to do this again. But he was always there for me. And, you know, it‘s just special.
M. SMITH: We were just a family. And ...
G. SMITH: It‘s been destroyed.
M. SMITH: ... we have broken apart. We have been destroyed, haven‘t we? And we would like to know why.
DANIELS: You know, it‘s a hard interview to watch, because the family
is so obviously in so much pain, and in fact, the Smith family has set up
an e-mail address for anybody who might have some information about what
happened to George that night. Write this down. The address is
Joining me now, Susan Filan, she‘s a former Connecticut prosecutor; criminal profiler, Pat Brown; and maritime attorney, Jack Hickey.
Let me start with you, Pat. A lot of people make fun of that term, closure, but you can tell this family is craving closure. They want to know what happened to George. You worked with a lot of victims and their families. What does this family, in so much pain, who are in the middle of their grieving process, have to do to come to terms with what happened to their son?
PAT BROWN, CRIMINAL PROFILER: I don‘t know, Lisa, that they can ever come to terms with that. I think it‘s one of those things that just lasts forever. Sometimes when people get involved in some kind of advocacy, a fight for victims, it helps them get through some of the pain, but it‘s never going to change.
And that‘s one of the things you have to really realize, especially with cruise ships, that you are really going into uncharted territory, almost into no man‘s land when you get on a cruise ship. You‘re in a big city, under a foreign flag. We only have I think one American ship actually under a U.S. flag, and that goes to Hawaii, not to an international port.
So you‘re under a foreign flag, going to foreign places. You are dependent on those countries and that ship‘s personnel, security guards, to conduct crime scenes. It‘s very dangerous.
We have—also now we have large, large ships with tons of new employees which cannot be checked that well. We have private balconies people can obviously go over, so we don‘t have a lot of control and we don‘t have a lot of accountability. That‘s what people have to realize before they board one of these ships.
DANIELS: The sad thing is, that is what this family realized too late.
P. BROWN: Too late.
DANIELS: You know, that that‘s the sad fact.
P. BROWN: Exactly.
DANIELS: Susan, I can‘t even count how many times this family said we are not getting information from Royal Caribbean. Even worse than that, their phone calls are callous. They don‘t seem to be grasping that they just lost their son. Legally, can you think of any reason why this family is not hearing any answers from Royal Caribbean?
SUSAN FILAN, FMR. PROSECUTOR: Royal Caribbean is engaged in a cover-up. They are trying to save their own skin. I think the Smith family by initiating a civil lawsuit is doing the absolute right thing. They are going to now use the tool through the courts of discovery.
They are going to be able to compel answers through depositions, and through seeking documentation, videotape, and all of the information that should have voluntarily gone to the Smith family and to law enforcement.
Their lawsuit will also help law enforcement in getting some of the data that they haven‘t yet been given by this cruise ship. The cruise ship was very happy to take their money, but not so happy now to help out when this family really needs it.
DANIELS: OK. Susan and Jeff, I want you to listen to this, because Royal Caribbean did respond today to the lawsuit filed against them by the Smith family. I want to read it.
They said, quote, “We believe that despite this terrible tragedy, the cruise line handles George Smith‘s disappearance correctly and responsibly. Specifically, we responded to the sole complaint made by a guest. We promptly called in the FBI and local authorities to conduct an investigation. We secured the Smiths‘ cabin and the metal overhand, and we conducted a thorough search of the ship. We subsequently interviewed guests and crew who had any knowledge of the Smiths‘ whereabouts that night, and we collected all possible evidence from security camera tapes to charge card receipts and provided them to the FBI.”
Jack, what‘s your response here?
JACK HICKEY, MARITIME ATTORNEY: My response is did they also put in that statement where at 7:00 a.m., two-and-a-half to three hours after the crime was reported, that they started scraping the blood from the canvas on top of the lifeboat to destroy the evidence? Did they also put that in the statement because that‘s exactly what they did.
And, you know, this is the kind of thing where with the corporation, just like with an individual, you have to look at patterns of conduct to determine the personality of the corporation. This is the company, Lisa, that in 1998 plead guilty to polluting the waters—fleet-wide with all their ships—polluting the waters with oil, and then lying to the United States Coast Guard about it.
