Okay, the Zimmerman trial has come and gone. It’s over. Was the outcome one that everyone wanted to see? Certainly not. And, no matter what could have happened in that Florida courtroom, Trayvon Martin would still be gone. No, gone is not the correct word. Trayvon Martin is dead. His parents will never see their son again, and I, for one, cannot imagine the pain they’ve suffered as a result of his fatal encounter with George Zimmerman.

But what actually happened that night? Did George Zimmerman act out some sort of perverted fantasy of killing a black guy who wore hoodies and enjoyed Skittles? Was “Georgie” as his friends called him, a closet racist? Does he despise African American teens? Well, let’s first examine the racial aspects of this not-so-complicated case.

Shortly after Martin died much of the news media began to paint Zimmerman as a racist who’d apparently targeted Trayvon Martin simply because he was black. In fact, NBC news even went as far as editing portions of Zimmerman’s call to 911, which seemingly bolstered those claims of racism. However, by the time the entire 911 call was made public it was far too late. The racism claim had consumed the entire country.

Zimmerman’s actual statements to the 911 call-taker/dispatcher.

Zimmerman – “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.”

Dispatcher –  “OK, and this guy – is he black, white, or Hispanic?”

Zimmerman – “He looks black.”

Now, here’s what NBC broadcast to the public.

“This guy looks like he’s up to no good…. He looks black.”

There’s a huge difference between the two, and NBC’s edited version certainly makes Zimmerman appear to think the suspect was up to no good merely because of the color of his skin. Not so, though. What Zimmerman actually reported can be heard on any number of police radios all across the country. That’s how police narrow the field, so they won’t be looking for a suspect of the wrong race. It’s a logical question and response. For example:

Caller – “There’s a man in the liquor store with a gun. Oh my God, he just shot the clerk and now he’s running away!”

Dispatcher – “Can you give me a description?”

Caller – “He’s a big guy wearing a hoodie.”

Dispatcher – “How about his race? Is he white, black, Hispanic?”

Caller – “He looks white… Hold on… Yes, he’s white for sure. The hood just fell away from his face.”

Okay, now police can focus only on the white men wearing hoodies near the liquor store. Nothing racist about the description. In fact, it’s a totally necessary description. And that’s exactly what Zimmerman offered to the police dispatcher, that the man in question appeared to be black.

It was this edited 911 call that basically ignited the racism aspect of the case. Of course, President Obama didn’t help matters at all when he made his comment, “You know, if I had a son he’d look like Trayvon.” You know, I don’t believe the president of the United States has any business poking his nose into a local criminal case, especially before the evidence has been gathered. His premature statement was like pouring gasoline on a campfire. It sent the cries of racism through the roof, and the aftermath was brutal, and it came without first knowing the facts. It was a knee-jerk reaction of huge proportion.

A large segment of the population screamed, protested, and demanded that neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman be arrested, and he was, eventually. But not before Chief of Police Bill Lee lost his job for no more reason than his department wasn’t able to find enough probable cause to arrest George Zimmerman. Neither could the local prosecutor.

In fact, just last week, Chief Lee told CNN’s George Howell in an exclusive interview that he was pressured by city officials to arrest Zimmerman to placate the public. “It was (relayed) to me that they just wanted an arrest,” said Lee. “They didn’t care if it got dismissed later,” he said. “You don’t do that.”

So the governor of Florida appointed a special prosecutor to the case, and she, Angela Corey, wasted no time in pacifying the public when she charged George Zimmerman with 2nd degree murder based on the same evidence (or lack of) that Chief Lee, his investigators, and the local prosecutor didn’t believe was enough to even establish weak probable cause to arrest.

But now we all know that Chief Lee and his staff did their jobs. Sure, there were a few missteps, such as not bagging the hands of the victim and placing wet clothing in plastic bags instead of paper, (readers of this blog know that paper allows proper air drying for the preservation of DNA and blood evidence). Luckily, though, neither of those oversights were important to this case since the identity of the shooter was known all along.

We also know that Prosecutor Norm Wolfinger did his job correctly by not bringing charges against Zimmerman, because there simply wasn’t enough evidence to garner a conviction of any type, including manslaughter.

