CNN-National & Wolrd

Suspect in mass shooting at Orange, California, business complex knew the victims, police say

By Dakin Andone, Sarah Moon and Madeline Holcombe, CNN

The suspect who police say killed four people, including a 9-year-old boy, at an Orange, California, business complex Wednesday had professional and personal relationships with the victims, police said.

“The preliminary motive is believed to be related to a business and personal relationship which existed between the suspect and all of the victims,” Orange Police Department spokesperson Lt. Jennifer Amat said in a news conference Thursday.

“This was not a random act of violence,” she said.

Amat did not identify the victims, saying the notifications of next of kin had not been completed. Among the dead were two women, a man and the 9-year-old boy, she said.

The boy, who was found in the complex courtyard, is believed to be the son of one of the victims who worked at the business, Amat said. Amat said later Thursday investigators were working to confirm the relationship between the boy and any of the people at the scene.

A fifth victim, a woman, was found with the boy. She was taken to a local hospital, where she is in critical but stable condition, Amat said.

Police identified the suspect as 44-year-old Aminadab Gaxiola Gonzalez. He is also at a local hospital in critical but stable condition, Amat said.

CNN is working to determine whether Gonzalez is represented by an attorney who would comment on his behalf.

Amat said Thursday Gonzalez arrived at the complex in a rental car and parked it in a lot nearby. Gonzalez is believed to have been living in a motel room in Anaheim, Amat said.

Gates to the complex were locked from the inside, police say

There were initially five calls to 911, Amat said, with the first coming in at 5:34 p.m.

When officers arrived two minutes later, Amat said, shots were actively being fired inside the business complex.

The officers were at first unable to enter the building’s courtyard because its gates on both the north and south sides “had been locked from the inside,” Amat said, “using a bicycle-type cable lock.”

Two officers engaged the suspect, she said, and an “officer-involved shooting” occurred.

Police were then able to enter the courtyard and found the suspect, who was injured, and took him into custody. Police had earlier said it was unclear whether his injury was self-inflicted.

In the courtyard, police also found the boy and the adult woman who survived.

“It appears that a little boy died in his mother’s arms as she was trying to save him during this horrific massacre,” Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said at Thursday’s news conference, though he later added the exact nature of their relationship was still under investigation.

Officers found three other victims elsewhere in the complex, Amat said. One woman was upstairs on an outdoor landing, a man was found inside one office building, and another woman was found in a separate office building.

The suites where some victims were found belonged to a business identified as Unified Homes, Amat said, a real estate business specializing in mobile homes.

Investigators recovered a semi-automatic handgun and a backpack containing pepper spray, handcuffs and ammunition, which authorities believe belong to the suspect.

Orange is about 30 miles south of Los Angeles. The complex where the shooting occurred houses multiple businesses including Farmer’s Insurance, Calco Financial and Miller Counseling.

DA: Suspect eligible for death penalty

Authorities remained on scene Thursday to complete the investigation.

Spitzer said investigators from his office were at the scene of the shooting for two reasons: to investigate the mass shooting, as well as the officer-involved shooting aspect of the case, to ensure both objectivity and transparency.

Spitzer emphasized that the suspect is eligible for the death penalty under California law because there were multiple victims.

Prosecutors are also looking into whether the fact that the gates were locked constitutes “lying in wait,” Spitzer said, a special circumstance that would also make the suspect eligible for the death penalty.

Spitzer said that over the course of his tenure he had reviewed nearly 20 murder cases for whether to pursue the death penalty, but he has never filed one death case.

“Asking a jury to pass down a verdict of death is the most serious consequence we ask, and it’s the only consequence where a jury makes the decision as opposed to a judge,” he said.

California has a moratorium in effect for its death penalty, under an executive order signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in March 2019.

‘Horrifying and heartbreaking’

Paul Tovar told CNN affiliate KCBS/KCAL near the scene that he hadn’t heard from his brother or his niece, both of whom work in the building.

“I’m just trying to find out his well-being,” Tovar said. “He’s not answering his phone, neither is my niece. I’m pretty scared and worried. I wish I knew more.”

Tovar told CNN later Thursday morning he still had no news of his brother or his niece.

The FBI’s Los Angeles division confirmed to CNN it had responded to the shooting as a matter of routine, but the Orange Police Department is the lead investigative agency.

This is at least the 20th mass shooting since the Atlanta-area spa attacks two weeks ago that left eight people dead. CNN defines a mass shooting as a shooting incident that results in four or more casualties, dead or wounded, excluding the shooter.

“I can tell you that we haven’t had an incident like this in the city of Orange since 1997,” Amat said. “It’s just such a tragedy for the victims, their families, our community and our police department.”

News of the mass shooting drew immediate condemnation.

“Horrifying and heartbreaking. Our hearts are with the families impacted by this terrible tragedy tonight,” Newsom said in a tweet.

