More details are emerging of George Zimmerman, the 28-year-old Miami man who’s making national headlines for killing unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin a month ago and running free. Zimmerman, who admitted to shooting the teen, said he fired in self-defense and has not been arrested in the case.
A look at the local police department’s history includes two other cases in which the Sanford Police Department was accused of giving favorable treatment to relatives of officers involved in violent encounters with blacks.
In a Miami Herald profile published on Saturday, Zimmerman was described by neighbors as a “mild-mannered neighbor who fixated on crime and focused on young, black males.” The Herald also reports Zimmerman called police 46 times since Jan. 1, 2011. (For reference, there were eight burglaries, nine thefts and one other shooting in the year prior to Trayvon’s death in the neighborhood.)
According to 911 recordings released on Friday by Sanford police, Zimmerman was following Martin because he looked like a “suspicious person” who was “walking slowly,” looked “drugged” and appeared to be looking at people’s houses. In the recording the 911 operator is heard telling Zimmerman to stop following the young man.
But according to multiple neighbors, Zimmerman didn’t follow orders and continued to follow Martin until the teenager was killed.
Police would later learn that Martin was walking back to a family member’s home after having gone to 7-Eleven during the NBA All Star game halftime to get Skittles and Arizona iced tea.
“This case is disturbing to say the least,” Rev. Al Sharpton told Huffpost last week. “This is appalling, to think that this guy admitted to initiating the conversation and that there was no crime other than the killing of this young man. Yet, [Zimmerman] is walking around with no threat of an arrest.”
The HuffPost has received updates from a man living in the gated community where Martin was shot that details Zimmerman’s history of aggressive tactics:
At an emergency homeowner’s association meeting on March 1, “one man was escorted out because he openly expressed his frustration because he had previously contacted the Sanford Police Department about Zimmerman approaching him and even coming to his home,” the resident wrote in an email to HuffPost. “It was also made known that there had been several complaints about George Zimmerman and his tactics” in his neighborhood watch captain role.
The meeting was attended by Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee, the detective assigned to the investigation and an unnamed member of the city council, according to the homeowner’s association newsletter. The chief couldn’t immediately be reached for comment about the complaints. A member of the homeowner’s association board, who asked not to be quoted by name, said she “hadn’t heard about any complaints” about Zimmerman. Zimmerman’s phone number is disconnected and efforts to reach him have been unsuccessful.
The Miami Herald also provides more context on how on at least two prior occasions, the Sanford Police Department was accused of giving favorable treatment to relatives of officers involved in violent encounters with blacks:
In 2010, police waited seven weeks to arrest a lieutenant’s son who was caught on video sucker-punching a homeless black man.
In 2005, two security guards — one the son of a longtime Sanford police officer and the other a department volunteer — killed a black man they said was trying to run them over. Black leaders complained of a lackluster investigation. The guards ultimately were acquitted.
Zimmerman’s father has issued a statement last Thursday declaring his son is Hispanic, comes from a multiracial family and is not racist.
The Sanford Police Department has moved Martin’s case to the State Attorney’s office. The state of Florida will now determine if Zimmerman will be charged in his death.