And the head of the EPA compliance section in 1998 said about that that RCCL is going to have to do some corporate soul searching as a result of that, and I guess they have been searching for seven years and haven‘t found a soul yet, because ...
DANIELS: And that‘s the problem here.
HICKEY: That‘s exactly.
DANIELS: I want to ask you, Pat, the bottom line is, it seems like, it seems like Royal Caribbean made so many different mistakes at the beginning, or there are a lot of questions, let‘s put it that way, as to what happened at the beginning of this investigation. Five months into this, I have to ask the question, do you think this case is going to be solved?
P. BROWN: Probably not, unfortunately, unless the FBI can really get to the bottom of this through some kind of interrogation and somebody breaks and cracks and says something, but whether they have enough evidence to actually link to somebody and take it to court and prosecute, it‘s questionable.
So you are right, the original crime scene, that is the time when you gather up most of the evidence, and a lot of this obviously vanished. Whether they did it maliciously, I am not absolutely sure that‘s true.
It may simply be that they thought somebody had committed suicide or fallen and thought, oh my God, the guests are going to see blood. That‘s going to freak everybody out. Maybe that‘s what—at least that‘s what the lawyers will say. That may be what they‘re going to say happened, that they weren‘t really trying to cover up, so that‘s going to be a matter of taking that to court and finding out the truth of that.
DANIELS: Let‘s—all right. Let‘s ask the lawyer, Susan. This is a normal family. I went up to Greenwich, Connecticut. People were not putting on an act. They said George is a nice guy. He is a gentle giant. They were using the word is, because they wanted to believe that he is still alive. This is a normal family. They don‘t know the law. They don‘t even want to have anything to do with the cruise ship bureaucracy. What is this family to do?
FILAN: This family has done everything right. They have cooperated with law enforcement. They have been silent up until now, and they have really taken it on the chin because the public has been clamoring for them to say something. Law enforcement asked them to respect the investigation, and not to speak, and they haven‘t, and to their credit, they have done what law enforcement has asked them to do.
DANIELS: Was that a mistake, Susan?
FILAN: Not at all.
DANIELS: I know the FBI told them be quiet, don‘t talk. You know, you want to listen to the FBI but if the story had come out a couple of months ago, if the parents did come out earlier, there might have been more interest, more pressure on the cruise lines. Luckily Joe kept it up alive.
FILAN: Exactly. That‘s my point. This family, through its contact with the media and through shows like Joe‘s and other fantastic shows on MSNBC have kept this before the public‘s eye, and I think that there‘s been more attention and more scrutiny to this case than there would have otherwise been, but I think the family was correct to cooperate and abide by the FBI‘s wishes.
I think it‘s very, very difficult for them to have had to sit on the sidelines and watch for so long, but at the same time, now they have gotten savvy. They have contacted counsel, who is representing them, filing this civil lawsuit.
Again, discovery is going to be a tremendously useful tool to this family, and I do think this case will be solved. I disagree respectfully with your other distinguished guest, but I do think that this case will be solved through very, very hard, hard work on behalf of law enforcement, for this family.
DANIELS: All right. Thanks so much, Susan Filan, Pat Brown, Jack Hickey. We all hope you are right, Susan. Thanks so much for being here. Really appreciate it.
HICKEY: Thank you.
DANIELS: Hope the family gets some peace.
There‘s so much more to come this week. Coming up next, congressional hearings, finally a chance to get answers some answers from the cruise lines on these kinds of cases.
And make sure you send Joe your e-mails. He will give those questions to the Congressmen running those hearings. It‘s all part of the special edition of SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY. It‘s Monday night, you don‘t want to miss it.
Still to come, a judge rejects Debbie Lafave‘s plea deal. What does it mean for the former middle school teacher who admitted to having sex with one of her students?
And cops gone wild. Officers say these videos are comic relief, but not everybody is laughing. We are going to debate it, coming up.
DANIELS: Is Paris Hilton too hot for Rhode Island? We‘ll show you the Christmas display which is causing big controversy in one small town, but first, here‘s the latest news from MSNBC world headquarters.