Rep. Katie Porter, a California Democrat who represents Orange County, said she and her staff are monitoring the situation.

“I’m deeply saddened by reports of a mass shooting in Orange County, and I’m continuing to keep victims and their loved ones in my thoughts as we continue to learn more,” Porter tweeted.

CNN’s Alexandra Meeks and Joe Sutton contributed to this report.


Manufacturing moonshot: How Pfizer makes its millions of Covid-19 vaccine doses

By Amanda Sealy, CNN

When the coronavirus pandemic began, the challenge for Pfizer and BioNTech wasn’t just developing a Covid-19 vaccine — they also had to make it, and by the hundreds of millions.

This was no small feat. Until the very end of last year, no mRNA vaccine had ever been authorized and no such vaccine had ever been manufactured to scale by any company.

Pfizer has now shipped more than 100 million doses to the US and it said this week it has successfully met its goal of 120 million doses released and ready for shipment by the end of March.

For Mike McDermott, Pfizer’s president of global supply, the mission is still more doses. Billions of them.

“Our goal has been running 24/7, make as many doses as possible. I actually don’t even have a production goal,” McDermott told CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta during an exclusive tour of its manufacturing facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in March. “Our goal is to produce as much as possible to get to 2 billion doses this year as soon as possible.”

Pfizer/BioNTech’s global goal is 2.5 billion doses by the end of the year.

Big gamble

Pfizer met its first milestones with substantial upfront investment, and it had no guarantees.

Pfizer was part of Operation Warp Speed as a potential supplier for Covid-19 vaccines and had a purchase agreement for an initial 100 million doses. However, the company didn’t receive federal funding for the research or development of the vaccine.

So while Pfizer could repurpose some of its equipment at its main manufacturing site in Kalamazoo, most of what’s there now didn’t exist a year ago.

“Pfizer has spent at risk, almost $2 billion on the overall program. From manufacturing, my team spent $500 million, before we even got out of clinical trials. So all completely at risk. We didn’t know if we had a product that was going to work,” said McDermott.

Before Pfizer decided on its final vaccine candidate, it was looking into four different options. That meant McDermott and his team had to be ready to go in any direction.

“I think about like, we’re going to have dinner tonight, and we need to get dessert ready, but I don’t know what dessert we’re having. So you just start buying ingredients,” he said. “Maybe we’re making a cake, maybe we’re making brownies. Let’s bring in the standard materials that we need. So filling up this pantry was quite, quite expensive.”

One of the biggest rate-limiting steps of this production, according to McDermott, has been the availability of raw materials and specifically lipids, the fatty substance that safely houses the mRNA until it can get to our cells.

“Lipid nanoparticle hasn’t been used in a large commercial product. So the lipid suppliers weren’t very large. And so we work very closely with them to build more lipids capacity, and actually making lipids in this site in Kalamazoo, Michigan,” said McDermott.

The heart of mRNA

Pfizer/BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine can simply be described as mRNA housed in a lipid coating, but the successful production of that by the millions all came down to a something the size of a quarter.

The heart of this whole machine is what’s called an impingement jet mixer,” said McDermott as he is twirled it around his fingers.

The impingement jet mixer, also known as the tea stirrer, works by simply pumping lipids in one side and mRNA in the other, forcing them together with 400 pounds of pressure. That’s what creates the lipid nanoparticle which is essentially the vaccine.

These aren’t just any lipids, Pfizer/BioNTech had to design the right combination of four different lipids that would not only protect the mRNA on the way to cells, but then release the mRNA once it gets there.

While the process of creating lipid nanoparticles is not new, McDermott said the challenge was scaling up this process.

“The first time somebody showed me this impingement jet mixer, I said, ‘You can’t be serious?’ Like how could you put billions of doses through here? So my confidence level was actually quite low. Not that it could be done, I knew it worked at this scale, but how could you multiply it?”

McDermott’s first thought was to go bigger, make a large-scale tea stirrer to allow more volume to pass through. When that didn’t work, they ended up replicating the quarter-sized mixers and put technology in place to ensure efficiency in order to scale up production.

“There’s a computer system that’s running the whole apparatus that makes sure you have the precise amount of flow and pressure. And that allowed us to get more production out. Even though this size is small, we were able to really scale this up our original design for this machine. We’re currently operating at four times the capacity.”

Make it modular

Part of what has allowed Pfizer to continue to make room for these new formulation suites has been its strategy of using prefabricated construction.

In its 1,300-acre foot Kalamazoo facility, Pfizer is installing around 13,000 square feet of modular rooms that are first built in Texas and then shipped to Kalamazoo.

“We’ve had planned to expand our formulation capacity. The question was, how can we do it quickly? If we built it wall by wall on site, it would have taken us a year. By doing it modularly, we could cut that in half,” says McDermott.

