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News Brief: Capitol Security Hearing, N.Y. Grand Jury, Vaccine Line Jumpers

NOEL KING, HOST:

Was the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol the fault of a failure of intelligence or of a failure to act?

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Speaking to a Senate panel yesterday, former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund defended his department.

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STEVEN SUND: A clear lack of accurate and complete intelligence across several federal agencies contributed to this event and not poor planning by the United States Capitol Police.

MARTIN: Sund's testimony was part of the first public hearing on the events of January 6. Four people testified; all were in charge of security at the Capitol on that day. Former House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving and former Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger took questions, as did the acting chief of the Washington, D.C., police force, Robert Contee.

KING: NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales has been following this story. Good morning, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: How did these four men recount that day?

GRISALES: They all believe the insurrection was premeditated and that white supremacist groups played a key role. And as we just heard Stephen Sund say, they all blamed intelligence failures for leaving the Capitol Police blindsided. It's worth noting the FBI office in Norfolk, Va., shared information the night before, suggesting there could be violence against lawmakers. But these top law enforcement officials said they didn't see it. There's also a discrepancy in the accounts shared by Sund and former House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving. They disagree over when and how the National Guard was requested to help. Sund said yesterday he called Irving at 1:09 p.m. that day to request the National Guard, but Irving said he never got the call. Senator Roy Blunt asked Irving about this. Let's take a listen.

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ROY BLUNT: Why would it take an hour to approve National Guard assistance on your part in that moment of crisis, Mr. Irving?

PAUL IRVING: Senator, from my recollection, I did not receive a request for approval for National Guard until shortly after 2 p.m.

GRISALES: So lawmakers are pressing for more information, such as phone records. Ultimately, the Guard did not arrive until hours later that day.

KING: OK. So you have these four men who agree on some things, who disagree on other things. And then last night after the hearing, the Capitol Police union had something to say.

GRISALES: Yes, they issued a statement last night pointing out these contradicting accounts. They said the root cause of the January 6 attack was, quote, "a failure of leadership" and that, quote, "senators saw the dysfunction on display." The union also said it credits Sund, Stenger and Irving for, quote, "having the decency to resign," a move Sund at least now says he regrets making because he does not feel the Capitol Police did anything wrong. The union has also called on the acting chief - this is Yogananda Pittman - and her entire leadership to be replaced because they say they were also at the helm that day and part of these security failures, and they want a clean slate.

KING: OK. So there's a lot of blame flying around. After the hearing, did lawmakers say there are specific things that need to be changed so this doesn't happen again?

GRISALES: Yes, one big area could be reforms to the Capitol Police Board. This is a four-member board made up of the two sergeant-of-arms, the member of the Architect of the Capitol and the chief of Capitol Police. Rules Committee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar said it's not structured to deal with the crisis like the one we saw last month. And she also said there may need to be physical changes to the Capitol. And Homeland Security Committee Chairman Gary Peters said there's a larger concern here of addressing domestic terrorism, such as white supremacy extremism, in a new way. But this is just the beginning. And a second hearing is planned next week with federal officials on these failures.

KING: NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales. Thanks, Claudia.

GRISALES: Thank you much.

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KING: All right. A grand jury says no charges will be filed against Rochester police officers involved in Daniel Prude's death.

MARTIN: Prude, you'll remember, was a 41-year-old Black man. He was having a mental health crisis in March of last year and his brother called police to get him help. Police then found Prude naked in the street and handcuffed him. Then they put a mesh hood over his head and pinned him to the ground. He later died. The details of his arrest weren't known until body camera footage was published in September. And then protests erupted in New York and elsewhere. A medical examiner ruled that Prude's death was a homicide.

KING: NPR reporter Liz Baker was in Rochester last night covering all this. Good morning, Liz.

LIZ BAKER, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: OK, so this grand jury was convened by New York's attorney general, Letitia James. When she made the announcement that there would be no charges, did she say why not?

BAKER: No, she didn't. She said the decision was up to the judge and that she was disappointed in the outcome.

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LETITIA JAMES: The system too often allows officers to use deadly force unnecessarily and without consequence. And that is a system that, at its core, is broken.

BAKER: James said she'll release the grand jury minutes. She also says her office will investigate the Rochester PD's use of spit hoods. Police put a hood over Prude's head after they say he spit at them. And, Noel, James also says she's looking into this other case that happened a few weeks ago when officers handcuffed and pepper-sprayed a 9-year-old girl, which is just one more instance recently that's got residents here so fed up that some are calling for the abolition of the police force entirely.

