Chief Lee: Arrest of Martin’s shooter would be violation of civil rights
by Rachel Delinski, Herald Editor
March 14 2012 at 0957 | 11238 views | 88 88 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Chief Bill Lee speaks during a press conference held Monday afternoon in front of Sanford City Hall. Lee said the case was forwarded to the State Attorney’s Office on Tuesday afternoon.
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Chief Bill Lee announced during a press conference Monday that Sanford police do not have enough evidence to arrest the shooter of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old from Miami who was killed during an altercation last month at The Retreat at Twin Lakes.

Family members and supporters of Martin stood by during the conference, sometimes yelling at Lee, disappointed from the news.

Lee, who said the case would be forwarded to the State Attorney’s Office Tuesday afternoon, said after conducting a full investigation police believe shooter George Zimmerman, 28, acted in self-defense.

Lee went on to state that by Florida Statutes if someone alleges self-defense the case must be forwarded to the State Attorney’s Office unless police have enough evidence to make an arrest.

“It is our desire to make sure we do a thorough and fair investigation,” he said.

During a meeting after the press conference Lee also said he believed arresting Zimmerman would have been a violation of his civil rights.

The shooting, which has garnered national and international attention, happened Feb. 26 when Martin was visiting his father’s fiancé in the Sanford neighborhood.

Investigators said Martin, who is black, left the woman’s home to visit a nearby 7-Eleven and when he returned Zimmerman, a white captain of the neighborhood watch, reported the boy as a suspicious person to police around 7:15 p.m.

Before an officer could arrive on scene, police said several more 911 calls were made to report a fight and a gunshot. When police arrived, they found and unarmed Martin dead behind a home in the neighborhood. Zimmerman surrendered immediately.

Supporters of Martin have since alleged that the incident was provoked by Martin’s race, claiming Zimmerman thought Martin was suspicious because he was black and wearing a hooded sweatshirt.

Furthermore, attorneys for Martin’s parents said police lied to Martin’s family when they stated Zimmerman had no criminal record. It has since been learned that Zimmerman was arrested in 2005 for battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting and officer without violence in Orange County.

The charges were later dropped.

Attorneys for Martin’s parents have also filed a lawsuit in hopes that the 911 calls, which they said should be public record, will be released. They believe these calls will reveal Zimmerman’s intentions and show he was not acting in self-defense.

During the press conference Lee did state there is a lapse in evidence between the time the boy was reported as a suspicious person, and the time he was shot. However, Lee also stated accounts from witnesses and the 911 calls all support Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense.

“We don’t have anything to dispute this was self-defense,” he said.

During Monday’s commission meeting several members of the community spoke out against the police department’s decision, stating the non-arrest of a white man perpetuates a policy they believe has been set by the Sanford Police Department.

Resident James Davis said, “What young black men are asking me is… ‘What are the rules of engagement? If we have a white man accost us in the community, how should we react? Should we assume we’re going to get shot and shoot first?’ That’s the policy that’s being perpetuated here. I do want you to understand that.”

During the commission work session, Commissioner Velma Williams echoed similar dissatisfaction with the decision and also wondered why 911 calls had not been released.

“I’m really disappointed he [Zimmerman] was not arrested,” she said.

Lee reasserted he believed that physical evidence and testimony has backed up Zimmerman’s story, and the police department will not release evidence that is part of an open investigation.

“We have done a fair and complete investigation,” he said. “We will not play out this investigation in front of the media.”