I had not planned to write another update quite so quickly, but two issues have come up that more or less demand response. Interestingly, they have to do with police practice and the legal system, and I hope I can provide some worthwhile insight that can’t be easily found elsewhere, which has been my primary purpose in writing about the Trayvon Martin case.
NEWSFLASH: ZIMMERMAN WALKS AROUND UNCHAINED WHILE NOT UNDER ARREST! ACTUALLY KNOWS COPS!
A May 23 ABC news story made several revelations I’m sure they considered shocking:
George Zimmerman, who was not initially charged by police in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, was familiar with some of the officers in the Sanford, Fla., police department, having gone on several ‘ride alongs’ with the cops, he told the city’s mayor last year. . .
These rides, along with new video showing Zimmerman roaming the police department unescorted just three days after the shooting, are reviving old questions of Zimmerman’s relationship with the department that decided against charging him with a crime on the night of the shooting.
The story includes a brief 25 second video that shows what appears to be an area of the Sanford Police Department obviously accessible to the public. Zimmerman, on 02-29-12, enters and ascends a staircase (the sum total of his “roaming”), and at the 9 second mark, briefly turns around, revealing several large, white bandages on the back of his head. He quickly walks out of the view of what is obviously a police security camera.
The News One “For Black America” website also has picked up the story and has the same video, but with what appears to be the original date/time stamp, which indicates: 02-29-2012. In that video, Zimmerman turns on the stairs and reveals his bandages at 5:04:08 PM. The NewsOne article provides a revealing glimpse into the mindset of supporters of “The Narrative”:
Trayvon was shot Feb. 26. 2012.
ABC News also reports that the video was shot three days after Trayvon’s killing.
NewsOne reported that Zimmerman has a very contradictory relationship with Sanford police, first blasting them as irresponsible and later praising their work.
In the video recording above, it seems clear that Zimmerman, at the end of the day, had a nice and cozy relationship with the police.
Think about it: How many men do you know have walked around a police station without handcuffs after shooting someone dead?
It is tempting to descend into full snark mode in responding to ABC and to NewsOne. You’ll see what I mean. There are three possible explanations for these “stories”:
(1) The professional “journalists” at ABC (I’m not sure what one might call those working at NewsOne as I have no familiarity with that organization), unlike bloggers sitting around their living rooms in their pajamas, are utterly unaware of the realities of police procedure, the law and common sense.
(2) They are aware of these issues but choose to ignore them, in essence, to lie through omission and misdirection.
(3) Any combination of one and two that will keep the narrative alive.
Let’s take their “stunning” news items one at a time:
FANTASY #1: “Zimmerman [was] roaming the police department unescorted just three days after the shooting.”
REALITY: All police buildings have areas freely accessible to the public and secure areas requiring varying degrees of regulated access. The area depicted in what appears to be a security camera video, is obviously an unsecured area—probably the entrance lobby–of the Sanford Police Department. Imagine that: citizens allowed in a public building.
NOTE: I have e-mailed the Sanford Police Chief asking him to confirm that this video is the Sanford Police Department, and asking how this security camera footage came to be in the hands of the media. As of the posting of this article, I have not received a reply. If one is forthcoming, I’ll post it.
Bright light on the floor in the hallway near the top of the frame suggests that the entranceway is located there. Several others in civilian clothing are present, also moving freely about. Zimmerman’s “roaming” appears to be confined to perhaps 15 seconds of walking across the lobby and directly up a staircase.
Three days after the shooting, Zimmerman was apparently still freely cooperating with the Sanford Police. He was not under arrest. In other words, Zimmerman, like any other citizen, could walk into the Sanford Police Department whenever its public access areas were open for any reason or no reason. Again, however, since Zimmerman was cooperating with the police, he surely had good reason to be there, and the Sanford police were, no doubt, glad to see him.
Why wasn’t Zimmerman handcuffed? He was not under arrest. The presumption of innocence surely attaches before one is arrested for and charged with committing a crime, which was the situation at the time of this video. Imagine that: citizens not under arrest allowed to walk around unrestrained.
