Sanford police plan to release the 911 calls this afternoon in the controversial shooting of Trayvon Martin — the17-year-old shot while walking through a gated community last month by volunteer crime watch member George Zimmerman.
The agency decided to release the 911 calls after a series of meetings today with U.S. Rep Corrine Brown, Sanford's mayor, Jeff Triplett, Commissioner Velma Williams and City Manager Norton Bonaparte. Triplett and Brown will be asking to meet with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder early next week.
"I would hope that they'd make a difference, to try to stop or slow down … the high state of emotions," said Police Chief Bill Lee Jr.
Lee, Investigator Chris Serino — the case's lead detective — and other department managers sat down for an exclusive interview with the Orlando Sentinel today.
Lee said he is frustrated that Trayvon's family
, its lawyers and others have ripped his department for its handling of the case. He is not a racist, he said, and his officers conducted a thorough and fair investigation and did nothing underhanded or untruthful.
"The hysteria, the media circus, it's just crazy,
" Lee said. "It's the craziest damn thing I've ever seen, and it's sad. It's sad for the city of Sanford, the police department, because I know in my heart we did a good job."
They have worked closely with prosecutors, Serino said, and have not arrested Zimmerman because prosecutors have consistently told them they do not have enough evidence to win a manslaughter conviction.
That's because Zimmerman says he was defending himself, something he's allowed to do under Florida law.
The best account of what happened came from Zimmerman, Serino said. Other witnesses who saw or heard parts of what happened corroborate his version of events
, the investigator said.
Zimmerman told police he got out of his SUV to follow Trayvon on foot, and the 17-year-old came toward him.
The two got into a fight, and Zimmerman wound up on the ground
, he told police. Trayvon hit him in the face, and Zimmerman yelled for help.
Several witnesses heard the fight, including a 13-year-old boy out walking his dog, but there have been different accounts of who was crying for help.
Zimmerman told police that Trayvon was the aggressor. Police have found no credible evidence, Serino said, to contradict that.
"Everything we have is adding up to what he says," said Serino.
There are gaps, Capt. Bob O'Connor admitted, in what police have been able to piece together.
And they have yet to review what's on Trayvon's cell phone, something the family surrendered only after police issued a subpoena.
Lee said he has no qualms about the U.S. Department of Justice getting involved. He's been in touch with that office for several days, trying to set up a meeting, he said.
Someone from the U.S. Attorney's Office is expected to be in Sanford at a meeting Tuesday, Lee said.
"If the DOJ wants to come in and look at what we've done, we are an open book," said Lee.
Lee said he is dumbstruck by critics who demand that police simply arrest Zimmerman then let a judge and jury decide whether he acted in self-defense.
"You're violating their civil rights if you do that,"
And Zimmerman, despite all the criticism he's faced, does have civil rights, police said.
Said Serino, "We don't arrest to punish. … We have a circumstantial case. We have a case that's one-sided. We have a lot of questions to be answered. I just hope we can get those answered so we can tell the Martin family what happened that night.
Zimmerman contacted the Sanford Police Department 46 times in the past 15 months, the agency reported today. The most frequent reason for his call – eight times – was to report a suspicious perso
n, the agency said.
"I hold law enforcement officers in the highest regard and I hope to one day become one," Zimmerman wrote in an application to the Seminole County Sheriff's Office citizen's law enforcement academy. That's a class in which citizens learn about policing and how the sheriff's office works.
He went through that program in 2009.
Records with the sheriff's office show he had a history of following suspects.
In 2003 he saw a 24-year-old Lake Mary man shoplift a 24-inch TV from an Albertson's Supermarket, called the Seminole County Sheriff's Office and followed the suspect's car for several blocks, allowing a deputy to make an arrest.
The next year, he followed a man in his vehicle for several blocks after accusing him of spitting at him, according to an incident report. The other driver accused Zimmerman of tailgating him, and was not arrested.
The glut of email from an online petition, calling for Zimmerman's arrest, temporarily shut down the email system at the State Attorney's Office in Sanford
and Viera Thursday, the office acknowledged.
More than 240,000 people have signed the petition, calling for his prosecution, according to change.org, an online petition website.
The Seminole-Brevard State Attorney's Office has the investigative material from Sanford police detectives, and said it could be weeks before a determination is made
about whether the 28-year-old community watch member who shot the Miami teen last month will be charged with a crime.
Trayvon's family members have pleaded with police to arrest Zimmerman to no avail.
"Until we can establish probable cause to dispute that, we don't have the grounds to arrest him,"
Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee Jr. said Monday.
The New Black Liberation Militia, a self-styled black survival group, has announced that it plans to make a citizens arrest of Zimmerman next week, the Associated Press reported.
It quoted Najee Muhammad, a group leader, saying, "We'll find him. We've got his mug shot and everything."
Natalie Jackson, a lawyer for the Martin family, said she does not support the threat, but also cannot control them.
"There are people out there with their own agendas," Jackson said. "It's nothing we condone."