Rep. Corrine Brown, and Sanford city leaders, who met in Washington today with U.S. Department of Justicer representatives, said they were committed to finding answers surrounding the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
"I am not satisfied with how this case was handled," said Brown, D-Jacksonville, speaking on the grounds of Capitol Hill. She said the crime scene was not properly contained and that has eroded people's faith that justice would be done. "People need to feel the system is fair."
Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett, as he has said for nearly a week, repeated his openness to a federal review of the case. "If I made an error, I want someone to tell me. .
We have opened our books."
Earlier today, local prosecutors announced that they'll have a Seminole County grand jury investigate the shooting. That announcement came about 12 hours after the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it will review the shooting for any possible civil rights violations.
The county grand jury will hear evidence April 10. State Attorney Norm Wolfinger's office, with the help of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, is reviewing and collecting evidence in the case.
The U.S. Attorney's Office civil rights division is reported to have a team in Sanford now, speaking to people in the course of its investigation. The Department of Justice said in a statement late Monday that it will conduct a "thorough and independent review."
That would not be a murder or manslaughter investigation but a parallel one into whether the shooter, George Zimmerman, 28, violated Trayvon's civil rights.
He was killed about 7:15 p.m. Feb. 26 as he walked through a gated community in Sanford, returning from 7-Eleven, where he'd bought Skittles and a can of Arizona Iced Tea.
Tonight, the national president of the NAACP, Benjamin Todd Jealous, will be at a Sanford church for a town hall meeting with local officials, including Sanford's embattled police chief, a Department of Justice representative, city officials, local prosecutors and members of the community who say Trayvon was a victim of racial profiling and demand that Zimmerman be arrested.
Some members of Congress have urged the DOJ to consider Trayvon's shooting a hate crime.
Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, spotted him while driving down the street and called police, describing Trayvon as a suspicious person.
Moments later, the two got involved in what one witness described as a wrestling match, and Zimmerman shot him with a 9 mm handgun for which he had a concealed weapons permit.
Sanford police have not arrested Zimmerman because he claims self-defense. Investigators say evidence supports that claim. Last week, they passed the results of their investigation to Wolfinger's office, saying they could not find probable cause to arrest Zimmerman on a manslaughter charge.
Critics accuse the police department of doing a shoddy investigation and shielding a murder suspect. Community and civil rights leaders have called for Zimmerman's immediate arrest and organized a series of rallies and a public campaign calling attention to what they describe as an injustice and outrage.
A petition on Change.com has garnered more than 500,000 signatures from supporters, including celebrities such as Gabrielle Union, Alyssa Milano, Cher and Russell Simmons who have weighed in on the controversy through social media.
Legislators have also publicly voiced their discontent on the House of Representatives floor.
"Mr. Speaker, I'm tired burying young black boys," Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Democrat representing Northern Miami-Dade and Southeast Broward counties, said Monday afternoon. "I am tired of watching them suffer at the hands of those who fear them and despise them."
"You need to feel that the criminal justice system works," Brown said, adding she's fielded hundreds of calls from constituents about the case. "I just want them [DOJ] to review everything that has happened."
Congressional Black Caucus chairman Emanuel Cleaver II said in a statement that Trayvon's slaying "compromises the integrity of our legal system and sets a horrific precedent of vigilante justice."
The congressman, a Democrat from Missouri, said he was "outraged by the way in which this case has been handled by the Sanford Police Department in Florida."
Sanford city leaders had been pushing the Department of Justice to get involved since last week. Last night, the DOJ formally announced it will investigate. It released this statement:
"The department will conduct a thorough and independent review of all of the evidence and take appropriate action at the conclusion of the investigation. The department also is providing assistance to and cooperating with the state officials in their investigation into the incident. With all federal civil rights crimes, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person acted intentionally and with the specific intent to do something which the law forbids - the highest level of intent in criminal law. Negligence, recklessness, mistakes and accidents are not prosecutable under the federal criminal civil rights laws."
Kenneth Nunn, a civil rights expert on the faculty at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, said Tuesday that the Department of Justice seldom charges people with civil rights violations and that those charges are unlikely in this case, unless investigators come up with compelling new evidence.
They will look for signs that Zimmerman intentionally set out to deprive Trayvon of his right to life, Nunn said.
"You have to show that it's willful," said Nunn. "You can't show that it was negligence or stupidity. You have to show it was intentional.
Rick Jancha, former head of the U.S. Attorneys Office in Orlando, said proving a hate crime is "very difficult".
Investigators must find an overt act, such as witnesses who heard Zimmerman use a racial epithet or that he had planted a burning cross, said Jancha, who's now in private practice.
The Sanford State Attorneys Office has a record of taking race-charged shootings to a county grand jury.
Seven years ago, after receiving complaints from the local branch of the NAACP, Wolfinger had a grand jury investigate the shooting death of a black teenager who was killed by two white security guards with ties to the Sanford Police Department. The grand jury indicted them, but ultimately they were cleared.
The panel charged William "Billy" Swofford, a Sanford police volunteer, with manslaughter in the death of 16-year-old Travares McGill, who was black.
The second guard, Bryan Ansley, the son of a Sanford cop, was indicted for firing into a vehicle, but prosecutors later dropped that charge because ballistics tests proved his bullets didn't hit McGill or his car.
McGill was killed while speeding away from the guards, who were patrolling an apartment complex at 3 a.m. July 16, 2005.
Both guards said they opened fire because McGill was speeding toward them, and they feared for their lives, but the teen died of a gunshot wound to the back.
At Swofford's trial, Circuit Judge O.H. Eaton Jr. listened to the state's case then ordered him acquitted, saying Swofford had acted in self-defense.
In Trayvon's case, Pat Whitaker, chief of operations at Sanford's State Attorney's Office, told protesting students Monday that the FDLE was helping with its investigation.
Gov. Rick Scott this week released a copy of a memo he sent to FDLE Commissioner Gerald M. Bailey:
"I believe it is appropriate that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement provide any assistance necessary to fully investigate this matter. Accordingly, please ensure that FDLE offers and provides the appropriate resources to the State Attorney's Office as they continue their investigation."
Source: Orlando Sentinel