Thursday, June 21, 2018
Public safety

Police leak details of George Zimmerman's account of Trayvon Martin shooting

SANFORD — With a single punch, Trayvon Martin decked neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, then climbed on top of him and slammed his head into the sidewalk several times before Zimmerman shot the unarmed 17-year-old to death, the Orlando Sentinel reported on Monday.

The Sentinel, citing unidentified authorities, said that is the account Zimmerman gave to police, and much of it has been corroborated by witnesses.

Zimmerman has not spoken publicly about what happened, but on that night, Feb. 26, and in later meetings, he described and re-enacted for police what he says happened.

According to his version of events, the Sentinel said, he had turned around and was walking back to his SUV when Martin approached him from behind, the two exchanged words and then Martin punched him in the nose, sending him to the ground, and began beating him. Zimmerman, 28, told police he shot the teenager in self-defense.

Zimmerman's account became public on the same day the Miami Herald reported that when Martin was shot to death in February, he had been suspended from school for having marijuana residue in his book bag.

"Even in death, they are still disrespecting my son, and that is a shame," said Martin's father, Tracy, flanked by the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson at a news conference in Sanford, where several thousand people later attended an afternoon rally to protest the police's handling of the case.

"They killed my son, and now they are trying to kill his reputation," Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin's mother, said, holding back tears.

The Sanford Police Department and its chief, who has since stepped aside, have faced a firestorm of criticism over the handling of the shooting. The department insisted there was no authorized release of the new information, the Associated Press reported, but acknowledged there may have been a leak. City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr. said that it would be investigated and that the person responsible could be fired. The department's statement also said the Sentinel's report on Zimmerman's account was "consistent" with evidence turned over to prosecutors, the AP said.

Zimmerman's account

According to the Sentinel, here is what police disclosed to the newspaper:

Zimmerman was on his way to a grocery store when he saw Martin walking through his gated community.

Martin was visiting his father's fiancee, who lived there. Zimmerman called police and reported a suspicious person, describing Martin as black, acting strangely and perhaps on drugs.

Zimmerman got out of his SUV to follow Martin on foot. When a dispatch employee asked Zimmerman whether he was following the teenager, Zimmerman said yes. The dispatcher told Zimmerman he did not need to do that.

There is about a one-minute gap during which police say they're not sure what happened.

Zimmerman told them he had lost sight of Martin and was walking back to his SUV when Martin approached him from the left rear, and they exchanged words. Martin asked Zimmerman whether he had a problem. Zimmerman said no and reached for his cell phone, he told police.

Martin then said, "Well, you do now" or something similar and punched Zimmerman in the nose.

Zimmerman fell, and Martin got on top of him and began slamming his head into the sidewalk, Zimmerman told police. Zimmerman began yelling for help.

Several witnesses heard those cries, and there has been a dispute about from whom they came: Zimmerman or Martin.

Attorneys for Martin's family say Martin was the one yelling, but police say their evidence indicates it was Zimmerman. One witness, who has since talked to local television news reporters, told police he saw Zimmerman on the ground with Martin on top, pounding him, and the witness was unequivocal that it was Zimmerman who was crying for help.

Zimmerman then shot Martin once in the chest from very close range, authorities said, according to the Sentinel.

When police arrived less than two minutes later, Zimmerman was bleeding from the nose, had a swollen lip and had bloody cuts on the back of his head. Paramedics gave him first aid, but he said no to going to the hospital. He got medical care the next day.

Martin's troubles at school

The Miami Herald reported Monday that Trayvon Martin had been suspended three times.

The Herald said it had obtained a Miami-Dade Schools Police report showing that on Oct. 21, staffers monitoring a security camera at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School spotted Martin and two other students writing "W.T.F.," an acronym for "what the f---," on a hallway locker. A security employee who knew Martin confronted the teen and looked through his bag for the graffiti marker.

According to the Herald, the police report said that Martin's backpack contained 12 pieces of jewelry, in addition to a watch and a large flathead screwdriver, which was described as a burglary tool in the report.

Martin was asked whether the jewelry, which was mostly women's rings and earrings, belonged to his family or a girlfriend. "Martin replied, 'It's not mine. A friend gave it to me,' " the Herald quoted the report as saying. Martin declined to name the friend.

School police impounded the jewelry and sent photos of the items to detectives at Miami-Dade police for further investigation. "Martin was suspended, warned and dismissed for the graffiti," according to the report prepared by the Miami-Dade Schools Police.

That suspension was followed by one in February after in incident in which Martin was caught with an empty plastic bag with traces of marijuana in it, the boy's family's attorney confirmed. The Herald said it had obtained a school police report that specified two items: a bag with marijuana residue and a "marijuana pipe."

That suspension was the third for the teen. On Monday, the family also acknowledged that Martin had earlier been suspended for tardiness and truancy.

Reacting to the new school police report, Ben Crump, an attorney for the parents, said they "never heard anything like this about a bag of jewelry. … And anyway, it's completely irrelevant to what happened Feb. 26. They never heard this and don't believe it's true. If it were true, why wouldn't they call the parents? Why wasn't he arrested?

"We think everybody is trying to demonize him."

Martin had never been arrested, he said. The state Department of Juvenile Justice confirmed Monday that Martin does not have a juvenile offender record. The information came after a public records request by the Associated Press.

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