FANTASY #2: The fact that Zimmerman went on several ride-alongs, and the security camera video, “…are reviving old questions of Zimmerman’s relationship with the department that decided against charging him with a crime on the night of the shooting.”
REALITY: Almost all local police forces have some sort of ride along program where citizens are allowed to ride in a vehicle with patrol officers for part or all of a shift. It is not uncommon for people to ride several times in a given year. Citizens riding along range from those considering a police career to the merely curious. Most police agencies not only encourage neighborhood watch programs and work closely with them, but encourage those involved to participate in their ride along programs.
Before one is allowed a ride, agencies normally run at least an NCIC (FBI National Crime Information Center) check, which should turn up any significant warrants, convictions, etc. They also commonly have to sign waivers and participate in at least some cursory familiarization or similar training. Usually, agencies only place citizens with their most competent, reliable officers so as to gain the maximum public relations benefit from the experience.
As the captain of his neighborhood watch, Zimmerman would likely have had more regular contact with the local police—particularly those assigned to act as neighborhood watch liaisons—than most citizens. However, it is very unlikely that this would have earned him any favors from the police. Here are screen shots from two neighborhood newsletters included in the recent evidence release:
Notice that the September, 2011 newsletter mentions random bike patrols and unmarked police car patrols of the neighborhood and announces that Chief Lee planned to attend the next neighborhood watch meeting (It’s not known if he did or if so, with whom he spoke). Also notice Zimmerman’s role as a point of contact for those living there.
The June, 2011 newsletter notes that The Retreat at Twin Lakes board will be hiring Sanford officers to patrol the neighborhood, and speaks of a prior agreement allowing them to enforce traffic laws on private property. Not only does this speak to the crime rate in the neighborhood, but the police department’s recognition of that crime rate.
One of the realities of police work is that officers are, in very real ways, isolated from the communities they serve. There are rational reasons for this, though some officers take the “us against them” theme too far. Any officer knows that no matter how friendly he might become with any citizen, he might someday have to arrest them, perhaps even their family members, and arresting—that includes traffic tickets—people you know is very uncomfortable for everyone involved. As a result, they tend to keep their distance. Others watching officers interacting in a friendly or familiar manner with citizens might think those citizens had a certain immunity, but the reality is almost always the opposite.
In addition, most police officers look down on private security officers, and particularly on average citizens, thinking them, at best, clueless wanna-bes. This is unfortunate, for these people can be very helpful to competent officers and can help make their community safer, but this is the reality of things. If one is not an actively serving police officer, in very real ways, they don’t exist to the police unless an officer must, as a matter of duty, deal with them. This is particularly true of people who tell officers they used to be cops, which happens all the time. A special contempt is commonly reserved for them.
Keep in mind that the gulf in street-level knowledge and in interest in possessing that knowledge between street cops and upper level officers such as detectives, supervisors and administrators is usually as wide as the Grand Canyon. Because of the vast differences in their daily duties and focus, upper level cops wouldn’t have a clue who was riding along with officers, except perhaps to glance at and initial a ride-along form seconds before tossing it in their “out” box. Any good will built up between street officers and citizens will normally be utterly unknown to higher level officers—the officers making charging decisions in Zimmerman’s case, for example–and would mean little or nothing to them in any case.
Even, for instance, if Chief Lee met and spoke with Zimmerman at the aforementioned neighborhood watch meeting, it is pushing the bounds or reason to suggest that means that Lee would:
(A) remember Zimmerman,
(B) accord him some sort of special status as a result of that brief, incidental meeting, and,
(C) that status would amount to a get out of jail free card for felonies.
ABC and NewsOne also suggest that Zimmerman’s relationship with the SPD was not always harmonious and complimentary.
However, considering he spent considerable time trying to gain justice for a black homeless man beaten by a relative of a Sanford Police officer, Zimmerman’s opinion of an officer’s lack of initiative would seem insignificant by comparison. Wouldn’t one normally think well of a citizen who was bringing to light and trying to correct police laziness and lack of professionalism (note here that I’m assuming, for the sake of argument, that Zimmerman’s comments about SPD officers were accurate; I do not know that they were)?