Florida State Attorney Angela Corey was the appointed prosecutor who charged, or over-charged, Zimmerman with 2nd degree murder. And I say over-charged because there wasn’t even the tiniest shred of evidence that pointed to 2nd degree murder. So this is basically what the prosecution had to offer as far evidence in this highly-charged, high-profile case…

– Second-degree murder in Florida is defined as a killing carried out with hatred, ill will, or spite, but is not premeditated. Basically, the only thing separating this charge from 1st degree murder is the lack of premeditation. There absolutely was no indication of Zimmerman having any hatred, ill will, or spite toward Martin. None. Unfortunately, it appears that the special prosecutor succumbed to political pressure and charged Zimmerman merely to…well, I’ll leave opinion out of this and stick to the facts I know. And that means I have no way of knowing what Angela Corey was thinking when she brought the charges, no more than she could’ve known what thoughts were zipping through Zimmerman’s mind on the night he shot Trayvon Martin.

– The prosecution offered the tape of someone, either Martin or Zimmerman, screaming for help. Well, both sides claim it was their person who was doing the screaming. Therefore, this, as evidence, was rendered a moot point. You know, though, at the beginning of the investigation, police officers said that Martin’s father answered “No,” when they asked if it was Trayvon’s voice he heard on the tape.

– A lack of physical evidence (blood, DNA, etc.) on both Zimmerman and Martin. It was raining that night, which more than likely washed away what little evidence there was, if any. I’ve investigated more than my share of homicides in my day, and I’ve seen murder victims who bled very little, if any, from gunshot wounds. I’ve also investigated cases on nights when the sky opened up sending buckets of rain onto the scene and the victim’s body. The evidence is quickly destroyed if the area isn’t quickly protected, and sometimes it impossible to do so due to response times and other difficulties.

– Testimony of witnesses…for the most part, each of the witnesses had something to say that backed Zimmerman’s accounting of the shooting.

In other words, There wasn’t enough evidence to charge George Zimmerman with even the lesser of the charges, manslaughter. And there certainly wasn’t enough evidence to convict him of murder. Not even close.

Even so, after being presented with the lack of evidence and the evidence that proved Zimmerman was not guilty of the charges brought against him, there are people across the country who still believe Martin’s death was racially motivated. And those people are taking to the streets, even as far away as Oakland, California, to destroy the property of hard-working men and women who have absolutely nothing to do with George Zimmerman or Trayvon Martin.

The protestors using violence to express their “concerns” are basically diminishing the cause when they break storefront windows, block traffic, destroy police cars, set fires, and burn American flags that belong to businesses.

You know, if you want to protest by burning an American flag, spend your own money to buy your own flag to burn instead of stealing one from a fast food restaurant. You want to break a window, break the glass on your own house, not at a store owned by people no better off than you. You want to seek revenge on the police, do it on election day by voting the people out of office who support the officials that don’t share your beliefs. After all, repairing or replacing a police car is no big deal. The government simply draws the necessary funds to do so out of our tax dollars. Same thing with out of control, violent protests. We have to pay the police overtime to handle to violence, and where do you think the money comes from to pay them? We all suffer from these acts of stupidity, not the government.

Finally, the president of the United States of America should be savvy enough to wait until the evidence comes in before openly taking sides in a local criminal matter. Besides, he above all others should be perfectly aware of the consequences of wading into an issue without first doing some pretty extensive homework. Didn’t he sort of inherit a war that was based on faulty intelligence?

Remember folks, George Zimmerman was found not guilty, but that doesn’t mean the jury found him innocent. They did the best they could with the evidence presented to them, which wasn’t much at all. And, based on my experience and the fact that there’s no such thing as a perfect crime, having no evidence is a good indicator that someone’s not guilty.

The jury was right in this case. No doubt about it.

And to those of you who’re itching to protest senseless killings, I can list hundreds of them all over the U.S., including a dozen or so recent murders in the Savannah, Ga area, starting with 21-year-old Rebecca Foley who was shot dead as she drove into her apartment parking lot after a long day at work. Mr. President, I have to ask, if you had another daughter would she look like Rebecca?

What about, Michael Biancosino and Emily Pickels who were shot dead while driving home after work?

How about Amber DeLoatch, who was assaulted, strangled, raped, and murdered, and then placed into the trunk of her car. Her killer then set the vehicle on fire. DeLoatch’s charred remains were later discovered by police.

