Sanford, Florida, police answer questions about teen's shooting death
The February 26 death of Trayvon Martin, 17, has sparked allegations of racial profiling and calls for his shooter to be charged.
March 21st, 2012
01:50 PM ET

Sanford, Florida, police answer questions about teen's shooting death

The police chief of Sanford, Florida, has released answers to what he says are frequently asked questions about the February 26 fatal shooting of an unarmed teenager by a neighborhood watch leader, whose freedom following the boy's death has drawn fierce protests.

In a letter on the city's website, City Manager Norton N. Bonaparte Jr. presents the answers from Police Chief Bill Lee. The letter addresses issues such as why George Zimmerman - the man police say shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin - was not arrested, and why he was armed. It also answers why the city police department hasn't released 911 tapes, though readers should be aware the Seminole County Sheriff's Department has done so.

Martin was fatally shot while walking to the house of his father's fiancee in Sanford after a trip to a convenience store. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch leader, said he killed the teen in self-defense, according to police. Zimmerman, whose family says he is Hispanic and who is described as white in a police report, has not been arrested or charged in the killing of the black teenager.

Below is the text of Bonaparte's letter, which includes Lee's FAQ and answers:

Fellow citizens:

There has been a lot of media attention to the recent incident where George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin. This is indeed a tragic situation and has caused a flood of questions and strong emotions from within our community, the region and nation. On behalf of the employees of the city of Sanford, our deepest sympathy and prayers go out to the family and friends of Trayvon Martin. As a father, I can only image the pain Trayvon’s family must be going though. In an effort to continue to be as responsive as possible to the public seeking information on the incident, I have asked Chief Lee to provide answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding this matter. Below are his responses. Please understand that since this is still an ongoing investigation, the Police Department is limited in what information it can publicly release.

The city of Sanford is committed to (ensuring) that justice is served and, therefore, the city of Sanford has contacted the United States Attorney General’s Office for assistance in this matter.

The men and women of the Sanford Police Department extend our heartfelt sympathies to the Martin family. This is indeed a tragic situation. The death of anyone due to violence, especially a 17-year-old young man, is morally appalling. As this incident has generated a lot of media attention, we wanted to provide answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.

Why was George Zimmerman not arrested the night of the shooting?

When the Sanford Police Department arrived at the scene of the incident, Mr. Zimmerman provided a statement claiming he acted in self-defense which at the time was supported by physical evidence and testimony. By Florida statute, law enforcement was PROHIBITED from making an arrest based on the facts and circumstances they had at the time. Additionally, when any police officer makes an arrest for any reason, the officer MUST swear and affirm that he/she is making the arrest in good faith and with probable cause. If the arrest is done maliciously and in bad faith, the officer and the city may be held liable.

According to Florida Statute 776.032:

776:032  Immunity from criminal prosecution and civil action for justifiable use of
force. -
(1) A person who uses force as permitted in s. 776.012, s. 776.013, or s. 776.031 is justified in using such force and is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of such force, unless the person against whom force was used is a law enforcement officer, as defined in s. 943.10(14), who was acting in the performance of his or her official duties and the officer identified himself or herself in accordance with any applicable law or the person using force knew or reasonably should have known that the person was a law enforcement officer. As used in this subsection, the term “criminal prosecution” includes arresting, detaining in custody, and charging or prosecuting the defendant.
(2) A law enforcement agency may use standard procedures for investigating the use of force as described in subsection (1), but the agency may not arrest the person for using force unless it determines that there is probable cause that the force that was used was unlawful.

Why the 911 tapes are not yet released?

There are exemptions to the public records laws for active criminal intelligence and for ongoing investigations. In this instance, the 911 calls made by neighbors in the subdivision, and the nonemergency call made by Mr. Zimmerman are all key to the investigation by Sanford Police Department. In consultation with the Office of the State Attorney, the Sanford police department has decided not to release the audio recordings of the 911 calls due to the ongoing investigation.

Many times, specific information is contained in those recordings which is vital to the integrity of the investigation. Should it be revealed, the information may compromise the integrity of the investigation prior to its completion.

Why did Mr. Zimmerman have a firearm in his possession while acting in the role of a neighborhood watch member?

Mr. Zimmerman holds a concealed weapon permit issued from the State of Florida. He is authorized to carry the weapon in a concealed manner wherever Florida Statute dictates. Neighborhood Watch programs are designed for members of a neighborhood to be “eyes and ears” for police and to watch out for their neighbors. They are not members of the Police Department nor are they vigilantes. Training provided by law enforcement agencies to Neighborhood Watch organizations stresses non-contact surveillance of suspicious situations and notifying police of those situations so that law enforcement can respond and take control of the situation.