DANIELS: Did the San Francisco Police Department cross the thin blue line? We‘ll show you the shocking so-called spoofs that got 20 cops suspended from the force.
And will this fly with Hurricane Katrina evacuees? You‘ll see what sparked this schoolyard brawl.
And welcome back to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY. I‘m Lisa Daniels in tonight for Joe. Those stories in just minutes, but first a bombshell twist in the teacher sex scandal. A judge in Florida rejecting a plea deal by former middle school teacher Debbie Lafave who admitted to having sex with one of her 14-year-old students at her home, in her classroom, and in the back of an SUV. NBC‘s Ron Mott has the details.
RON MOTT, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Her attorney says she is too pretty for jail, but Debra Lafave apparently left an ugly impression on a Florida judge.
JOHN FITZGIBBONS, DEBRA LAFAVE‘S ATTORNEY: At this point, the court has indicated he will not accept the plea agreement that‘s been worked out, and so we will be back to the drawing boards.
MOTT: Lafave, who reached a plea deal of three years house arrest and seven years probation in one Florida County.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Talk to your lawyer about it?
DEBRA LAFAVE, DEFENDANT: Yes, sir.
MOTT: Was set to accept a similar deal for having sex with the same 14-year-old student in a new county. But the new judge refused the deal.
STACY YOUMANS, MARION COUNTY PROSECUTOR: We‘re shifting gears, again, and we‘re going back into trial posture.
MOTT: Lafave‘s previous deal prompted a rigorous debate about whether women of sex crimes against minors are treated more favorably than men. The victims mother supported the plea deals to protect her son‘s privacy and shield him from a sensational trial.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This would follow him forever.
MOTT: Now with the trial set to begin April 10th ...
YOUMANS: They would be in the center of a storm.
MOTT: A storm once again stirring up both water cooler talk and the legal system.
Ron Mott, NBC News, Atlanta.
DANIELS: OK. I am joined now by criminal defense attorney, Joe Tacopina, and Broward County Prosecutor Stacy Honowitz. Got to say, Joe, I must have missed the class in law school where they said too pretty for jail time is a feasible defense. Did the attorney really say that? This woman is—she is pretty, but that‘s the excuse?
JOE TACOPINA, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Lisa, that‘s why us attorneys have such great reputations.
DANIELS: Yes, right.
TACOPINA: Sometimes we just throw our foot in our mouth. Look, it may in fact may be true that, you know, she would have an extra rough time in jail because of the way she looks, but, you know, obviously looks are not a prohibition for jail.
If that were the case, Joe Scarborough, for instance, would never be
able to go to jail. I mean, so that‘s a silly comment to say. That really
he was just reacting to I think the press and the questioning outside as to why a non-jail disposition was appropriate. That has nothing to do with it.
The reason she should not be going to jail, the reason this judge became a meddling judge, in my opinion, is because you have three parties involved here, Lisa. You have the state, OK—the prosecutors who are in charge of the state and the conscience of that community.
You have the defense and the defense lawyer, and most importantly in this instance, when you have a minor victim, you have the victim and the victim‘s family, the guardians of that victim, the parents.
TACOPINA: All three parties wanted this resolution for their own reasons. Once she gets her mental health treatment and hopefully gets better ...
DANIELS: Oh, you have got a long list here. You got to let Stacy ...
TACOPINA: The state gets closure, gets their conviction, they get justice. And most importantly, the victim‘s family gets closure, and like the mother just said, this kid doesn‘t have to be scarred for life, going through this sort of ordeal in the media and everything else. You know, it just is the right resolution. This judge should not be trying to make a sensational stance to get on SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, for instance.
DANIELS: OK. Susan, let me ask you, should this woman be in jail?
STACY HONOWITZ, BROWARD COUNTY PROSECUTOR: Absolutely this woman should be in jail.
DANIELS: Don‘t give me a list. Don‘t give a list, just tell me why.
HONOWITZ: If anybody should—this ...
TACOPINA: Got more on the list.