What kind of human could do that sort of thing to another human?

36-year-old Shan Demetrius Cheley has been indicted for DeLoatch’s murder. Cheley has an extensive criminal history.

And let’s not forget Chicago, where 67 people were shot (11 killed) during the 4th of July weekend alone. Forty-six were shot (8 killed) on Father’s Day.

I could go on and on listing the shootings that occur in this country every day, but I won’t. But I will continue to wonder why there’s no outrage over these senseless killings. Where are the protestors? Where’s the anger? Are these lives not as important as another?

Who do these murder victims look like…Biden, Pelosi, Clinton, Holder, Romney?

I say our government officials need to worry about Snowden and the IRS, and leave policing to the good, hardworking people who know what they’re doing.

There is no place for politics when it comes to crime-solving.

*I chose the cases above because they were the ones most accessible to me. Race had nothing to do with my posting them. Sadly, there are plenty of murder victims—far too many—of all races. Killers too.

Zimmerman Case

I think that by now everyone is aware of the murder trial of George Zimmerman, the man accused of murdering Trayvon Martin. But what do we actually know about the case? Well, if you listened to and read media accounts in the days following Martin’s death, you would’ve seen that Zimmerman was a wild-eyed, crazy, gun-slinging, drooling white man who gunned down a thin, young African American boy who’d skipped his way to the store to purchase candy and a soda, all while humming Disney tunes as tiny bluebirds gayly flitted and fluttered around his head.

We know now, though, that many media accounts were far from accurate. Zimmerman, it turns out, is a half Hispanic man who is most likely a police officer wannabe but doesn’t meet the standard, and Martin was much older and much larger and not quite as innocent as the media wanted us to believe.

What a shock…some media sources stretched and bent and twisted the truth about the case until it turned into what it is today. And there were serious consequences. A police chief lost his job. Racial tensions are at the tipping point. Even the president of the U.S. stuck his nose in the case, saying, “If I had a son he’d look like Trayvon Martin.” That was perhaps one of the most odd occurrences in the aftermath of the shooting. But it didn’t stop there. Suddenly, it was black against white (even though Zimmerman is of a Hispanic background). The usuals for both sides came out to stir the pot until it boiled over. There were death threats to Zimmerman, and promised retaliation from non-black hate groups. It’s been near chaos at times.

What we’re seeing play out in the televised coverage of Zimmerman’s murder trial is not even close to what most of the broadcast media outlets sent to our television screens in the hours and days following Martin’s death. Actually, most of the accounting that Zimmerman offered to police has been backed by evidence—Martin most likely punched Zimmerman and slammed his head onto a concrete surface; Martin was on top of Zimmerman when Zimmerman fired his weapon, etc. Even witness testimony and the testimony from an expert placed Martin on top of Zimmerman during the struggle, which brings up a legitimate question. If Martin was on top during the struggle (a good indicator that he was winning the fight) then why would he have reason to yell for help? Certainly, common sense tells us that the loser of a brawl would be more inclined to ask or yell for assistance.

As a police investigator, I searched for fact. I did not allow personal opinion interfere with my methods of solving cases. And that’s how I’ve viewed that facts in this convoluted and unfortunate case involving the death of Trayvon Martin. Sure, if I were a Monday morning quarterback I’d say it would have been best had Zimmerman remained in his car until the police arrived. But that’s not what happened, nor was Zimmerman under any obligation to do so. At any rate, he got out and a few minutes later somebody’s son was dead. And, another son would soon be arrested for murder.

We’ve seen a lot of posturing by attorneys in this case, with each trying to paint the other’s evidence in the worst possible light. They’re taking jabs at the other’s witnesses, trying to discredit them. And the prosecution is trying its best to make George Zimmerman out to be the racist gun-slinging crazy man I mentioned in the opening paragraph. And Zimmerman’s attorneys have tried, but so far haven’t been totally successful in their efforts to change the image the media painted of Trayvon Martin, the happy little kid who was merrily skipping his way home from the candy store.

Now, I wasn’t there when this unfortunate incident took place, which means I can’t with any authority say what happened. I do know, however, what the evidence shows. Do I think Zimmerman is a fine, upstanding citizen? Absolutely not. Not even close. Is he guilty of 2nd Degree Murder? I don’t think the prosecution has come anywhere close to proving their case. Again, not even close.