Moving each room into place is surprisingly easy. With the help of compressed air — think of an air hockey table — you can simply slide them into place. Then the rooms are ready to be connected to electricity, sterilized and put to use.

With each of these improvements, Pfizer says it has gone from producing 3 to 4 million doses of vaccine a week to 13 million doses a week. They company expects to double that again by the middle of the year. That will mean roughly 100 million doses a month and the ability to hit its goal of 300 million total doses delivered to the US government by July.

What’s next

McDermott says the last 12 months have been “like nothing I’ve ever experienced in my career.”

“As a kid, my dad worked for NASA,” McDermott said. “He was lucky enough to be in mission control in Houston when Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon right at that amazing moment.

“I could never imagine having a moment like that in my life. Right? Like, what’s the odds that something like that would ever happen again?”

Then came December 13, 2020 — the day the United States’ first coronavirus vaccine, the first step to end the pandemic, left the facility.

“The day we shipped the first doses out of this site, it rushed over me like that was that was my moment,” McDermott said. “That was our moonshot.”

But McDermott says vaccine supply is always on his mind, and they have to prepare for the future — and that means coronavirus variants.

Although there is no evidence people immunized with Pfizer’s vaccine will be less protected against the current variants, the company has started testing a third dose of its current vaccine.

Pfizer and BioNTech say they are also in ongoing discussions with regulators about potentially testing a vaccine modified to protect against concerning variants in a Phase 1/2 study.

The company’s next giant leap is to be ready to get it to patients, if necessary.

Pfizer’s goal, McDermott says: To be able to develop a new variant-specific vaccine, get it through production and get it to patients within a matter of months.


‘Real Housewives’ star Jen Shah’s virtual court hearing experiences technical issues after more than 250 people called in

By Amanda Jackson, Evan Simko-Bednarski and Amir Vera, CNN

Reality TV star Jen Shah of “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” was unable to participate in her own court arraignment on Wednesday due to technical issues caused by more than 250 people calling in to the virtual hearing.

Shah and her assistant, Stuart Smith, were arrested and charged on Tuesday in connection with a telemarketing scheme that defrauded hundreds of people, many of whom are over the age of 55, according to a superseding indictment that was unsealed this week.

They have been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, the release said.

The 47-year-old reality TV star was set to virtually appear before Judge Sidney Stein, with the US District Court, for a planned arraignment on Wednesday. But a series of technical issues and an overloaded conference call line caused the hearing to be postponed.

During the hearing, some ignored the judge’s repeated request asking everyone to mute their lines. At one point, according to CNN affiliate KSTU reporter Ben Winslow, someone could be heard saying. “I’m on for the Housewives trial” and another person chiming in “Do you watch Bravo?”

Both Shah and her lawyer, Clayton Simms, had technical issues with the video conference. They were told by the judge to call into the conference bridge — but Simms said Shah was unable to connect to the call because a limit for the meeting was already reached.

Stein ultimately adjourned the proceedings due to technical difficulties making it impossible for Shah to participate in her own hearing. He rescheduled the arraignment for Friday.

On Tuesday, Shah and Smith, 43, were released from federal custody after appearing before US Judge Dustin Pead in Salt Lake City federal court, according to a a news release from the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

Prosecutors did not ask for either of them to remain in custody, and Judge Pead ordered them released without bond. The terms of the release include prohibiting the pair from engaging in telemarketing while their case is pending. They also are not allowed to move more than $10,000 out of their personal accounts without the permission of prosecutors.

Shah and Smith were ordered to remain in Utah.

CNN reached out to both Shah and Smith’s attorneys for comment but have not received a response. Bravo has declined to comment.

An alleged nine-year scheme

The charges stem from a nine-year scheme in which prosecutors say Shah and Smith “sold alleged services purporting to make the management of victims’ businesses more efficient or profitable.” These services included tax preparation and website design services, though many of their elderly victims did not own a computer, the release said.

Part of the scheme also included Shah and Smith allegedly trafficking lists of potential victims, called “leads.” Many of the victims had already previously made an initial investment to create an online business with other participants in the scheme, the release said.

Shah and Smith also “undertook significant efforts” to hide their role in the scheme. Part of these efforts included incorporating their business entities using third-party names and telling other participants to do the same.

The duo also directed others to use encrypted messaging applications to communicate with other members of the scheme, instructed them to send shares of certain fraudulent proceeds to offshore bank accounts and “made numerous cash withdrawals structured to avoid currency transaction reporting requirements.”

“Shah and Smith flaunted their lavish lifestyle to the public as a symbol of their ‘success.’ In reality, they allegedly built their opulent lifestyle at the expense of vulnerable, often elderly, working-class people,” said Peter C. Fitzhugh, special agent-in-charge of the New York Field Office of Homeland Security Investigations.

The first season of “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” debuted in November 2020.