HONOWITZ: Why is it any different—listen, why is it any different if this was a male teacher? The bottom line is, the reason why these prosecutors made the deal is because the mother did want to shield this kid. And sometimes that is a reason not to go to trial.
But in this case, with the allegations that are there, she should be in trial, and for this lawyer—I mean, that was the most preposterous thing, for this lawyer to come out and say she is too pretty. That probably turned more against her, probably said you know what? She should go to jail.
It doesn‘t make a difference what her looks are. I mean, this judge obviously is not happy, and he has the final say, as Joe knows. You can work out a plea negotiation with the defense, the state can do it, and the judge is the ultimate one who makes the decision not to accept it.
He, from what I understand, wants to know what the impact on these two boys is, and listen, it‘s his prerogative. He sits as the judge. If he doesn‘t think that the punishment fits the crime, he has the right to say no, I‘m not accepting it.
DANIELS: Joe, you know, I am making fun of your list, but you raise a lot of good points. Let me ask you. Do you think that the judge basically said this wouldn‘t fly if Debbie Lafave was a guy and that the victims were females? Is he really trying to say there‘s a double standard here, I see it, and it‘s wrong?
TACOPINA: Yes, you know, he probably is saying that, and quite frankly, let‘s be real about this. He is probably very right. And that probably is the case here. But let‘s put that aside for a second and let‘s deal with what‘s most important. We don‘t—this—you know, this particular case, and individual cases should not be about, you know, the conscience of the community, and sending messages.
Here we have a situation where the family of the victim—don‘t forget about the victim here. It‘s not as if the victim‘s family wants her to go to jail, and the prosecutor is saying no, we are satisfied with this disposition. That‘s when a judge, you know, should step in and maybe evaluate the case, you know, under a microscope.
In this instance, this judge is causing more anguish to the victim and the victim‘s family. And I will be damned if this judge is going to force this victim, this 14-year-old or 15-year-old boy to get up on the stand with cameras all over the courtroom, national attention, and have to tell a story to a bunch of strangers.
HONOWITZ: I think it‘s a great point.
DANIELS: He is going to have to.
TACOPINA: Oh, he doesn‘t have to. By law he doesn‘t have to.
HONOWITZ: If this judge—if this judge is not going—listen, Joe, there‘s no way in the world that this victim‘s family is going to say, we don‘t want him to testify, the judge isn‘t going to accept it, so we are going to let this case fall by the wayside.
If they have to come into court, we have reluctant witnesses and victims all the time. And at first blush, they say we are not coming. When they realize that if they don‘t come, the case is going to fall down the toilet, then they come into court and that‘s what‘s going to happen in this case.
TACOPINA: I am not too sure about that, because this mother is convinced—she is convinced—that her child will be damaged profoundly and for an extended period of time if he is forced to tell his story to the national media, the press, and everyone else, and face a public trial such as this.
You know, there is something about healing that, you know, we all have to do on our own schedule and our own clock, and this kid and this kid‘s family and this kid‘s doctors have made a conscientious decision to not go forward. Look, I ...
HONOWITZ: That‘s not true.
HONOWITZ: That‘s not true. That‘s not true at all.
DANIELS: Actually, let me throw it out to both of you. The judge did say, show me the evidence that these two victims would be hurt by going up and testifying. This comes up all the time. You both know that.
HONOWITZ: Absolutely. Absolutely.
DANIELS: With rape cases, and other cases. Is it really legitimate to protect the two victims, at the expense that everyone is going to agree to a plea deal, Stacy, what do you think?
HONOWITZ: Well, no. I mean, listen, if we look at this, and we look at what this mother is saying, listen, I don‘t want him to have to go through this. No rape victim in the world, no victim wants to come into court and have to testify, but especially a rape victim. You have to talk about salacious allegations, all your sexiness.
It might be fun to talk about it at the water cooler with your boyfriend, but it‘s not so much fun to have to come into court and talk about it. So if the judge does find that the impact of them having to testify is going to be too detrimental, then I am sure he is not going to meddle.
But in this case, I think that the judge took a stance, and he said this mother is not totally saying I am not letting him testify. She is saying, it‘s something that could damage him. Well, testifying in open court in a big media filled room is going to be damaging for anybody but sometimes that‘s what has to be done in order to serve justice, and I think that‘s what‘s going to happen in this case.