Mr. Zimmerman was not acting outside the legal boundaries of Florida Statute by carrying his weapon when this incident occurred. He was in fact on a personal errand in his vehicle when he observed Mr. Martin in the community and called the Sanford Police Department.

If Zimmerman was told not to continue to follow Trayvon, can that be considered in this investigation?

Yes, it will; however, the telecommunications call taker asked Zimmerman, “Are you following him.” Zimmerman replied, “Yes." The call taker stated “you don’t need to do that.” The call taker’s suggestion is not a lawful order that Mr. Zimmerman would be required to follow.

Zimmerman’s statement was that he had lost sight of Trayvon and was returning to his truck to meet the police officer when he says he was attacked by Trayvon.

Why was George Zimmerman labeled as “squeaky clean” when in fact he has a prior arrest history?

In one of the initial meetings with the father of the victim the investigator related to him the account that Mr. Zimmerman provided of the incident. At that time the investigator said that Mr. Zimmerman portrayed himself to be “squeaky clean." We are aware of the background information regarding both individuals involved in this event. We believe Mr. Martin may have misconstrued this information.

What about media re-enactments of the shooting incident?

Any media re-enactments of the shooting incident are purely speculation. To date the Sanford Police Department has not released any rendition of the events of the evening to anyone other than the Office of the State Attorney. The renditions we have seen are not consistent with the evidence in this case.

The Sanford Police Department has conducted a complete and fair investigation of this incident. We have provided the results of our investigation to the Office of the State Attorney for their review and consideration for possible criminal prosecution.

Although the Police Department is the target of the troubling questions, let me assure you we too feel the pain of this senseless tragedy that has dramatically affected our community. Therefore, as we move forward and strive to answer the questions that are a point of controversy in the community, we ask for your patience, understanding and assistance in getting the correct information to the community.

Thank you,
Norton N. Bonaparte, Jr., ICMA-CM
City Manager

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Filed under: Florida • Trayvon Martin
soundoff (212 Responses)
  1. Larry Carter

    In 30 years of Law Enforcement experience, 17 of those years with teaching at the police acadamy, I have never seen this type of incident. It appears nothing was going to happen until the press refused to drop this tragedy. My questions are, what type of investigation was done? Why wasnt Mr Zimmerman taken into custody during the investigation? Why wasnt his gun taken into evidence? Why wasnt the neighborhood canvassed for witnesses and evidence? Was this death investigated by patrol officers or detectives? And how long did it take?, Why did the State Attorney's remain silent for so long? Just a few questions that need to be answered.

    March 21, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike O.

      Thanx Larry. A very knowlegeavble and professional post.

      March 22, 2012 at 11:02 am | Report abuse |
  2. YouHaveIssues

    Please email the Sanford police department demanding POLICE CHIEF BILL LEE TO STEP DOWN NOW

    March 21, 2012 at 10:22 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Frank Harrington

    I stand amazed that the media has sensationalized this story long before the facts are known. We all abhor the killing of any human, yet those who jump to conclusions and cry guilty are handing down a verdict without all the evidence. The NAACP, black leadership, ACLU, Southern Poverty or whatever, love to cause division in this country, always playing the race card. I understand the man accused is a Latino. Usually one gathers all the facts before making a decision, isn't this the right thing to do now? If the evidence show that Mr Zimmerman did indeed shoot this young man without justification, then he must face the charge.

    March 21, 2012 at 10:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Randall

      If it was your child, and or family member, would you want the person who shot them to be walking around free...Or would you want their ass locked up.... STFU

      March 21, 2012 at 11:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael Kribbs

      What’s even more amazing is why it’s taking so long for the professionals to investigate the facts that they keep changing.

      March 21, 2012 at 11:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tell The Truth

      Every time a Black person try to access a little fairness from the Justice System a neo-nazi, confederate will show up and stand in the way. Way to go Larry the confederate.

      March 21, 2012 at 11:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • leyonna

      The facts are all there to make a statement of what happened and what was improperly done. If it was your child or friend or family member you would feel completely different. Maybe Zimmerman is a close friend or family member of yours. Don't be blinded by the facts idiot.

      March 21, 2012 at 11:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Amodeus

      Spoken like a true ACLU Attorney. Sounds to me like you are looking for work. Or maybe you had a similar experience to Zimmerman.
      Either way you appear to have no concern for Trayvon’s life, his family, or those who loved him. You seem void of human emotion and only concern about the evidence, which at this point is being manipulated to protect Zimmerman and the Sheriff.

      March 22, 2012 at 1:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Mike O.

      Frank Harrington,
      Pick up your son's body, look at his skittles and ice tea, then read your post.