Sure, Zimmerman killed Martin, but the evidence is leaning in his favor that it was in self defense. Remember, Zimmerman had the same right as Martin to be there on that sidewalk. Zimmerman was not obligated to remain in his car. All that’s in question now is did Zimmerman feel his life or welfare was in jeopardy at the time he pulled the trigger?

And that brings us to Martin. The media and the defense have offered to us an image of a little boy who only wanted one thing, his Skittles and iced tea. However, Martin was no little kid. Sure, he was young, but he was the size of a grown man, and he lived like a man, boasting about fighting and selling and using drugs (on Twitter). The defense will shortly be introducing evidence that Martin had marijuana in his system the night died.

Images taken from Martin’s cell phone definitely paint an entirely different picture of him than what the broadcast media forced upon us. And that’s not including his school suspensions for drug paraphernalia, and other offenses.

Here are some of the images taken from Martin’s cell phone. I ask you, are these the images you’d associate with an innocent and timid little boy?

For those of you who don’t recognize the plant species, this is marijuana.

In no way am I saying Martin or Zimmerman were/are bad people. I’ve never met either of them, or their families. Instead, I believe that all sides of the case, and those involved in it, should be seen before decisions are made. I am saying, however, that the media should broadcast/print the true news—fact—not some story they’ve concocted by manipulating the events and words in ways that helps them sell papers and magazines, and that increases the number of viewers and/or followers to a particular network or political party.

If the Zimmerman case was indeed about race, then so be it. However, I don’t see where it was, but the media has ignited a hot fire that that’ll burn for a long time, and it will be up to others to extinguish it while the true firebugs move on to another story they can spin. For now, though, I feel for the Martin family who has to deal with losing a son. I can’t imagine what they’re going through. But I do know that the racist fire that was concocted and fueled by the media has deepened their wounds. I just hope the Martin’s can someday know that not all whites and Hispanics judge by skin color. I also hope they can do the same.

And, I feel for the Zimmerman’s, whose son may be headed to prison for a long, long time. Zimmerman may or may not be a racist, I don’t know. But he wasn’t given a choice thanks to recordings that were apparently and conveniently edited by the media to suit their agenda.

Anyway, the Zimmerman trial will soon be coming to a close. Hopefully, the jury can wade through everything they’ve seen and heard and reach a decision they believe is the right one—a decision based on the facts of the case. And, hopefully, everyone will accept their decision, whatever it may be, and move on.

Will that be case? I certainly hope so.

*Trayvon Martin’s cell phone images – CNN

Watching the neighborhood

I’m sure that by now you’ve all heard of George Zimmerman, the Florida neighborhood watch guy who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, a young African American man who was walking home from a local convenience store.

Zimmerman says he shot Martin in self defense, while the prosecution and Martin supporters claim the shooting was a deliberate murder motivated by race.

But what role in this tragic story does the Neighborhood Watch program play? And what exactly is the Neighborhood Watch program? Who sponsors it? And why was George Zimmerman out on patrol? Well…

The Neighborhood Watch program officially began in 1972.

Created and organized by the National Sheriff’s Association, Neighborhood Watch was established to reduce crime. Watch members are groups of citizens who live in the same areas and want to make their communities safer.

Local police agencies work closely with local Neighborhood Watch programs, providing guidance and, as events occur, use information gathered by Watch volunteers to better formulate a plan that best suits the needs of a particular neighborhood (more patrols in a given area, foot patrol instead of vehicle patrol, etc.).

Neighborhood Watch members are also active in providing assistance to the homeless and those in need after a major disaster.

Boris the Burglar is the widely-recognized symbol of the Neighborhood Watch program, and the presence of signs bearing his image is a signal to criminals that the eyes of the community are watching them and that the locals will be calling the police if they sense anything out of the ordinary.

Each “Watch” group should have a police officer liaison whose job is to provide guidance and to assist with the needs of individual communities.

It is the duty of Watch members to be on the lookout for suspicious activity in their neighborhoods. The Watch guidelines offered by the National Sheriffs Association (NSA) defines suspicious activity as “anything that feels uncomfortable or looks out of place. The guide also lists a few “activities” that could be considered suspicious, such as loiterers in places like school grounds or businesses that have closed for the night, and signs of forced entry on homes and businesses.