DANIELS: Joe, I want to move off that for a second, because if I am the state AG, and I hear from the judge, you go back and get a different plea deal, or else we are going to court in April, what do I have to include in that plea deal for the judge to accept it? Are we talking jail time here?
TACOPINA: Well, that‘s what he is talking about.
TACOPINA: His quote was, “this plea goes below the normal sentencing guidelines, and I am not willing to do that.” Well, the normal sentencing guidelines call for jail. I mean, there‘s maximum sentence of 15 years on this count.
And the guidelines will take into consideration the relationship, the abuse of position of trust that she had, all the things that sort of are what they call aggravating factors, Lisa, and it will call for jail time, make no question about that.
HONOWITZ: You know what, Joe, it calls for jail time even without the aggravating factors. This is 15 years on each count. I mean, she is looking at a serious number of years in jail.
DANIELS: Do you guys agree that this girl may be very lucky in terms of her looks, but in terms of the two counties she came across she really got in trouble because she was in two different counties here.
TACOPINA: Well, she got in trouble I think because—look, don‘t forget. Let‘s not pretend she is—like has her wits about her and she is a normal human being. She is someone who apparently by very strong documentation, and we will see if there is a trial, has profound emotional issues.
DANIELS: Yes, that‘s clear.
HONOWITZ: I think you have to have—if you are having sex with a kid that age and talking baby talk, I think you do have to have emotional issues. But you and I both know emotional ...
TACOPINA: Well, that‘s a legal defense.
HONOWITZ: No, it‘s not.
TACOPINA: Oh, sure it is.
HONOWITZ: You have got to be kidding me.
HONOWITZ: You‘ve got to be kidding me, Joe.
TACOPINA: Excuse me. There is something in the law, and I don‘t know if you guys have it down in Broward County, but in most other counties in America, there‘s something called the insanity defense and achieves that standard ...
HONOWITZ: You are insane to think to think that the insanity defense would work in this case.
TACOPINA: Really? let‘s see. There are somewhat ...
HONOWITZ: She didn‘t know the difference between right and wrong? She said don‘t tell anybody. I don‘t want to get in trouble. I know we shouldn‘t have to go to jail for this ...
TACOPINA: Have you seen those reports? Stacy ...
HONOWITZ: That knows the difference between right and wrong.
TACOPINA: ... have you seen those reports? Look, you are being very emotional and very, you know, visceral, but you have not seen those reports. And emotional distress and emotional defects are very real.
And obviously someone who did what she did, acted the way she did, spoke the way she did, has something really missing upstairs. And you know what? If the jury finds or sentencing judge finds that was the cause of these actions, she does not have to go to jail, even after a trial.
DANIELS: All right. We‘re going to have to wait and see on that one but ...
HONOWITZ: Listen, they weren‘t prepared to go to trial. They weren‘t falling into the defense. She wasn‘t insane. She knew exactly what she was doing, and she doesn‘t want to get in trouble for it. That‘s the bottom line.
TACOPINA: Then she should be in jail for a long time.
DANIELS: We could go on forever on that one because that‘s a huge issue. I think people would come out on both sides of that one. Thanks so much Stacy Honowitz and Joe Tacopina. You kept it very interesting.
HONOWITZ: Thanks, Lisa.
DANIELS: Thanks, guys.
Coming up, harmless prank or offensive and insensitive? The former mayor of San Francisco is in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY to talk about these videos made by that city‘s police officers.
And Christmas is taking on, you can see, a Parisian flare in one Rhode Island town. We‘ll show you why some say it‘s unwelcome cheer even with that woman. Stay with us.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me give you a piece of advice. If you ever want to end up with a gem like me for a husband, get yourself together, stop using so much hair (ph) lotion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DANIELS: No, that‘s not a police surveillance tape. It‘s actually part of the racy, sometimes racist, spoof video made by a San Francisco police officer. He has been suspended. In fact, he‘s among some 20 officers suspended for videotaping skits like this one.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good morning, captain. Oh, captain.