Shah is described by Bravo as “the queen of her house and her businesses.” During the show’s reunion episode in February, Bravo host Andy Cohen asked Shah to clarify what she does for a living.

“My background is in direct response marketing for about 20 years, so our company does advertising,” she said in response. “We have a platform that helps people acquire customers, so when you’re shopping online or on the Internet, and something pops, we have the algorithm behind why you’re getting served that ad.”

CNN’s Andy Rose and Laura Ly contributed to this report.


Microsoft earns contract worth up to $21.9 billion to make AR devices for the US Army

By Clare Duffy, CNN Business

Microsoft has scored another major government contract, this time to produce augmented reality devices for the US Army.

The Army announced Wednesday that it had awarded Microsoft a contract to produce augmented reality systems based on its HoloLens 2 device called Integrated Visual Augmented Systems (IVAS). The devices are designed to help soldiers, “fight, rehearse and train using a single platform,” the Army said.

The deal has a five-year base and a five-year option to extend, and could be worth up to almost $21.9 billion over the full 10 years. The Army’s initial objective is to provide systems for its entire Close Combat Force (CCF), which will mean making more than 120,000 devices, Microsoft said.

The contract is a continuation of existing work on the devices that Microsoft has done for the US Army. In 2018, the tech giant was awarded a $479 million contract to create prototypes of the devices, and the new agreement announced Wednesday will take them into production and into the field.

Microsoft worked closely with the Army to create the devices and software that goes with them, which are designed to provide soldiers in the Close Combat Force with “improved situational awareness, target engagement, and informed decision-making necessary to achieve overmatch against current and future adversaries,” the Army said.

“We appreciate the partnership with the U.S. Army, and are thankful for their continued trust in transitioning IVAS from rapid prototyping to rapid fielding,” Microsoft said in a blog post. “We look forward to building on this successful partnership with the men and women of the U.S. Army Close Combat Force.”

This is just the latest large military contract Microsoft has received. In 2019, Microsoft was granted a $10 billion contract to supply cloud services to the Department of Defense (though its rival, Amazon, is still waging a legal contest against that decision).

Microsoft has faced some criticism from employees related to its work on the HoloLens project for the Army, but CEO Satya Nadella defended it, saying the company would not “withhold technology from institutions that we have elected in democracies to protect the freedoms we enjoy.”

Wall Street, however, will likely approve. In addition to deepening its relationship with the US Department of Defense, the deal demonstrates the opportunity for Microsoft to monetize its AR and HoloLens technology, Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said in a note to investors Wednesday.

Ultimately, Microsoft could “expand the use cases across the enterprise (R&D, healthcare) and consumer landscape especially with price points expected to come down over the coming year,” Ives said.

Microsoft’s stock spiked following the announcement, and ended Wednesday up more than 1.5%.


Top US national security officials call counterparts as Russia and Ukraine tensions rise

By Oren Liebermann and Barbara Starr, CNN

Top US national security officials have spoken with their Ukrainian counterparts, and America’s top general held a call Wednesday with his Russian opposite number amid concern over Russian military activity in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, including what the US deemed a violation of a ceasefire by Moscow that led to the deaths of four Ukrainian soldiers last week.

“Russia’s destabilizing actions undermine the de-escalation intentions that had been achieved through [last year’s agreement],” chief Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday. “Additionally, we are aware of Ukrainian military reports concerning Russian troop movements on Ukraine’s borders.”

Secretary of State Tony Blinken reaffirmed the “unwavering support” of the United States for Ukraine’s territorial integrity in the face of “Russia’s ongoing aggression in the Donbas and Crimea,” according to a readout of his call with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba Wednesday. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley also spoke to the top Ukrainian general Wednesday, while national security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart at the beginning of the week.

The Pentagon had grown increasingly concerned after military intelligence reports assessed that some 4,000 heavily armed Russian forces had been observed moving in Crimea, according to a US defense official. “It was not totally clear what they were up to,” the official said, adding that the US now believes on further assessment it may have been part of a Russian military exercise. Part of that assessment was based on calls with Ukrainian officials who also viewed the Russian activity as an exercise.

If so, the movement of so many Russian military personnel was a large exercise and may be a deliberate message from the Kremlin to the Biden administration about Russia’s strength in the region and its ability to challenge US allies, the official said.

This comes as NATO countries on Monday scrambled jets 10 times to track an unusually high level of Russian military flights over a large area of Europe including the North Sea, the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea. NATO jets wound up conducting six intercepts in a six-hour period.

The Biden administration is taking a tougher approach to Russia, and Ukraine is only the latest source of tension between the two adversaries. The White House unveiled a raft of sanctions against Russian officials and entities at the beginning of the month over the poisoning of opposition leader Alexey Navalny. President Joe Biden then warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin would “pay a price” for his efforts to undermine the 2020 US elections and went on to call Putin a “killer.” Meanwhile, the administration is expected to impose more sanctions on Russia over election interference and the SolarWinds cyberattack.

