Trayvon Martin 911 tapes: Who screamed for help before shot rang out?
Police and the parents of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager shot by a neighborhood watch captain, differ in their interpretation of 911 tapes, specifically about who was yelling for help.
A nighttime encounter on a quiet Florida street followed by hollering and pleas for help. Then a shot.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Florida vs. George Zimmerman: Case closed?
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
On Friday, the Sanford, Fla., police department released a flurry of 911 tapes from the night an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin, was killed by a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain on patrol after a string of neighborhood break-ins.
The Feb. 26 shooting touched a nerve in a town that has in the past seen flare-ups of racial tension, raising the specter of racially-fueled profiling.
But when police refused to arrest the shooter, 28-year-old George Zimmerman, in the weeks that followed, those allegations became compounded by complaints that police, as one attorney said, “are letting a murderer walk the streets.”
Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee has maintained that law enforcement has no evidence contradicting Mr. Zimmerman's story that he acted in self-defense. Complicating the situation for police, Florida has a so-called Stand Your Ground law that eliminates the need for someone who feels threatened to attempt to retreat, even in a public place. It's one of 17 states with such a law.
But amid growing public pressure to justify their decision to not arrest Zimmerman, police released seven separate 911 tapes ahead of a Monday court hearing on the topic.
“Completely devastated” by the content of the tapes, Trayvon's family and supporters say the tapes buttress their contention that far from fearing for his life, Zimmerman was an aggressor who confronted a young man peacefully going about his business and then shot him as the boy cried for help.
“This is amazing,” family attorney Natalie Jackson told the media after hearing the tapes on Friday. “The police have been covering up from the start. The most alarming thing was hearing a 17-year-old pleading for his life and someone still pulling the trigger.”
The tapes indicate that Zimmerman was in a resentful state of mind as he patrolled the neighborhood in the wake of several burglaries. At one point, Zimmerman tells the operator, “These [guys] always get away.”
But it's far from clear whether state investigators, who are reviewing the police department's decision, will be able to draw a different conclusion from local police. For one, police believe it was Zimmerman's voice, not Trayvon's, that can be heard yelling for help.
The at-times chilling tapes detail a series of events that began with Zimmerman calling 911 to report a “young black male” wearing a hoodie, walking about the Retreat at Twin Lakes gated community. It ended minutes later with panicked residents calling 911 to report an altercation, screams for help and a gunshot.
Describing seeing a man walking in the neighborhood, possibly on drugs, Zimmerman told the dispatcher, “It’s raining. He’s just walking around, looking about. He’s just staring ... at all the houses. Now he’s just staring at me.”
Then Zimmerman said the man had his hand in his waistband. “Something’s wrong with him. He’s coming to check me out.”
“Are you following him?” the dispatcher asks.
“Yeah,” Zimmerman said.
“We don’t need you to do that.”
As Trayvon's family sued for police to release the tapes and said in a Friday press conference that they had lost faith in the police department, Zimmerman's father, Robert Zimmerman, released a letter suggesting that Zimmerman did not exit his car as an aggressor, and that the news media were drawing the wrong conclusion about his son's state of mind.