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DANIELS: OK. The tapes are shocking, but so is how the public learned of them, from the mayor and the chief of police who made the tapes public on Wednesday.
Here to talk about the controversy are the former mayor of San Francisco, Willie Brown and Adriana Gardella from “Justice” magazine.
Let me start with you, Mr. Brown. Why, why would the mayor release these tapes? Explain it to me.
WILLIE BROWN, FMR. MAYOR OF SAN FRANCISCO: I frankly have no idea whatsoever. I just don‘t understand how something that had not yet been public, something that could have been managed far differently in people‘s careers, not total and completely put in jeopardy, that you would hold a press conference and then display these tapes and continuously play them, make your city have a black eye, make it appear frankly as if your city and its police department is beyond anybody‘s control. I don‘t understand that.
DANIELS: Adriana, do you have any guesses why they did this? I can take a guess. Probably someone was going to go public with them. They wanted to beat this whole scandal from getting away with them. What do you think?
ADRIANA GARDELLA, “JUSTICE” MAGAZINE: Well, Lisa, as you and I know, these sort of tapes have a way of getting around. I mean, if you look at the celebrity sex tapes, I am sure that—I can‘t be sure, but it seems that what the mayor could have been trying to do is preempt what would have seemed even worse, if it were somehow leaked out, and again, these things do get leaked out.
DANIELS: Mayor, what would you have done ...
W. BROWN: Well, first of all—first of all ...
DANIELS: ... if you were in office right now, how would you have responded to this? What would you have done?
W. BROWN: Well, let me assure you, were I the mayor of San Francisco, and this matter came to my attention, I would call these people in and lay it on the line to them how much trouble they could get themselves into with these hijinks and this sophomoric type conduct. I would make sure that they understood that they were conveying an image that was unacceptable for them personally as well as for the citizens of this city. I would not have treated them ...
DANIELS: I can tell a though is coming up. Yes, go ahead.
W. BROWN: I would not have treated them as if they had been individuals that had stolen dope, individuals that had taken money, individuals that have beaten people up on the streets and done all those bad things. Yes, what they did was really stupid. They clearly ought to be in one manner or another appropriately instructed and disciplined, but I don‘t think handling it as a public spectacle is a good idea.
DANIELS: Adriana, I am looking at the videotape. I don‘t think it‘s very funny. I think if a 5-year-old did it, you know, perhaps it would be funny. These are people in positions of authority. What are they thinking? This is just stupidity to me.
GARDELLA: Yes, I mean, I think it‘s pretty clear that these people in this video are 100 percent guilty of being really, really dumb. And if I had been—you know, if I were a female police officer, would I have participated in something like this? Never.
And, you know, I am guessing that Police Chief Heather Fong, when she was coming up through the ranks, she wouldn‘t have either. So I don‘t think it‘s funny, but obviously the people who participated in it, they did, you know.
DANIELS: Let me just play devil‘s advocate, because one argument goes like this. Police officers, journalists, traders on the floor, they make off-color jokes all the time, especially this time of year when they make fun of their colleagues. You would think, mayor, this tape is being taken out of context? Is it truly racist? Is it racist.
W. BROWN: This tape is far—let me tell you. This tape is far out of context. I wouldn‘t accuse these people, based upon that tape, of being racist because there are a whole lot of blacks in that group. You know, if you take a look at those tapes, there are people from almost every walk of life, seemingly, in police uniforms.
I just think, as indicated by the other guests, that it was a dumb, dumb prank. It was a dumb way to entertain each other, and believe me, it holds them up, and it holds their whole character up for personal judgment. But it does not go to the whole issue of whether or not they are racist.
DANIELS: Adriana, is it racist?
GARDELLA: I can‘t see into the hearts and minds of these police officers. What I can say is that, you know, we are in this climate where there are so many nationally publicized incidents where police officers have behaved in a racist way and have treated female suspects—you know, molested them and been sexist.
And I think that these cops—I can see that what they may be thinking is they are going to play on those perceptions that are unfortunately pretty common among, you know, citizens.