On Wednesday, Milley spoke with his Russian counterpart, Gen. Valery Gerasimov. While the topics the two generals discussed have not been made public, behind the scenes the Defense Department has been concerned for the last several days about the build-up of Russian troops and equipment along the Ukraine border. The Defense Department recently raised the so-called “watch condition level” on that region to gather updated intelligence assessments on Russian activity and intentions, while monitoring any potential threats. The New York Times was first to report that development.

Russia blamed Ukraine for renewed fighting in eastern Ukraine. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said this week that Russia was concerned about “Ukraine’s provocations,” but he said he hoped it would not escalate to fighting.

But Ukraine warned of a series of Russian violations of the ceasefire, including two incidents of mortar fire and large-caliber machine gun fire that led to the death of the four Ukrainian soldiers last Friday. On Tuesday, Ukraine accused Russia of violating the ceasefire seven times, prompting the country’s parliament to call for an increase in political and economic pressure on Moscow.

CNN-National & Wolrd

Brown University undergraduates vote for reparations for descendants of enslaved people

By Lauren M. Johnson, CNN

Over a decade ago, Brown University released a report with findings on its ties to slavery, and now undergraduate students have voted in support of reparations for descendants of enslaved people.

The vote comes at the recommendation of Undergraduate Council of Students (UCS) President Jason Carroll, who is himself a descendant on both sides.

Carroll told CNN he wrote a referendum to call upon the university to take action on the earlier report and used the document to manifest two questions that were voted on by the underclassman.

Report finds direct connections to slavery

The report, released in 2006, was commissioned in 2003 by Brown’s first black president, Ruth J. Simmons, to look into the university’s ties to slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. In the final report, it was established that members of the school’s namesake Brown family took part in the slave trade, made many trips to Africa to enslave people in the West Indies and in the US, and owned slaves.

Carroll said that he had been thinking about report, and the subject, for a while and finally decided to bring it to vote in the UCS due to the “renewed attention of anti-Blackness here in the US.”

“We have a whole new direction as a nation, a whole new understanding of Black advocacy. I think before this past summer saying you support Black Lives Matter was honestly somewhat controversial,” Carroll said. “It wasn’t until the murder of Mr. Floyd and the protests last summer that it became something that was mainstream enough that universities like Brown would say it.”

Over 2,000 students wanted their voice heard

The vote called for preferential enrollment for individuals identified as directly tied to descendants of enslaved people and direct commitment of money to them, as well. For specific communities found to have direct ties to the slave trade, the vote asked for targeted investment, engagement efforts, recruitment in high schools with large Black student populations, and relationships and partnerships with colleges and universities near descendent communities, such as in southern states.

A total of 2,024 students voted when the final tally was taken Friday, and over 80% voted in support of reparations for descendants.

“The university gets to make up its own mind when it comes to the student body… but what’s important is getting the word out that the vast majority of students did approve of something. The ball is in the university’s court now,” Carroll said. “It’s really an expression of student sentiment.”

Carroll, a senior, said the richness of what Brown’s history can mean for communities affected by the slave trade and directly tied to the university. The vote on his referendum also called for more identification of those directly affected by the Brown family’s actions.

University acknowledges problematic history

Carroll agreed that the vote provides accountability for statements the university has made and the action the students want to see.

“We can say what we want, but if aren’t willing to address the fact that Brown as a university has directly benefited from and participated in institutions it is now trying to unravel — that’s disingenuous,” he said. “I don’t think we can say we are trying to address any issue if we are largely ignoring the fact that we created that issue.”

The co-presidents of Brown’s Black Student Union, Lauren Wilson and Daneva Moncrieffe, echoed Carroll’s sentiments to CNN.

“Although we can’t all go back and change the past, both private and public institutions in the US have the opportunity and responsibility to reconcile the unaccounted for and unpaid labor that gave them their power by giving back to the communities they’ve helped marginalize,” Wilson said.

She continued with some examples for Brown, like encouraging more scholarships for Black students.

“Reparations to descendants of enslaved people is just one of many actions that Brown, a university occupying Narragansett and Wampanoag lands, can do to rectify the harm that it has done to vulnerable populations,” Moncrieffe said. “(The vote) also gives students at other institutions tied to the slave trade the platform to demand reparations and to address silenced histories.”

The university acknowledges the problematic past, and a school spokesman told CNN in a statement that it has been working to address it since the report’s release.

“Confronting questions of reparations and institutional reckoning with connections to the transatlantic slave trade has a deep history at Brown,” university spokesman Brian Clark said.

“The university interrogated this issue as a full community from 2003 to 2006, and Brown committed to a series of actions whose impact persists in our education, research, engagement with historically underrepresented groups and ongoing work in diversity, equity and inclusion. The current work of Brown’s Task Force on Anti-Black Racism will make recommendations on more Brown can do to address the legacy of slavery.”

