Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sanford cops botched investigation of Trayvon Martin's death

By DeWayne Wickham

SANFORD, Fla. -- The most revealing thing about the investigation into the killing of Trayvon Martin is a blank page on the police department’s website. The heading atop it says simply, “Sanford’s Most Wanted.”

The empty space beneath those words is a metaphor for the botched response to the killing of the black 17-year-old, whose assailant the police refuse to arrest.
That’s because George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer whose father is white and mother is Hispanic, claims he was acting in self-defense when he killed Martin with a single shot to the chest. Zimmerman, to keep from being tried, is relying on Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows a person to use deadly force when he feels threatened. But Zimmerman didn’t stand his ground; he pursued his prey.

Suspicious of Martin as the teenager walked inside the gated community he was patrolling on Feb. 26, Zimmerman followed him in his SUV. He called 911 to say Martin, who was walking in the rain to the home of his father’s fiance, looked as if he was up to no good because he had pulled the hood of his sweatshirt over his head. The 911 operator told Zimmerman to stop following Martin and await the arrival of police. Zimmerman ignored that order.

At some point, he got out of his SUV and shot Martin. Zimmerman claims he used deadly force only after being attacked by the teen. Phone records show Martin was talking to his girlfriend seconds before he was shot. The unnamed 16-year-old says Martin told her someone was following him. Then she heard a man demand to know what Martin was doing in that neighborhood before the cellphone went dead.

The police investigation looks like the work of Keystone Kops at best. At worst, it smacks of something much more disturbing. Martin’s body wasn’t identified until the next day when police, responding to his father’s missing person report, showed him a picture of the young man’s body.

Despite this, the corpse remained in the morgue three days, classified only as “John Doe.” It took that long for the cops to send the medical examiner the required paperwork that officially identified the remains and authorized the family to retrieve it for burial, Benjamin Crump, the Martin family’s attorney, told me.

Martin’s body was tested for drugs and alcohol. Neither was found. Zimmerman, the guy who killed him, was not tested. Zimmerman’s blood-stained clothes weren’t taken for analysis; the contents of his SUV weren’t checked, Crump said. Zimmerman was set free after a brief police interrogation. Even after police chief Bill Lee “temporarily” resigned amid growing protests over his department’s handling of this case, cops cling to the position that evidence -- what little they bothered to collect -- supports Zimmerman’s self-defense claim.

That assertion should be tested by the special prosecutor appointed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott to take over the investigation. Martin was armed only with his cellphone, a can of iced tea and bag of Skittles candy when he encountered the gun-toting Zimmerman.

This mismatch, and the racial slur Zimmerman appears to utter on the 911 tape shortly before he leaves his vehicle for his deadly confrontation with Martin, should force him to have to account for his actions in a court of law. “It was wrong that Zimmerman profiled Trayvon. But it was tragic that the police did it, too,” Crump said.

He’s right. Justice won’t be served until Zimmerman and the Sanford police are made to answer for their actions in the case of Trayvon Martin.

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