KING: Back in the fall, there were protests, there were big protests. What happened in Rochester last night?

BAKER: Well, there was a protest. There was a march, and it was peaceful, unlike some of the protests last year. But there were still some tense moments. Police and protesters faced off a few times, but there were no rubber bullets or tear gas. And everyone there I asked told me they never really had any hope for a conviction, that this is just another example to add to a long list of grievances they have against the Rochester Police Department and local leaders. Here's protester Anthony Hall.

ANTHONY HALL: This shows us not only does a Black woman as the AG, attorney general, have no power...

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Come on. Come on. Come on.

HALL: ...This shows us that a system, an institution, jurors, gave her no bill (ph), people that look like you and me. So guess what? That's institutional.

BAKER: Other demonstrators told me they always knew it would take more than just one summer of protest to see real change to the criminal justice system, and they'll keep taking to the streets as often as needed.

KING: The Black woman that Anthony Hall - the AG he's referring to is Letitia James. He's saying she has no power. So what are the demands at this point?

BAKER: For the activists, this has always really been about police reform. Already one police chief has been fired over this. They want a new mayor. They want new city councillors. Protests in reaction to Prude's death set off a wave of political activism, too. And some organizers are now running for local offices. And we should note the legal fight isn't over for Daniel Prude's family. The U.S. Department of Justice will review the New York grand jury investigation.

KING: NPR reporter Liz Baker. Thanks, Liz.

BAKER: Thank you.

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KING: An American health care provider has been letting some people skip the COVID vaccine line.

MARTIN: That's according to internal communications leaked to NPR. The company, One Medical, is based in San Francisco but has offices across the country. Its business model is this - you pay a yearly fee of just under 200 bucks and you can make an appointment to see a One Medical doctor any time, day or night. The company went public with an IPO in January of 2020 with a valuation in the billions of dollars. One Medical was given thousands of vaccine doses by local health departments in places where it has offices. But some doses are going to people who are not currently eligible to get the vaccine.

KING: Tim Mak of NPR's investigative team got those internal communications. Good morning, Tim.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: What is in these documents?

MAK: So these documents show example after example of doctors and medical providers in several states raising the alarm to their colleagues and superiors about One Medical's practices. So there are two categories of wrongdoing here. First, those connected to One Medical's leadership were given appointments - that's friends and family members - who weren't otherwise eligible to get the vaccine. The second category involves patients. The documents from January of this year showed that at that time, One Medical did not properly screen out ineligible patients and did not seek to verify the eligibility of their patients for the COVID vaccine.

KING: OK. So when doctors and staffers raised the concern that this was happening, how did the company's management respond to them?

MAK: Well, the internal communications indicate that they responded with a shrug. The medical professionals inside the company expressed consternation as they came across patients that were healthy, that were not health care workers, getting vaccinated. They tried to come up with solutions with a way to cancel appointments for ineligible patients, for example. But they were told by the company's director of clinical learning, quote, "we are not policing." The company's medical staff also raised moral objections, that the company had to police because to not do so would be unethical. Here's Gabriel Lazaro-Munoz, who teaches medical ethics at the Baylor College of Medicine, explaining that logic.

GABRIEL LAZARO-MUNOZ: We're trying to focus on those individuals who are most likely to develop severe illness or death and most likely to be exposed to the virus. So the overall goal is to save as many lives as possible. And with that, we are also not valuing any life over another.

KING: What did One Medical tell you about all of this?

MAK: Well, One Medical has insisted that it has not knowingly vaccinated patients who were disqualified from receiving the vaccine, that it takes this seriously. It took steps to screen patients and that it had fired several staff for disregarding eligibility requirements. They also blamed the, quote, "fog of war" during this public health crisis.

KING: Let's talk about the fog of war - right? - because there's a bigger question here, which is when it comes to verifying who is eligible and then enforcing the rules, who's responsible for that? Is it the provider like One Medical or is it the county health department?

MAK: Well, this is what is so complicated about this situation, right? Many of these decisions are decentralized. One of the major challenges of vaccine distribution is how local jurisdictions all have different rules. But many counties, including some which provided vaccine doses to One Medical, require medical providers to screen for and verify eligibility at the point of vaccination. And many jurisdictions have taken notice of these problems. Washington state, for example, said they had halted vaccine allocations to the company after a complaint about ineligible vaccinations.

KING: NPR investigative correspondent Tim Mak. Thanks, Tim.

MAK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.