Other universities have followed the same path

Georgetown University voted in 2019 to institute a reparations fund for the descendants of slaves who were sold.

A group known as the GU272 Advocacy Team has pushed through student government a bill that would create a new $27.20 fee every semester for all Georgetown undergraduates. The fee would go toward a reconciliation fund, which would be overseen by a board of students and descendants of the 272 slaves sold in 1838.

They estimate the fund would generate more than $400,000 a year and would “be allocated for charitable purposes directly benefiting the descendants of the GU272 and other persons once enslaved by the Maryland Jesuits,” according to the bill.

On March 16, the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the US, instrumental in founding Georgetown, pledged $100 million toward a $1 billion goal, money that will, in part, support descendants’ education.


Justice Department charges Capitol rioter who allegedly tased and assaulted officer with flagpole

By Hannah Rabinowitz, Whitney Wild, Marshall Cohen and Caroline Kelly, CNN

The Justice Department has charged a Capitol rioter who allegedly tased DC Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone, who later spoke out about how he pleaded with the pro-Trump mob to spare his life.

In court documents unsealed Wednesday, federal prosecutors said Daniel Rodriguez used an “electroshock weapon” and a flagpole to assault an officer named “M.F.” from Washington DC’s Metropolitan Police Department. A law enforcement source confirmed to CNN that the initials are a reference to Fanone.

Fanone has previously said he was tased several times in the neck, beaten with a flagpole and heard rioters screaming that they should “kill him with his own gun,” while they tried to pull his weapon out of its holster. Fanone said he begged the pro-Trump mob to spare him, and that he suffered a heart attack from the Taser.

Rodriguez was indicted on eight charges stemming from the Capitol insurrection including assaulting an officer, theft of government property and disorderly conduct on the US Capitol grounds with a deadly or dangerous weapon. A lawyer for Rodriguez is not listed in the public court docket, and he has not yet entered a plea.

Prosecutors have charged at least one other person who was allegedly involved in the assault on Fanone. Prosecutors said Thomas Sibick was seen on police body-camera footage assaulting Fanone while he lay on the ground outside the Capitol during the riot. During the brawl outside the Capitol, Sibick allegedly grabbed Fanone’s badge and radio, and he later posted a photo of himself holding a police shield on Facebook, court filings said.

More than 345 people have been charged so far in connection to the Capitol insurrection, including dozens who are accused of violent attacks on law enforcement. About 140 police officers sustained injuries during the riot.

The details surrounding the arrests draw a stark contrast to how former President Donald Trump has sought to characterize the insurrection he helped incite.

The former President falsely claimed in an interview with Fox News last week that the pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol earlier this year in an attack that left five dead, including a police officer, posed “zero threat.” He also claimed that some of the rioters “went in, and they are hugging and kissing the police and the guards.”

Terry Fanone, the officer’s mother, told CNN’s Don Lemon on “CNN Tonight” Monday that when she thinks about Trump’s recent comments, “What goes through my mind is really outrage.”

“For us, for our family, and for each and every police officer that I know that Michael’s in touch with constantly, it’s outrageous. It’s so dehumanizing. It’s so devaluing,” she said.

In addition to the heart attack, Fanone suffered a concussion on January 6 and is now dealing with a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.

This story has been updated with additional background.

CNN’s Mary Kay Mallonee and Devan Cole contributed to this report.


Quality issue at Baltimore vaccine plant delays some of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine

By Jen Christensen, CNN

Drugmaker Johnson & Johnson said Wednesday it had found a quality problem at a Baltimore plant helping manufacture its single-dose coronavirus vaccine under contract.

The New York Times reported Wednesday. that workers at Emergent BioSolutions, the Baltimore plant that has been making Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine, accidentally mixed up some of the ingredients, ruining as many as 15 million potential doses of vaccine and delaying US Food and Drug Administration authorization of the plant.

Emergent is also making the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has yet to be authorized for use in this country.

Johnson & Johnson said in a statement to CNN Wednesday that the quality control process at the plant identified “one batch” of drug substance that did not meet quality standards. The batch in question was part of a test run and quality check. The site is not yet authorized by the FDA to make the drug substance used in the vaccine.

“This batch was never advanced to the filling and finishing stages of our manufacturing process,” the emailed statement from the company said.

None of the lost doses impact the company’s goal of delivering 20 million Covid-19 vaccine doses in March. For that, the company said Wednesday, it is on track. Those doses come from J&J’s Janssen vaccine plant in the Netherlands.

“This is an example of the rigorous quality control applied to each batch of drug substance. The issue was identified and addressed with Emergent and shared with the United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA),” the statement said.