The NewsOne article also featured an internet poll, apparently being done by “polidaddy.com,” which is a for-profit internet poll software company. Apparently, once the service is purchased, website operators can design and post their own polls with the results tabulated and maintained by the company. Here’s a screen shot of the poll:
Question: Does Zimmerman look injured to you.
Yes, he does.
Put aside for the moment the suggestive wording of the poll questions, and if you have not taken the link to view either or both versions of the video, don’t take my word for it, by all means, see it yourself. You’ll notice these obvious things:
(A) Zimmerman is continually moving, except for a second at the 8-9 second mark where he pauses on the staircase and turns to look behind him, revealing:
(B) Large and obvious white bandages on the back of his head where we now known without any doubt he received lacerations in the “scuffle” with Martin.
(C) The quality of the video (it’s black and white), and Zimmerman’s distance from the camera, make it impossible to see any other injuries, which again, we now know Zimmerman had three days later.
ABC and NewsOne would have us believe that it is not only self-evident, but particularly damning, that:
(1) George Zimmerman was allowed, unfettered and unescorted, in a public access area of a public building.
(2) This is particularly egregious because it happened three days after he shot Martin, and worse, he was not under arrest and was fully cooperating with the police at the time (they don’t, of course, mention the last two facts)l.
(3) He actually rode along with Sanford officers a few times and apparently wasn’t always completely complimentary about the Sanford PD (which would make the police like him and give him a pass on felonies, how, exactly?).
(4) Obvious injuries weren’t visible in a grainy, black and white security camera video in which a more or less continually moving Zimmerman appears for a few seconds (except that they actually were).
(5) One through four are actually news, and revealing of some kind of favoritism and bias on the part of the Sanford Police.
If this is what ABC and NewsOne consider news, I think I’ll stay in my living room in my jammies, thank you. I’m secure in the company of many other bloggers who obviously demonstrate far more knowledge of these issues, honesty, journalistic ethics and practice, and simple logic than the so-called professionals.
HEARSAY AND THE MARTIN CASE:
This case has many readers asking about hearsay and whether this testimony or that testimony will be allowed. Hearsay is commonly misunderstood, but the concept is fairly simple. In order to present the best evidence, evidence untainted by rumor and innuendo, our system of justice generally requires that all evidence, whether testimonial or otherwise, be directly related to the issues at hand, and come from the best, primary (first-hand) sources. They may generally testify about what they heard, saw or were directly told. Here is Florida’s hearsay statute:
90.801 Hearsay; definitions; exceptions.
(1) The following definitions apply under this chapter:
(a) A ‘statement’ is:
1. An oral or written assertion; or
2. Nonverbal conduct of a person if it is intended by the person as an assertion.
(b) A ‘declarant’ is a person who makes a statement.
(c) ‘Hearsay’ is a statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted.
(2) A statement is not hearsay if the declarant testifies at the trial or hearing and is subject to cross-examination concerning the statement and the statement is:
(a) Inconsistent with the declarant’s testimony and was given under oath subject to the penalty of perjury at a trial, hearing, or other proceeding or in a deposition;
(b) Consistent with the declarant’s testimony and is offered to rebut an express or implied charge against the declarant of improper influence, motive, or recent fabrication; or
(c) One of identification of a person made after perceiving the person.
To better understand the concept, let’s take the example of “DeeDee,” reputed to be Trayvon Martin’s girlfriend who was supposedly on and off the phone with him during the incident. I say “reputed” and “supposedly,” because from what I’ve been able to determine, the Sanford police never interviewed her, and for the moment it’s not certain that she exists. If she does, I’m not aware that anyone apart from the Martin family attorney and possibly the Special Prosecutor has interviewed her or taken written or recorded statements. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume she’s real, and the few statements that have been put out for public consumption are at least somewhat accurate.
DeeDee would be testifying to what Martin told her. In other words, her testimony would be about what she directly experienced little different than if she was standing a few feet away, watching the “scuffle,” as the charging affidavit termed it. In such a case, if Martin yelled “get him Baby,” she could certainly testify to what she heard him say. Because it is direct testimony, about things she heard or witnessed first hand, she would generally be able to testify to the conversation.
