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(Corrects city manager’s name in first paragraph of story originally published March 27.)
George Zimmerman told police in Sanford (13549MF), Florida, that he shot Trayvon Martin after being punched in the nose and having his head slammed into the sidewalk, said City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr.
Bonaparte confirmed an Orlando Sentinel report yesterday that detailed Zimmerman’s side of story. Zimmerman, whose mother is Hispanic and father is white, claimed self-defense in the Feb. 26 shooting of Martin, an unarmed, black 17-year-old, and hasn’t been arrested.
Zimmerman, 28, hasn’t spoken publicly and is in hiding because of death threats. The disclosure of his post-shooting statement to police is the first significant airing of his version of events.
The case has prompted rallies across the nation, a hearing in Washington today and, residents say, fractured this city of 54,000 about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Orlando. Martin’s family and hundreds of marchers, including civil rights activists Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, have called for Zimmerman’s arrest.
“He needs to be put on trial,” Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, told the Sanford City Council yesterday. “He needs to be given a sentence by a jury of his peers.”
On the rainy night of the shooting, Martin was walking to his father’s fiancee’s house after buying Skittles and an Arizona iced tea at a convenience store.
Zimmerman, a Neighborhood Watch member suspicious because of burglaries, was driving to a grocery store when he saw Martin walking through the gated community, according to the account verified by Bonaparte. He started following the teenager on foot and called police to report a suspicious person, according to a recording authorities released. Zimmerman described Martin as black, acting strangely and perhaps on drugs.
A dispatcher told Zimmerman to stop following Martin, and to wait for officers to arrive.
Zimmerman told police he had been walking back to his SUV when Martin approached from behind and asked Zimmerman whether he had a problem. Zimmerman said no. Martin then said, “Well, you do now” and punched Zimmerman in the nose, according to the account Bonaparte confirmed.
Zimmerman told police he fell and that Martin got on top of him and began slamming his head into the sidewalk. A police report notes that Zimmerman was bleeding from the nose and back of the head. Zimmerman said he began yelling for help “but no one would help me,” according to the incident report.
Martin’s family has said it was in fact the teenager shouting, his voice captured on a 911 recording. Their attorneys have an affidavit from his girlfriend saying that the time of the shooting, she was on the phone with Martin, who was worried that he was being followed. She said a man asked Martin what he was doing in the neighborhood before she heard a tussle and lost the connection.
Fox 35 in Orlando interviewed a neighbor, whom the television station identified only as “John,” who said he witnessed Martin “beating up” Zimmerman. Zimmerman, the man said, called out for help.
The witness said when he looked outside again, Martin was dead. Zimmerman had shot Martin once in the chest.
Local officials said the state’s “stand your ground” law, which relieves a citizen of responsibility to retreat when he feels threatened in a public place, and which gives him the right to “meet force with force,” prevented them from making an arrest in the case.
Martin, a resident of Miami Gardens, was 250 miles (402 kilometers) from home visiting his father after being suspended from school for having a baggie that contained marijuana residue, said Ryan Julison, a Martin family spokesman.
In October, Martin was suspended after being found with jewelry and a screwdriver that a school security staffer described as a “burglary tool,” the Miami Herald reported.
Miami-Dade School District spokesman Rolando Martin declined to release the report, citing confidentiality under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
Martin said a friend gave him the jewelry, according to the Herald report. He wasn’t disciplined because of the discovery, but was suspended for writing graffiti.
A lawyer for the family, Benjamin Crump, told the newspaper that Martin’s parents knew nothing of the jewelry, that he didn’t believe the incident occurred and that, in any event, it is “irrelevant.”
Zimmerman, who is studying criminal justice, was arrested in 2005 on charges of battery on a police officer and resisting arrest with violence, according to the New York Times. Those charges were dropped.
That same year, he was accused of pushing his ex-fiancee, according to a Sentinel report. In competing court petitions, the woman accused Zimmerman of slapping her in the past, while Zimmerman claimed that she was the aggressor in the fight, according to the newspaper.
The U.S. Justice Department last week opened a civil-rights inquiry into the killing.
Today, House of Representatives Democrats will hold an unofficial hearing on Capitol Hill addressing the shooting. The forum starts at 3 p.m., Matt Morgan, a spokesman for Representative John Conyers of Michigan, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary panel, said in an e-mail yesterday.
At a news conference today in Sanford, Bonaparte said the city and Justice Department were creating a process to handle citizen complaints about the Sanford Police Department.
“The Police Department has faced some challenges in the past few years,” acting police Chief Darren Scott said.
Scott declined to answer questions about the case.
“It is not in the Police Department’s hands right now,” Scott said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Michael C. Bender in Sanford at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at email@example.com