      March 22, 2012 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
  4. John Salmon

    From the Q & A above, in response to a question about Zimmerman's arrest history: "We are aware of the background information regarding both individuals involved in this event."

    What is he trying to imply about Trayvon's history? He had no record, right?

    March 21, 2012 at 10:56 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Margaret

    This is awful. If it were the other way around and a black teen shot a man in self defense he would have been arrested. Zimmerman needs to BE IN JAIL!!

    March 21, 2012 at 10:57 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Daniel Ferguson

    This is complete and total bull. I think there needs to be an investigation into the police department and the relationship between zimmerman and the police station. If the police fail to act, I think that citizens should act. Its time to find zimmerman.

    March 21, 2012 at 11:36 pm | Report abuse |
  7. kris

    He need 2 pay 4 what he did, that young boy didn't do nothing wrong, am sick and tied of these policeman and people think they can do anything and get away with it.

    March 21, 2012 at 11:48 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Tell The Truth

    George Zimmerman was not running errands. He was stalking Black Men. Its apparent that the SPG (Sanford Police Gang) is supporting George even though a group like the "Five Blind Boys From Alabama" can see that George is a psychopath and is lying.

    March 21, 2012 at 11:53 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Richard

    I read the letter from the City manager about questions. I am shocked he said what he said. A person using force permitted by sections... is immune from arrest, etc. Not the issue. The issue is: was Zimmerman's action permitted by the sections? A patrol officer made that decision? Why no forensic info? Where did the bullet hit the body? Position of victim when bullet hit? Clothing when bullet hit? Distance? All consistent with Zimmerman's statement? Have all wits been interviewed? Were all wits interviewed and evidence reviewed befored decision made that it was self defense? 911 tapes reviewed prior to decision? Why wasn't the vict's phone reviewed for info? Did you talked to vict's family and get their input? One female wit said she called four times to be interviewed and was not? Why not? Was homicide called? Was a supervisor called to scene? Who reviewed the reports and when? Did dets canvass the entire area for wits? If not why not? Anybody in charge at that police dept? Looks like a classic piece of sh.. investigation with a complete lack of any forsight or insight into the type of case and what may happan when the info goes public. Wave goodbye to the Chief.
    LAPD 27 years, homicide det, det division commanding officer.

    March 22, 2012 at 12:47 am | Report abuse |
  10. Amodeus

    I have seen this happen before with security company guards, otherwise known as wana-be Cops, who long to be in law enforcement but can’t qualify or are unstable, Zimmerman appears classic both in his actions and appearance.

    What was Zimmerman’s need, and qualifications to carry a concealed weapon, and why did the Sheriff not do a background check and disqualify him due to his arrest record?

    These people have low self esteem and feel if they can do something important they will be recognized, receiving attention and praise.

    This whole cover-up stinks, and I believe the Feds need to get it right to restore the peoples faith in law enforcement, even if a couple of people have to pay for their sins.

    Trayvon, may God bless your parents and all who seek to honor your life, to restore our faith in justice, and what is right. That we might not live in fear of those who are sworn to protect us. Rest in peace my friend.

    March 22, 2012 at 12:53 am | Report abuse |
    • SHAWN

      He was in a private gated community. And on other sites state that the young man was on top of Zimmerman and reached for his gun if this is true than all the bs from everyone here is just that BS

      March 22, 2012 at 9:34 am | Report abuse |
  11. nirvana

    WHat did the kid do that prompted Mr. Zimmerman to follow him? If the kid was coming toward his vehicle, why not roll up windows and lock doors OR drive away, leaving 911 to follow up? Nothing makes sense... This is pitiful and he should be held accountable.

    March 22, 2012 at 12:55 am | Report abuse |
  12. Keep It Real

    What you said is so silly!! Get a CLUE!!!

    March 22, 2012 at 1:14 am | Report abuse |
  13. Name*s kel

    A punk wanna be coward cop from Manassas Va.

    March 22, 2012 at 1:20 am | Report abuse |
  14. Name*s kel

    Debbie sorry your wrong, the city mananger Bonoparte Jr, the man who could fire the lying trash of a police chief is black ant he(Bonoparte Jr.....I probably misspelled his name I could care less) should be investigated and fired himself.

    March 22, 2012 at 1:50 am | Report abuse |
  15. Anna Hopkins

    The City Manager needs to take responsibility for the behavior of the police department in this case and fire the police chief. George Zimmerman needs to be jailed until the investigation is complete. His gun needs to be in custody as well. Already some omissions in the investigation are very serious. The governor and the Department of Justice must also be held responsible for a thorough investigation, not the "complete investigation" the city manager claims occurred.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:01 am | Report abuse |
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