However, if DeeDee said, “I didn’t talk to Trayvon myself, but I talked to “QDawg” who said he talked to Trayvon, and he told me Trayvon said…,” that would be a classic example of hearsay. DeeDee’s testimony would not be allowed. Instead, any prosecutor would want to have QDawg testify, and any defense attorney would, at the least, demand that.
Let’s assume, however, that QDawg told DeeDee something very different than he is telling the court. In that case, DeeDee could be called to the stand, not to testify to the hearsay, but to testify about what QDawg told her. In other words, she wouldn’t be testifying about the facts of the case, but about the truth or falsity of QDawg’s testimony about the facts of the case.
As I mentioned in Update 7, DeeDee will be a very dangerous witness for the prosecution. Mr. O’Mara (Zimmerman’s attorney) will be able to question her about her relationship with Trayvon and about any other communications she had. Most kids know about the drug use and other misdeeds of their peers, particularly boy and girlfriends. Unless her testimony is very different than what has become common knowledge, it is hard to imagine that her testimony will do anything other than reinforce and support key elements of Zimmerman’s account, and potentially open up areas of Martin’s character and habits the prosecution would much rather remain unknown.
WITNESSES HAVE CHANGED THEIR STORIES! LIONS AND TIGERS AND BEARS, OH MY!
ABC News, in a May 23, 2012 story, noted that several witnesses apparently changed their original statements. The lamestream media and blogosphere are abuzz with this story, with many suggesting that these changes are damning for Zimmerman. Before we examine those statements and what that might mean for this case, it might be worth your time to visit Update 8 in the Erik Scott Case series where I examine the realities of witnesses and witness statements in some detail. What is reported there is known to any competent police officer: no rational cop takes the statements of eyewitnesses as absolute, infallible truth, at least not by themselves.
This case is interesting in that there are three official agencies involved in taking witness statements, and on several levels. They are:
(1) The Sanford Police Department, which includes initial statements taken by patrol officers and their supervisors who first responded to the scene, and SPD investigators who later took more detailed and recorded/transcribed statements of witnesses and Zimmerman.
(2) The investigators of the Special Prosecutor who would have taken statements from those witnesses already interviewed multiple times by the SPD. Such interviews might have even included prosecutors, which would be a real ethical and practical problem because that makes them witnesses to those statements and would allow the defense to call them to the stand and question them—if their involvement was known. There is much potential for mischief here. Obviously, they would also be looking for previously unidentified witnesses, such as DeeDee.
(3) FBI agents, working at the direction of the Holder DOJ, investigating for a federal civil rights case, who would, again, be interviewing people already interviewed to death. They too would be looking for previously unidentified witnesses, including anyone that might paint Zimmerman as less than scrupulously politically correct and slavishly appreciative of diversity, social justice, etc.
In addition, the defense will hire investigators to nail down inconsistencies in testimony, to reveal previously unknown relationships and connections between those involved in the case, and to find previously unknown witnesses. In many ways, particularly in this case, the only agency arguably working to find the truth and nothing but the truth is–to date–the SPD. Their investigation was completed out of the glare of racial politics and was, presumably, not therefore subject to undue influence. At least I have yet to find any real evidence of such influence (other than letting George Zimmerman, who was not under arrest, enter public buildings without being handcuffed, of course).
Keep in mind that the police may legitimately help people give a complete statement, but may not alter that statement, or encourage people to alter their statements. For example, I generally first asked people to tell me aloud what happened. I would ask questions aimed only at helping them clarify what they already told me, such as asking for an estimate of a “tall” person’s height, or a similar detail. If I thought they were forgetting something, I’d ask them about that, always being careful not to ask suggestive or leading questions. Then I would ask them to complete a written statement, and before they signed it, would read it. If they left something out or changed something they told me, we’d discuss it and I’d ask them to add what they omitted—as long as we agreed on that point—or to fix what they forgot—again, as long as we agreed. I always told them not to be afraid to say they weren’t certain about any given point.
