Protesters seek justice for Trayvon Martin
Feds Open Grand Jury Investigation
Federal and local prosecutors are launching parallel investigations into the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a neighborhood watch captain as outrage over the case grows.
A central Florida prosecutor’s announcement Tuesday that a grand jury will consider evidence in the case came a day after the Justice Department said it would probe the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. The moves follow a day of protests calling for the arrest of George Zimmerman, 28, who claims he shot Martin in self-defense during a confrontation last month in a gated community in Sanford, Fla.
Sanford police were under mounting political pressure from the city and the state to submit their case to the state’s attorney before they were confident their part of the investigation was complete. Prosecutors will need to re-interview key witnesses.
Zimmerman spotted Martin as he was patrolling his neighborhood on a rainy evening and called 911 to report a suspicious person. Against the direct instructions of the 911 dispatcher, who asked Zimmerman “are you following him” when Zimmerman replied “Yeah” the dispatcher state “OK, we don’t need you to do that”. Zimmerman then followed Martin, who was walking home from a convenience store with a bag of Skittles in his pocket. Police have described Zimmerman as white; his family says he is Hispanic and not racist.
While under questioning, Zimmerman told police he followed the dispatcher’s advice and that he turned and began to return to his car when Martin confronted him, according to the source close to the investigation. Martin became violent and punched Zimmerman, he told police. The two got into a scuffle, during which Zimmerman drew his weapon and fired it, he told police.
On Tuesday, attorney Benjamin Crump, who represents Martin’s parents, said the teenager was on the phone with his girlfriend back home in Miami when he told her he was being followed.
“He says, ‘Oh he’s right behind me, he’s right behind me again,'” Crump said the girl told him. “She says run. He says I’m not going to run I’m just going to walk fast. She hears Trayvon say, ‘Why are you following me?’ Other voice says, ‘What are you doing around here?'”
She told Crump they both repeated themselves and then she heard a scuffle begin “because (Martin’s) voice changes like something interrupted his speech.” She heard an altercation and then the phone call was cut off.
Within moments, according to Crump’s timeline, Martin was shot. She didn’t hear the gunfire.
Crump is not releasing the girlfriends name for her protection and her family’s privacy.
Authorities have a subpoena for Martin’s phone records and are waiting to electronically unlock the phone.
Several investigators don’t believe Zimmerman turned back to his car but instead tried to confront or even detain Martin until police arrived, but police don’t have any evidence to prove that. Zimmerman is staying at a secure location and has been in daily contact with authorities according to reports.
Attorney Crump said he will turn over information about the call to federal investigators who are looking into the case.
The federal agency said it is sending its community relations service this week to Sanford to meet with authorities, community officials and civil rights leaders “to address tension in the community.”
An online petition urging local authorities to prosecute Zimmerman has drawn more than 500,000 signatures at website Change.org
Civil rights activist Al Sharpton is expected to join Sanford city leaders in a Tuesday evening town hall meeting to discuss with residents how the investigation is being handled. Earlier Monday, students held rallies on the campus of Florida A&M University in Tallahassee and outside the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center, where prosecutors are reviewing the case to determine if charges should be filed.
Yet authorities may be hamstrung by a state law that allows people to defend themselves with deadly force.
Prosecutors may not be able to charge Zimmerman because of changes to state law in 2005. Under the old law, people could use deadly force in self-defense only if they had tried to run away or otherwise avoid the danger.
Under the new law, there is no duty to retreat and it gives a Floridian the right “to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force,” if he feels threatened.
Because of the national outcry as well as Sanford County’s slow response to the investigation President Obama encouraged the Federal Department of Justice to launch an investigation as well. On Monday, the DOJ released the following statement:’
“The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida, and the FBI opened an investigation into the facts and circumstances of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. The department will conduct a thorough and independent review all of the evidence and take appropriate action at the conclusion of the investigation. The department also is providing assistance to and cooperating with the state officials in their investigation into the incident. With all federal civil rights crimes, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person acted intentionally and with the specific intent to do something which the law forbids – the highest level of intent in criminal law. Negligence, recklessness, mistakes and accidents are not prosecutable under the federal criminal civil rights laws. The Community Relations Service will be in Sanford, Fla., this week to meet with civil rights leaders, community leaders, and local law enforcement to address tension in the community.”
I don’t think a man who exited his vehicle after the 911 dispatcher told him to stay inside the car can claim self-defense,” Carl McPhail, a 28-year-old Barry University law school student, said at the Sanford rally.
The 70 protesters at the Sanford rally chanted “What if it was your son?” and held posters saying, “This is not a race issue.” Many carried Skittles.
Martin’s parents and other advocates have said the shooter would have been arrested had he been black.
“You would think that Sanford is still in the 1800s claiming that this man can call self-defense for shooting an unarmed boy,” restaurant owner Linda Tillman said.
U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., along with members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, asked the U.S. Department of Justice to review the case.
Chairman Emanuel Cleaver II, released the following statement regarding the shooting death of Trayvon Martin calling for the Justice Department to investigate [partial]:
“On February 26, 2012 Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, 17 year-old African American boy, was shot and killed while walking home from a local 7-Eleven. He only had $22, skittles and a can of iced tea in his possession. Trayvon, who had no criminal record, was described by his teacher as an ‘A and B student who majored in cheerfulness’. The gunman, self-appointed neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, admits to killing Trayvon, but claims he was acting in self-defense.
Three weeks after Martin’s death, Zimmerman was never arrested and remains free.
I am outraged by the way in which this case has been handled by the Sanford Police Department in Florida. Those who are meant to protect us and our children have blatantly turned their backs on fairness and justice”.
Late Monday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott directed the state Department of Law Enforcement to help local authorities in their investigation. The governor said in a memo to department Commissioner Gerald Bradley that the circumstances surrounding the death “have caused significant concern within the Sanford community and the state.”
Prosecutors can have a hard time making a case if there is no one else around to contradict a person who claims self-defense, said David Hill, a criminal defense attorney in Orlando. So far, Sanford police have said there is no evidence to contradict Zimmerman’s claims.
Gun control advocates said the case is emblematic of permissive gun laws in Florida, which was among the first states to allow residents to carry concealed weapons. Florida was the first state to pass a “Stand Your Ground” law, which has been dubbed a “Shoot First” law by gun control advocates.
Currently, about half of all U.S. states have similar laws, said Brian Malte, legislative director of the Brady Campaign, which describes itself as the nation’s largest organization dedicated to the prevention of gun violence.
The “Stand Your Ground” law’s legislative sponsor, Florida Rep. Dennis Baxley, said in a statement released this week “that the law wasn’t written to give people the power to pursue and confront others.