Does police incident report upend Trayvon Martin case?

The police incident report tells a new narrative about what happened in the Trayvon Martin case between the teenager and shooter George Zimmerman. Where some see a rush to judgment against Zimmerman, others see a besieged police department justifying its investigation.

Michael Reilly/Daily News-Record/AP
On Monday, Bridgewater College student Moshe Khurgel of Charlottesville, Va., holds a sign with Trayvon Martin's picture on campus in Bridgewater, Va. Bridgewater students and others marched down Dinkel Avenue to the 7-Eleven where several students bought Skittles and ice tea during a protest of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

Trayvon Martin punched George Zimmerman first and knocked him down, then sat on the fallen neighborhood watch captain and banged his head into the ground.

That’s Mr. Zimmerman’s account of the Feb. 26 altercation that ended when he fatally shot Trayvon, according to the Orlando Sentinel, which obtained a police report on the incident. Zimmerman told police that he had lost sight of Trayvon and was returning to his vehicle when he was confronted and attacked by the 17-year-old.

Will these new details change the nature of the case? After all, to this point the story has been framed by an account from Trayvon’s family, which depicts Trayvon as an innocent youngster pursued by an armed vigilante.

Police in Sanford, Fla., have confirmed that Zimmerman blamed Trayvon for the confrontation and insist that he was the person witnesses heard calling for help. Some witnesses back up Zimmerman’s account, according to anonymous sources cited by local media.

“I think when the evidence comes out, it will show that George Zimmerman was acting in self-defense in this case,” said Craig Sooner, Zimmerman’s attorney, in an appearance Monday on NBC’s "Today" show.

Some commentators point to Zimmerman’s story as evidence that the media have been too quick to lay blame in the shooting.

“I have said from Day 1, there’s a rush to judgment and I can see it in the media....  I think maybe now that more information has come out, people might be a little more responsible,” said Fox News host Sean Hannity on his show.

However, it appears unlikely the new account will lessen the outrage that has spread across America in the wake of the Sanford police decision not to arrest Zimmerman for the shooting.

Zimmerman would of course put himself in the best possible light, claiming self-defense, in this view. Witnesses who have corroborated his story remain few, and anonymous. Other witnesses tell a different story – an unidentified 16-year-old girl has said Trayvon called her to say he was being pursued and was trying to flee, for instance.

Press leaks won’t turn down the heat on the Sanford police, notes Slate senior editor Emily Bazelon in a piece on the police account of the killing.

“The country has already fallen in love with Trayvon Martin. If the Sanford police want to convince us they did the right thing in letting his killer go, they’ll have to prove it. They’ll need a hearing in open court, not anonymous leaks,” writes Ms. Bazelon.

On "CBS This Morning" on Tuesday, a lawyer for Martin's family, Ben Crump, said the Sanford police have been embarrassed by the national spotlight and are now trying a classic “blame the victim” response.

Mr. Crump charged that local law-enforcement authorities have tried to “correct” the stories of witnesses whose recollections diverge from their accepted narrative of Zimmerman acting in self-defense.

Crump added that the most important evidence in the case is the 911 tape, which reveals that Zimmerman did not listen when an operator told him he did not need to get out of his car and pursue a hooded teen he deemed suspicious.

“The only thing that matters on Feb. 26 is George Zimmerman disobeyed the police and got out of his car and pursued and stalked Trayvon Martin to cause this fatal encounter,” said the Martin family lawyer.

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