George Zimmerman's account of his encounter with the Florida teen whose shooting has sparked a national outcry.
SANFORD, Fla. — The family and supporters of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin found themselves on the defensive Monday after revelations he had been suspended from school at least three times before he was shot to death by a neighborhood watch volunteer. Police also confirmed a report that the volunteer claimed Martin was the aggressor, punching him in the nose and smacking his head on a sidewalk.
Martin, 17, was suspended by Miami-Dade County schools in February because a “marijuana pipe” and traces of marijuana were found in a plastic baggie in his book bag, family spokesman Ryan Julison said. Martin was serving the suspension when he was shot Feb. 26 by George Zimmerman, who was patrolling the neighborhood where Martin was reportedly staying with his father’s fiancée because of the suspension.
The reports of the suspensions surfaced as a more complicated portrait of Martin began to emerge Monday.
Zimmerman, 28, claimed he shot Martin in self-defense; he has not been arrested. Because Martin was black and Zimmerman has a white father and Hispanic mother, the case has become a racial flash point that has civil-rights leaders and others leading a series of protests in Sanford and around the country.
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Martin was suspended from school in October in an incident in which he was found in possession of women’s jewelry and a screwdriver that a schools security staffer described as a “burglary tool,” The Miami Herald reported.
On Monday, the family also acknowledged Martin had earlier been suspended for tardiness and truancy.
New disclosures indicate Zimmerman told police Martin decked the neighborhood watch volunteer with a single punch, climbed on top of him and slammed his head into the sidewalk several times, leaving him bloody and battered. That is the account Zimmerman gave police, and much of it has been corroborated by witnesses, authorities revealed to The Orlando Sentinel.
Craig Sonner, Zimmerman’s attorney, told ABC News on Monday that physical evidence, including a grass stain on the back of Zimmerman’s shirt, showed there was a scuffle. “When the evidence comes out, it will show that George Zimmerman was acting in self-defense in this case,” Sonner said. “It’s not a racial issue.”
Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, and family attorneys blamed police for leaking the information about the marijuana and Zimmerman’s claim about the attack to the news media in an effort to demonize the teenager.
“They killed my son and now they’re trying to kill his reputation,” Fulton told reporters.
The Sanford Police Department insisted there was no authorized release of the new information but acknowledged there may have been a leak. Fulton and her ex-husband, Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, will attend a congressional briefing Tuesday on racial profiling and state “stand your ground” laws. Twenty-one such laws have been passed in the United States in recent years.
Sanford authorities cited Florida’s “stand your ground” law as the reason Zimmerman has not been arrested.
Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump said the link between the youth and marijuana should have no bearing on the probe into his shooting death. State and federal agencies are investigating, with a grand jury set to convene April 10.
“If he and his friends experimented with marijuana, that is completely irrelevant,” Crump said.
On Feb. 26, when Zimmerman first spotted Martin in the gated community where he acted as a watchman, he called police and reported a suspicious person, describing Martin as black, acting strangely and perhaps on drugs.
In his version of events, Zimmerman got out of his SUV to follow Martin on foot. When a dispatch employee asked Zimmerman if he was following the 17-year-old, Zimmerman said yes. The dispatcher told Zimmerman he did not need to do that.
There is about a one-minute gap during which police say they’re not sure what happened.
Zimmerman told them he lost sight of Martin and was walking back to his SUV when Martin approached him from the left rear, and they exchanged words.
Martin asked Zimmerman if he had a problem. Zimmerman said no and reached for his cellphone, he told police. Martin then said, “Well, you do now,” or something similar and punched Zimmerman in the nose, according to the account he gave police.
Zimmerman fell to the ground and Martin got on top of him and began slamming his head into the sidewalk, he told police.
Zimmerman began yelling for help.
Several witnesses heard those cries, and there has been a dispute about whether they came from Zimmerman or Martin.
Lawyers for Martin’s family say it was Martin, but police say their evidence indicates it was Zimmerman.
One witness, who has since talked to local television-news reporters, told police he saw Zimmerman on the ground with Martin on top, pounding him — and was unequivocal that it was Zimmerman who was crying for help.
Zimmerman then shot Martin once in the chest at very close range, according to authorities.
When police arrived less than two minutes later, Zimmerman was bleeding from the nose, had a swollen lip and had bloody cuts to the back of his head.
Civil-rights leaders and others have demanded Zimmerman’s arrest, calling Martin a victim of racial profiling and suggesting Zimmerman is a vigilante.
Martin was an unarmed black teenager who had committed no crime, they say, who was gunned down while walking back from a 7-Eleven with nothing more sinister than a package of Skittles and a can of Arizona iced tea.
Supporters have held rallies in Sanford, Miami and New York, as well as one on Sunday in Seattle, calling the case a tragic miscarriage of justice.
Zimmerman has gone into hiding. A fringe group, the New Black Panther Party, has offered a $10,000 reward for his “capture.”
Also Monday, an attorney for Martin’s mother confirmed that she filed trademark applications for two slogans containing her son’s name: “Justice for Trayvon” and “I Am Trayvon.” The applications said the trademarks could be used for such things as DVDs and CDs.
Earlier, city officials named a 23-year veteran of the Sanford police department as acting chief. The appointment of Capt. Darren Scott, who is African American, came days after Chief Bill Lee, who is white, temporarily stepped down as the agency endured withering criticism over its handling of the case.
Compiled from Orlando Sentinel, Miami Herald, The Associated Press and The Washington Post