“Quality and safety continue to be our top priority. Therefore, as we continue to work with FDA and Emergent toward the Emergency Use Authorization of the Emergent Bayview Facility, Johnson & Johnson is providing additional experts in manufacturing, technical operations and quality to be on-site at Emergent to supervise, direct and support all manufacturing of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. In coordination with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, these steps will enable us to safely deliver an additional 24 million single-shot vaccine doses through April.”

The FDA told CNN it is “aware of the situation, but we are unable to comment further” and referred CNN back to J&J. The manufacturer, Emergent, also referred CNN back to J&J.

Emergent manufactures the vaccines at its plant, then ships the material to other plants for what’s known as fill and finish — the process of putting the vaccine into vials and completing the packaging.

On Wednesday evening, Biden administration officials stressed that the quality issue with Johnson & Johnson’s Baltimore manufacturing plant won’t affect the president’s ultimate goal of making vaccines available to all Americans by May.

The White House says J&J has told them to still expect 24 million doses of their vaccine for next month — though officials cautioned this depends on J&J, given questions about their production timelines.

Officials were frustrated by what has happened over the last 24 hours, but emphasized it has not affected any of the J&J vaccines administered in the U.S. How this affects the authorization for the Emergent plant’s production lines also remains to be seen.

Last week, the Biden administration expressed some doubts the company could meet its self-imposed deadline, but by Friday, the administration seemed more confident that J&J would meet its goal, as White House coronavirus coordinator Jeffrey Zients said, “they appear on track to meet that goal with at least 11 million doses delivered next week.”

The FDA authorized J&J’s single-dose Covid-19 vaccine in late February, but the company had struggled to ramp up production and failed to meet earlier production timelines that had been laid out in its contract with the federal government.

The Biden administration has worked with all three authorized vaccine manufacturers to ramp up the supply of the Covid-19 vaccines. President Joe Biden used the Defense Production Act to acquire new materials and equipment, and brokered a rare partnership between J&J and pharmaceutical rival Merck & Co., to make more vaccines. That vaccine supply won’t be available until later in the year.

In February, J&J also said it had been working to expand its own manufacturing capacity and was expanding the number of third-party vaccine manufacturers with which it was working.

CNN’s Betsy Klein and Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report

CNN-National & Wolrd

A teacher resigned after her racist rant stereotyping Black families during a Zoom call was recorded by a parent

By Alisha Ebrahimji, CNN

After a Zoom call with a student and his mother, a California teacher who thought the call had ended was recorded saying her student has learned to lie and make excuses, calling the parents “pieces of sh*t” and saying “this is what Black people do,” according to the mother’s attorneys.

Now, the mother from the parent-teacher call, Katura Stokes, has sent a pre-suit claim — a precursor to a lawsuit — to the school district for monetary compensation for emotional distress, defamation, negligence and discrimination, according to Stokes’ attorneys and a copy of the claim provided to CNN.

Stokes’ sixth grader had struggled since his school transitioned to online learning last year at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, her attorneys say.

Stokes reached out to school officials at Desert Willow Fine Arts, Science and Technology Magnet Academy in Palmdale, California, — 37 miles north of Los Angeles — to get some help, according to a news release from Taylor & Ring, the law firm representing Stokes.

The teacher scheduled a Zoom call for January 20 with Stokes and her son, who is not named, and worked through recent assignments with him, according to the pre-trial claim. By the end of the call, the teacher assured him that he was caught up, the claim says.

“Given her son’s struggles Ms. Stokes was very pleased to hear this,” the claim says.

After the video conference, the teacher didn’t end the Zoom call and made comments to someone else in the video, which caught Stokes’ attention, the news release says. It prompted Stokes to record what she and her son heard for almost 30 minutes, it says, because she couldn’t believe what she was hearing and thought no one would believe her otherwise.

“This is heinous,” David Garcia, spokesperson for the Palmdale School District, told CNN. “This a hideous event and the Palmdale School District will not stomach any racial behavior, whether it’s caught on tape or not.”

The school district has not named the teacher, however the pre-suit notice of claim identifies her as Kimberly Newman, the son’s sixth grade science teacher. Garcia said the district has not received the formal pre-suit claim as of Wednesday morning.

CNN has reached out to the teacher’s attorney but has not heard back.

Stokes and her attorneys filed the pre-suit claim “in an effort to shed light on an educational system and district that creates unequal educational experiences for its minority students,” according to the news release.

“The horrible comments the teacher made in the video are truly heartbreaking for a mother to hear and for her young son to hear,” John C. Taylor, one of Stokes’ attorneys, said. “It’s unthinkable that an educator would mock and belittle this family, and there is no doubt that this incident has scarred them. All children are entitled to receive an educational experience free of discrimination and this video has demonstrated what minority students often face behind the scenes today.”

CNN has reached out to Stokes, but Taylor said she’s declining to comment further at this time.