On the other hand, it would be grossly improper for an investigator to tell anyone what to say, or to manipulate or badger them about any point until they gave in and agreed. Not only is such conduct unethical, it can easily blow up in an officer’s face in court. Manipulation can be done subtly or more obviously. I know of investigators who would conduct a complete “taped interview” only to say, when it was completed, “Oh darn, the machine wasn’t running. So sorry; we’ll have to do it again.” They would do this to give them time to subtly guide a statement in the direction they wanted it to go. If a witness saw something black in a suspect’s hand, by the time the statement was actually recorded, they would have conditioned the witness to say “gun” instead of “something black,” and the witness wouldn’t realize it.
Keep in mind that the information provided by ABC is incomplete. As far as I know, we don’t have the complete initial statements of these witnesses any more than we have any updated statements. Considering the obvious desire of the media to maintain the narrative, and the fact that the Special Prosecutor has been willing to deceive the courts and the public on this case in support of the narrative—if the narrative isn’t true in every respect, they have no case—it is not hard to believe that these supposedly “new” statements might not be entirely accurate. That said, here are ABC’s assertions, followed by my analysis (all statements come from the ABC story linked at the beginning of this section):
Witness 5 told Sanford police investigator Chris Serino: ‘There was no fighting going on at the time the gun went off. We were both in the kitchen, the window was open. There was no fighting and the fight that happened.’ But in the 911 audio clearly includes what sounds like a struggle and a plea for help a split second before the gunshot is heard.
Analysis: It’s hard to know what to make of this. There is insufficient context to understand it. Did “5” have a clear view of the action? A continuous, uninterrupted view? Could 5 actually and clearly hear what was taking place outside? Was 5 making the 911 call? If not, where was the phone that was recording what ABC claims was audible? There are just too many unknowns to have any idea what, if anything this means and what effect it might have on the case.
Witness 6 is a man who lived near where the shooting took place and told Sanford police he saw a black man on top of a lighter-skinned man ‘just throwing down blows on the guy, MMA-style,’ and that the man getting beat up was the one calling for help.
But three weeks later when speaking with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, he was no longer sure. ‘I truly can’t tell who, after thinking about it, was yelling for help just because it was so dark out on that sidewalk,’ he said.
The man also said while he was positive that ‘the black guy was on top,’ he could no longer be sure Martin was throwing punches or simply trying to restrain Zimmerman.
Analysis: Again, without the context provided by complete statements, it’s difficult to say much with certainty. If we assume that the man is making such substantial changes, this reeks of undue influence of some kind. Witnesses commonly don’t make such dramatic changes in their statements, particularly if they were emphatic and certain about their original statements, but again, we’re not sure of these statements at this point.
Keep in mind, however, that eyewitness testimony is only a part, and often a much less important part, of a picture than other evidence. In this case, all of the known physical evidence either fully supports Zimmerman’s account or, as in the case of audio analysis, for example, does not disprove his account and certainly does not prove the narrative. Even with these apparent changes, Martin is still astride Zimmerman, who is still on his back on the ground.
Witness 2, who is a young woman, initially spoke with Sanford police four days after the shooting. ‘I saw two guys running,’ she said. ‘Couldn’t tell you who was in front, who was in behind.’ She said moments later she saw a fistfight: ‘Just fists. I don’t know who was hitting who.’
Nearly a month later when interviewed again, this time by the FDLE, her story had changed. She said she remembered catching only a glimpse of a single person running. ‘I couldn’t tell you if it was a man, a woman, a kid, black, or white. I couldn’t tell you because it was dark and because I didn’t have my contacts on or glasses. … I just know I saw a person out there.’
Analysis: Again, the lack of complete context is troubling. Did she tell the SPD she wasn’t wearing her contacts or glasses? The second version, on first hearing, would tend to support Zimmerman’s account, but there is simply too much unknown here.
Witness 13, who talked with Zimmerman in the moments after the shooting, didn’t alter his account as much as he added to it. He initially told local police that Zimmerman told him that Martin ‘was beating up on me, so I had to shoot him,’ and that Zimmerman asked the man to call his wife and let him know what happened.
About a month later, the witness went into much great detail about Zimmerman’s demeanor. Zimmerman’s tone, according to the witness, was ‘not like ‘I can’t believe I just shot someone!’—it was more like, ‘Just tell my wife I shot somebody …,’ like it was nothing.’