A lot of people do look at police officers and expect this sort of thing from them, but, you know, for me to look into—try to imagine, are they racist or are they not, again, I think as Willie Brown said, when you have got men, women, blacks and whites participating, and you have got a police chief who is presumably an Asian woman, I think that undercuts the whole sexist or racist argument.
DANIELS: You know what? Let‘s refrain from even trying to get into what they were thinking to put that on tape. Mayor Willie Brown and Adriana Gardella, thanks so much.
GARDELLA: Thank you.
DANIELS: Appreciate your different viewpoints.
Still to come, caught on tape, the lunchtime brawl that led to the arrest of 30 students at one Texas school. And there is a Katrina connection.
And a little bit later, this week‘s SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY champion proves canine courage can go a long way in inspiring humans. Wait till you see how. Stay with us.
DANIELS: Dozens of students arrested facing charges in the lunchtime brawl you see right here. This latest fight is one of at least 13 reported out of Houston independent school district campuses this year between students from Louisiana and Houston. KPRC‘s Amy Barnett has the latest.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, it‘s like—it‘s crazy like, I never seen anything like it in my life.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was in the cafeteria, then it was in the hallway when we were walking to class. Then it was on a track.
AMY BARNETT, KPRC HOUSTON REPORTER (voice-over): Westbury (ph) High school students describe the fight that caused chaos inside the school and out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All I seen is everybody running outside.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am kind of surprised that the event even took place.
BARNETT: And this teacher, who we won‘t identify, calls it the worst school fight he has seen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was complete pandemonium. I mean, people running everywhere, people hitting everyone.
BARNETT: Students, parents, and school district officials tell us the problem is the hostility between Houston students and Katrina evacuees attending school here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, it‘s too much that we didn‘t ask for.
BARNETT: Robin Smith (ph) is from New Orleans and showed up to pick up her niece and was told she had to wait outside.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don‘t know if she all right. I don‘t know if she‘s breathing.
BARNETT: Once police had the fights under control, they arrested 27 students. This student faces charges for assaulting two police officers. Police are charging the others with engaging in a riot. Police say no weapons were involved, only fists.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One child got a laceration under the eye, and I am not aware of any other injuries.
BARNETT: But that‘s not comforting to Robin Smith, who says enough is enough.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Since she has been here, every other day is something with New Orleans-Houston.
DANIELS: And Carl‘s Jr. may love Paris in the springtime, but we found one man who sees Paris and says, ho, ho, ho. Drive by this Cranston, Rhode Island Christmas display, and you can see blown up images of Hilton, and strings of twinkling pink Christmas lights. But the display is so hot, that it has some neighbors wondering what he was thinking.
Now, he says he didn‘t want to offend anybody, just bring some of Hollywood to Rhode Island. I think he just likes blondes. We‘ll be right back with this week‘s SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY champion, plus “THE SITUATION” with Tucker Carlson just minutes away. Stick around.
DANIELS: And now it‘s time for our SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY champion. This week‘s NBC‘s Mark Potter introduces us to a very special pooch who proves that sometimes a stroke patient needs a little puppy love to recover.
MARK POTTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With places to go and people to see, Hans is on the move.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hans, look what Mimi‘s (ph) got.
POTTER: The 9-year-old dachshund has known hard times, a spinal injury crippling both hind legs, but his owner, nurse Anne Huber (ph), wouldn‘t let him down.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He had too much spunk, too much life in him just to let him go like that.
POTTER: Online, she found a company that made doggie wheelchairs. And Hans hasn‘t stopped since. In his own recovery, Hans has become an inspiration to others.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at that adorable dog. Look what he is able to do with his disability.
POTTER: And a rehabilitation center in Ormond Beach, Florida, where Ann Huber is a case manager, Hans also goes to work several times a week, playing a crucial role. Stroke patients actually use Hans in therapy, especially for their hands.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wish I had—my dog was as obedient as you are, sweetheart.
POTTER: Hans just eats it up, and the patients find hope in his always upbeat nature. Mark Potter, NBC News, Miami.
DANIELS: It‘s stories like that one that keep you going. Joe will be back Monday. “THE SITUATION” with Tucker Carlson starts right now.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.