What videos show

In a series of five blurred clips ranging in length, provided by Stokes’ attorneys, the teacher can be heard explaining the interaction between her and Stokes to a man off camera. It’s unclear what happened before or after the video clips provided by Stokes’ attorney.

In the videos, the teacher talks about having difficulty reaching her students’ parents, calling multiple times with no response, though the teacher never mentions Stokes by name.

“These parents are such f**king liars,” the teacher says on one video.

“I mean these parents — that’s what kind of pieces of sh*t they are. Black. She’s Black. They’re a Black family,” she says in another clip.

“Your son has learned to lie to everybody and make excuses,” the teacher says in a video.

“Are you serious?” Stokes can be heard whispering to herself as she listens.

“To be entitled, because you taught him to make excuses that nothing is his fault,” the teacher continues to say. “This is what Black people do. This is what Black people do. White people do it too but Black people do it way more.”

Stokes called the principal of Desert Willow Fine Arts, Science and Technology Magnet Academy while the teacher was still talking openly on Zoom, and the principal then told the teacher her audio and video was on, according to Garcia.

“This is something we took very seriously and within minutes placed the teacher on paid administrative leave as part of a process involved with such a situation and within days was no longer employed with the district,” he said.

When the school set up an interview to begin investigating the incident the next day, “the teacher made a statement that they’d rather resign than go through this and marched out the door,” Garcia said.

Two days later, Garcia said, she submitted her resignation.

“This video clearly shows that unequal educational experiences for minority students exist,” Neil Gehlawat, another attorney for Stokes, said. “Like many parents whose children have struggled to transition to online schooling during the pandemic, Ms. Stokes reached out for help — and in return, she discovered that her son was being treated unfairly because of the color of his skin.”


Experts predicted the UK variant would become dominant in the US by March. So, is it?

By Michael Nedelman and Christopher Rios, CNN

Mounting evidence suggests the more contagious coronavirus variant first identified in the UK, which experts believe is partly driving an uptick of cases in places like Michigan, may already be dominant across the US.

“I think we are there,” said William Lee, vice president of science at Helix, a company whose tests have identified a large share of variant cases across the country. “But at the end of the day, it’s hard to say for sure,” given gaps and delays in the data.

Lee is one of the authors of a study published Tuesday in the journal Cell estimating that the variant, known as B.1.1.7, would cause the majority of Covid-19 cases in the US by March 19.

According to that study, B.1.1.7 cases are expected to double every week and a half as a percentage of the country’s total coronavirus cases. The study also concluded the variant was introduced several different times to the US, as early as late November. The study’s conclusions were based on testing data through February.

Lee said that there’s strong evidence the variant is already responsible for a majority of cases in states like Florida, Michigan and Georgia — with a number of others close on their heels, including Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Texas and Southern California. However, Helix’s data do not include robust samples from a number of other states, particularly in the Northeast and Midwest regions.

Notably, the study’s estimates of when B.1.1.7 would become dominant in certain individual states skewed earlier than what ultimately happened, based on CNN’s review of later data from Helix that wasn’t included in the study. Lee said the rapid rollout of vaccinations may have contributed to this, though it wasn’t accounted for in the study.

‘Starting to become the predominant variant’

While officials with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention won’t yet say whether the variant is dominant, its own scientists previously predicted this would be the case by now.

In January, a CDC study predicted that the variant would exhibit “rapid growth in early 2021, becoming the predominant variant in March.” At the time, the variant was assumed to account for less than 0.5% of cases.

In mid-March, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a briefing, “Our current models still project, by the end of March, early April, B.1.1.7 will be the dominant variant.”

“B.1.1.7, we know from our most recent data, is about 26% of circulating virus right now,” Walensky said at another briefing Wednesday. This appears to be based on preliminary data of samples collected in the two weeks leading up to March 13, according to CDC’s website. “It is starting to become the predominant variant in many US regions,” she added.

That would mean nearly two doubling periods may have passed since then, which could put that number well over 50%. However, it is unclear to what extent these numbers might be influenced by the fact that B.1.1.7 is easier to find than other variants, because of a glitch that shows up on certain PCR tests for Covid-19.

A CDC spokesperson told CNN Wednesday that “national prevalence estimates are inherently delayed by a few weeks.” While the present-day picture of the variant is “unclear,” they said the agency expects to share its projections “in the near future,” based on mathematical modeling that’s currently underway.

Nearly 12,000 cases of the variant have been identified in 49 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, DC, per CDC. The agency says this does not represent the total number of such cases circulating in the US, but rather just those that have been found by analyzing positive samples.

Florida and Michigan lead the country in these raw numbers. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told CNN Wednesday that one of the reasons for the state’s surge is that “we’ve got a high proportion of variants, and that means coronavirus spreads faster.”

Overall, a majority of states are seeing cases rise from week to week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Cases in Michigan are up more than 50%, and cases in Florida are up 12%.