Analysis: Again, context is lacking. However, it appears that the substance of the statement hasn’t changed and it would appear to continue to support Zimmerman’s account. The issue of Zimmerman’s demeanor is something O’Mara could easily deal with. People react very differently to stresses, and that would be easily established. If Zimmerman wasn’t wailing and tearing at his hair and garments, that proves only that he wasn’t wailing and tearing at his hair and garments.
A young mother identified as Witness 12 didn’t give a recorded interview to Sanford police, but she did sit down with an FDLE agent more than three weeks after the shooting. She said she saw two people on the ground immediately after the shooting, but that she couldn’t say whether it was Zimmerman or Trayvon on top. Six days later, however, she was sure it was Zimmerman.
‘I know after seeing the TV of what’s happening, comparing their sizes, I think Zimmerman was definitely on top because of his size,’ she said.
Analysis: Context is still lacking. How did she come to the attention of the special prosecutor’s investigators, and why don’t we have an earlier interview? Where was she relative to the scuffle? Uphill or downhill from it (that changes perspective)? Is she making assumptions based on the oft-repeated false narrative that made Zimmerman more than six feet tall and more than 200 pounds? As you’ll see in the next update on Friday, June 1, the 7-11 security video of Martin makes it appear that he, in his large, baggy pants and hoodie with the hood up, was much larger than he actually was–he looks very large indeed–while that night, Zimmerman was wearing nothing on his head and tightly fitted jacket and jeans which might have made him appear to be even smaller than he was. The fact that he was flat on his back on the ground certainly wouldn’t help anyone to accurately judge his size.
I hope readers will forgive the length of these articles. I’m trying to provide solid analysis and proof of that analysis rather than sound bites and the unsupported, emotionally raging certainty all too often seen relating to this case. We are all still hampered by the lack of complete information. Mark O’Mara has estimated that only about half of the evidence has been released. Even so, what is known supports Zimmerman’s account and virtually entirely falsifies the narrative, which is essentially the prosecution’s case.
Every bit of new evidence that becomes public has served only to convince me that Florida law will not support any criminal charge against Zimmerman and that the law also requires, given the strength and undisputed evidence of his self-defense claim, that the case be dismissed. Again, there may be stunningly strong, persuasive evidence to the contrary out there, but if so, it has yet to be released or even hinted at.
Those that suggest these changes in witness statements are in any way major, case-changing developments obviously knows little of the system. Any competent attorney will be able to call into question such changes. Really good lawyers can sometimes lead a jury of nuns to hate the Pope.
Any witness who changes their statement in any material way is in for a very rough ride on the witness stand. If their changes are too great—and what is known at the moment suggests that possibility for at least some—juries commonly disregard their testimony completely. In any case, a good lawyer can, without being abusive or rude, so discredit such witnesses and the prosecutor that put them on, that an acquittal might be won on that point alone. Imagine—and this is a only a possibility—if a witness admitted that they were encouraged or pressured to change their testimony by the special prosecutor or any other individuals or groups having an interest in this case. Now that would be a real story.
What has not changed, as I predicted, is the need of the purveyors of the narrative to maintain that narrative at all costs. In so doing, media outlets like ABC are destroying what miniscule credibility they might have yet possessed.
I’d also note that from the beginning of this case, some things haven’t rung true for me, but because I’m not privy to the case files, those are itches I haven’t been able to scratch. For example: tea and skittles? Perhaps Martin had odd tastes, but I know of few kids who would think that a palatable combination. And why—apart from maintaining the idea that Martin was an innocent, candy-eating child—would the media and other narrative heralds keep pounding that point? Why would the special prosecutor include that—it has no apparent bearing on the case—in the affidavit?
Now we know. Martin wasn’t carrying tea, and he likely wasn’t planning on eating the Skittles. It’s entirely possible the media knew that, and equally possible the special prosecutor knew that, and knew what he really intended. That’s a substantial part of Update 9, which I’ll post on Friday, June 1.
Thanks, as always, for your interest, attention and your fine comments. I hope to see you again on Friday.