The Sanford Florida Police Department is getting national attention similar to the attention after the shooting of Sean Bell and his friends by members of the New York Police Department (NYPD). In the Bell case the police officers faced charges.
In this Florida case, the shooter is not a member of the Sanford police and, to date, has not been arrested. He is reportedly a neighborhood self-appointed Watch volunteer.
I have never witnessed a police chief appearing at a news conference after a questionable shooting, which caused the death of young person and saying: “I don’t have probable cause to make an arrest, because the shooter said he acted in self-defense.”
The 911 tape has been released and should have opened an immediate investigation into the SPD handling of this case. In less than a week this case will already be a month old.
Chief Bill Lee used poor judgment and failed to make an arrest, which displays a great deal of incompetence and lack of leadership. A call for his resignation is already three weeks old.
When Chief Lee learned he had a dead body on his watch and none of his subordinates were responsible – he had a duty to make an arrest. Chief Lee’s actions brought a white cloud over Sanford, which is being referred to as a “One horse town,” and a discredit to the Sanford Police Department.
We know that on the night of February 26th, George Zimmerman, 28, the self appointed volunteer neighborhood watchman was on “patrol” at the Twin Lake Development, a gated community, with his gun, which he had a license to carry. It’s unclear if he had a permit to carry this same weapon while volunteering as a watchman.
Mr. Zimmerman, acting as a police officer, decided to look for a suspect. He eyed a young African American, Trayvon Martin, 17, heading back to his father’s house after purchasing a soft drink and a bag of skittles. Zimmerman calls 911 and labels Trayvon as a suspect. On what basis? To use Zimmerman’s owns words to police, during his 911 call, he sounds like he was simply trying to record a statement to justify what he intended to do all along–which was to execute the teenager. Listen to what Zimmerman says:
“He looks like he’s on drugs or something,” “now he’s just staring at me,” “he’s got his hands on his waist band,” “and he’s a Black male,” “something’s wrong with him” “he’s got something in his hands” “they always get away..”
Zimmerman was also told by the 911 operator to keep a safe distance and to stop following Trayvon, because the real police were on the way. Zimmerman ignored the warning and, while acting as a policeman, confronted Trayvon.
Trayvon weighed 140 pounds while Zimmerman, 26 years old, outweighed the teenager by almost twice. The 911 tape captures the fatal encounter; the voice of Trayvon is heard for the last time after the shots had ended.
What is not clear is what high crime or misdemeanor Trayon was being suspected of having committed or being in the process of carrying out? And how did Trayvon leave his father’s house, go off the property without being seen and get back onto the property without being stopped at the gate?
I contacted the Sanford Police Department and asked: ‘‘Can you tell me the names of the first responding officers who arrived at the Twin Lake Development after the shooting?’’
The response from Sgt. David Morgenstern, SPD spokesman: “I not sure which officers were the first ones there, but I can research that and find out. We are keeping a track of all these requests, so I need you to email that to me.”
A fax was sent four days ago – there has been no response before my publication time.
The accounts from the beginning of the 911 tape to the end were probable cause to make an arrest in this case. Zimmerman had no official duty to act even if a crime was being committed, which was not the case in this encounter. He is not afforded the same protections as a sworn police officer, who is protected under color of law.
By: Donald Winkfield