Justice Department, FBI to probe Florida teen’s death

CNN on March 20, 2012 released the following:

“By the CNN Wire Staff

Sanford, Florida (CNN) — Federal prosecutors and the FBI will investigate the killing of an unarmed African-American teen amid claims of racial profiling and widespread calls for charges against the Hispanic neighborhood watch volunteer who has acknowledged shooting him.

“The department will conduct a thorough and independent review of all of the evidence and take appropriate action at the conclusion of the investigation,” Justice Department spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said Monday in a written statement. “The department also is providing assistance to and cooperating with the state officials in their investigation into the incident.”

Trayvon Martin, 17, was shot and killed February 26 while walking to his father’s fiancee’s house in Sanford after a trip to a nearby convenience store.

His father said Monday the family believes race was a factor in their son’s death, fueling a huge surge in the public outcry over the incident in the racially mixed community 16 miles northeast of Orlando.

“I think that’s an issue that Mr. Zimmerman himself considers as someone suspicious — a black kid with a hoodie on, jeans, tennis shoes,” Martin said on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360.” “Thousands of people wear that outfit every day, so what was so suspicious about Trayvon that Zimmerman felt as though he had to confront him?”

The case was one of the most discussed topics Tuesday morning on the social networking service Twitter, much of it dedicated to an online petition posted by Trayvon’s parents last month calling on Florida authorities to charge Zimmerman.

As of Tuesday morning, more than 534,000 people had signed the petition at Change.org, making it the third-largest petition campaign ever at the site, according to spokeswoman Megan Lubin. More than 10,000 people an hour were signing the petition early Tuesday.

Zimmerman, 28, has claimed self-defense in the shooting, according to police, who say they have not charged him because they have no evidence to refute his story.

But demonstrators who have turned out in recent days to protest police handling of the case have mocked Zimmerman’s claim, carrying bags of Skittles like the one Trayvon had bought shortly before his death.

CNN has made numerous attempts to contact Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, but have been unsuccessful. In a statement to the Orlando Sentinel, Zimmerman’s father says his son grew up in a multiracial family and has moved out of his home after receiving death threats.

Florida’s deadly force law allows people to meet “force with force” if they believe they or someone else is in danger of being seriously harmed by an assailant, but exactly what happened in the moments leading up to Trayvon’s death remain unclear.

Zimmerman’s father released a statement to the Orlando Sentinel last week in which he said his son never followed or confronted Trayvon. But on Monday, police released 911 recordings in which Zimmerman says he is, in fact, following the boy.

“Something’s wrong with him. Yep. He’s coming to check me out,” Zimmerman told a police dispatcher. “He’s got something in his hands. I don’t know what his deal is. Send officers over here.”

The teen started to run, Zimmerman reported. When he said he was following, the dispatcher told him, “We don’t need you to do that.”

A few minutes later, someone who lives near the scene of the shooting called 911 to report an altercation. In the background, someone can be heard screaming for help, but the caller said she was too afraid to go outside and see what was going on.

Trayvon’s father said he believed the pleas for help were his son’s last words.

“It’s heart-wrenching, because those actually were my son’s last words,” he said. “And to hear his last words being cries of help, is devastating. It tears me apart as a father.”

On Monday afternoon, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the FBI was monitoring the case but that the White House was not going to “wade into a local law enforcement matter.”

Hours later, the Justice Department announced its investigation. It was unclear what prompted the change.

A handful of student protesters and a law professor from Florida A&M University met Monday with a representative of the Seminole County state attorney’s office and were told the local investigation will take several weeks, according to Jasmine Rand, the FAMU professor.

Assistant State Attorney Pat Whitaker told the students that the “investigation of the Sanford police needs to be greatly supplemented,” according to Reed.

The state attorney’s office also said a voice analysis would be conducted on 911 calls from the night of the shooting to determine who was yelling for help, students said.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott weighed in on Monday, noting that the case has “caused significant concern within the Sanford community and the state” and asking the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to provide “any assistance necessary” to local investigators.

The Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have also called for a federal investigation, with the Black Caucus saying Sanford police showed “blatant disregard for justice” in the case.

In announcing the federal probe, Hinojosa cautioned that bringing a civil rights case requires that the government prove “that a person acted intentionally and with the specific intent to do something which the law forbids — the highest level of intent in criminal law.”

It was unclear when federal officials would announce a decision in the case.

The Justice Department said part of its effort will be to address tensions provoked by the case in the racially mixed community, whose population was 57% white and 30% African-American, according to 2010 U.S. Census Bureau figures. Hispanics, which can be of any race, made up 20% of the population, according to the data.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
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