Watch members are encouraged to report any strange or unusual activity, including suspicious or illegal actions and dangerous situations.

It is important that all Watch members report legitimate concerns and they should do so by calling 911. It is also important that Watch members remain safe, and that includes watching and reporting from a safe distance from where the odd or illegal activity is taking place. In fact, the Watch guidelines spell out a very important safety suggestion for its members. Here’s a screenshot of the reminder taken from the NSA Neighborhood Watch manual:

This somewhat brief notice leaves very little room for interpretation. Actually, the statement is pretty much to the point.

So where does this leave George Zimmerman? He was a Neighborhood Watch member, a leader in his local organization, I believe. He was also well known to members of the police department. In other words, he was no stranger to “how things work.” And, more importantly to this case, he took action.

On the night of Trayvon Martin’s death, Zimmerman was driving through his neighborhood (I understand he wasn’t on duty as Neighborhood Watch). He saw Martin walking through the neighborhood (there had been recent burglaries in the area) and called the police to report the stranger (Martin’s father lived there, but Martin did not).

Martin wore a dark hoodie, with the hood up and on his head, as he made his way to his father’s house. By the way, many criminals, of all races, wear hoodies as part of their disguises—an attempt to mask their identities. However, it was raining, therefore a hood worn over the head would be a natural thing to do. I’ve done it many times, including the night I was in my own yard clearing heavy, wet snow from some very young Deodar Cedars. Well, my neighbors saw a dark figure wearing a hoodie and immediately called the police. After all, who in their right mind, other than someone who was up to no good, would tromp around outside during a brutal snowstorm, at midnight? It took a lot of convincing on my part that I was indeed who I said I was, and I still don’t think the two deputies believed my “snow on the trees” story.

Anyway, Zimmerman parked his car, got out, and headed after Martin, supposedly to see what he was up to and to keep him in sight until police arrived. Of course, we all know that within a matter of minutes Martin was dead and today George Zimmerman is on trial for murder.

Let’s assume Zimmerman did exactly what he said he did. And while we’re here, let’s leave out the racial aspect. I want to address only the fact that Zimmerman left his vehicle to follow Martin.

Was it illegal for him to get out of his car to follow Martin on foot? Remember, a dispatcher told him, “You don’t need to be doing that (following Martin).” And, the paragraph from the NSA Neighborhood Watch manual clearly states that citizens should never take action on their observations.

Well, the key word here is SHOULD.

There is no law preventing anyone, including George Zimmerman, from getting out of his car and taking a walk. The dispatcher’s statement was not a police order, so he didn’t disobey her. Besides, she doesn’t have the authority to order someone to remain inside their vehicle. Still, she didn’t say, “Do not get out of your car, and that’s a direct police order.” But to include the word should, well, that’s like telling your kid that he should eat his broccoli. Will the little darling eat his green vegetable after hearing that statement? Or would he be more inclined to do so if you said something like, “Eat your broccoli…now!”

I believe Zimmerman was legally allowed to carry a firearm. So he didn’t violate any laws there either. Should he carry a weapon while on Watch duty? I don’t know what their rules say regarding firearms, but I’d think the police and the organization would both frown on Watch members carrying guns. Again, though, no laws were broken. Keep in mind that an organization’s rules and regulations are not laws. You can be removed or fired for breaking a private rule, but you cannot be arrested for it (unless the rule is also an actual law on the books).

What happened after Zimmerman and Martin came together is now up to a Florida jury to decide, and they must do so based on facts, not assumptions, race, prejudices, media speculation, gut feelings, wishes, hopes, or dreams.

But whether or not George Zimmerman was breaking the law by stepping out of his vehicle, well, that really should be a non-issue. Simply because someone says something—in this case, the dispatcher—doesn’t make it a binding law.

You know, as in, “I should have been working on my book instead of staring out of the window wondering why the red-headed woodpecker in the palm tree by the pool doesn’t get a headache from all that wood-pecking…but I’m not.” If only someone would come along and say, “Get to work!”

Oh, oh, here comes the wife. I just might be hearing those words after all.

So what are your thoughts on George Zimmerman? Guilty of murder? Or, did he act in self defense?

 *By the way, I am a proud Sheriff Member of the National Sheriff’s Association, and I wholeheartedly urge you to support your local sheriff.