Today’s WTF: Charges against George Zimmerman aren’t enough

Image via Associated Press/Sanford Police Department

We all know this guy. It’s George Zimmerman, who has finally been charged by special prosecutor Angela Corey in the death of Trayvon Martin. On Wednesday, Zimmerman turned himself in to authorities, and is now in custody. According to his new attorney, Mark O’Mara, Zimmerman will appear in court on Thursday for a bond hearing.

Now here’s a question for you: can you name this guy?

Image via BET.com

How about this one?

Image via Wikipedia

If you don’t recognize these people, you should. They have both played essential roles in the Trayvon Martin case. While the charges against George Zimmerman are being discussed, I wanted to make sure we didn’t forget these two people. Because, as far as I’m concerned, they should also be held accountable for the parts they played in what has happened so far. Allow me to refresh your memory about how these men shaped the narrative of this case, and you’ll see what I mean.

The first photo is of Bill Lee, the former police chief of Sanford, Florida. Lee was heading up the police department in February when Trayvon Martin was shot and killed. The very night that Trayvon Martin died, Lee allowed the person who shot him to head home a free man. This seemed wrong to many people, and as a result of the uproar that followed, the investigation was turned over to the State Attorney’s Office. In a statement at the time, Lee said:

“In this case Mr. Zimmerman has made the statement of self-defense. Until we can establish probable cause to dispute that, we don’t have the grounds to arrest him…There is evidence that George Zimmerman acted in self-defense.”

Sanford city commissioners gave Bill Lee a “no confidence” vote 9 days after the State Attorney’s Office took over the investigation. The following day, Lee stepped down from his position as police chief of Sanford.

Now for the second photo, which is of Norm Wolfinger. Wolfinger is the State Attorney for Brevard & Seminole Counties, and he was responsible for taking over the investigation into Trayvon Martin’s death . However, he, like Bill Lee, quickly found himself the target of public outcry over his handling of the case. Wolfinger recused himself from the investigation on March 22 – the same day that Bill Lee gave up his post as Sanford’s police chief.

Between these two men, it seems that there were a number of moves made in the investigation that were careless at best, or unethical at worst. Most troubling was the revelation that Chris Serino, the homicide detective who dealt with Zimmerman on the night of Trayvon’s shooting, had pushed for an arrest. In an affidavit filed on the night of the incident, Serino indicated that he believed a manslaughter charge against George Zimmerman would be appropriate. However, neither Lee nor Wolfinger acted on this recommendation.

As additional details came out in the press, it seemed more and more that the investigation had been poorly executed. Witnesses said their input had been ignored; a tape of a 911 call from that night featured Zimmerman using a profane word and a possible racial slur, neither of which had been noticed or commented on by police in their initial reports; a friend who was on the phone with Trayvon during the moments before the shooting was never contacted or interviewed by police. Law enforcement experts publicly criticized the methods of the Sanford police and the State Attorney, including former New Jersey police commander Walt Zalisko, who told the Miami Herald:

“I have never seen such an incompetent investigation. There are so many problems with this case…There are so many inconsistencies in the story. At the very least they should have arrested him, and let the state attorney sort it out.”

Fallout from the case accumulated, as the Department of Justice and the FBI opened investigations into possible civil rights violations. The attorney for the family of Trayvon Martin also asked the Department of Justice to check into reported irregularities in the way local authorities handled the case (including the rejection of detective Chris Serino’s recommendation to pursue charges against Zimmerman). In addition, Governor Rick Scott instructed the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to look into the case as well, citing the fact that “the circumstances surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin have caused significant concern within the Sanford community and the state.”
The picture that has been painted of the Sanford Police Department and State Attorney Norm Wolfinger is not a pretty one. It appears to be disturbingly clear that there were multiple issues with the way Trayvon Martin’s death was handled, from a law enforcement perspective. Whether through racial bias against Trayvon, personal favoritism toward George Zimmerman, pure incompetence, or a combination of all three, the men responsible for protecting and serving that community failed to do their jobs. This should not be overlooked.George Zimmerman will now have to face the public and the courts to answer for what he has done. But this process should not end with him. Bill Lee, Norm Wolfinger and any others who chose not to do the right thing for Trayvon Martin and his family must be held accountable as well. To ignore their failures would be a crime in itself. No matter what the jury says about Zimmerman, the issues within Florida’s law enforcement community must be addressed and corrected, so that no other family ever has to go through what Trayvon’s family has gone through, just to obtain the simple chance at justice that they have deserved all along.
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7 thoughts on “Today’s WTF: Charges against George Zimmerman aren’t enough

  1. Keep calling it like it is, Chris. Some people don’t bother to get past raw emotion.
    After more than 20 years in the US Justic Department, witnessing the lengthy delay in this case — regardless of Florida’s “self defense” law — has been astounding!

  2. It would definitely serve the cause of justice to hold the Sanford police department accountable, particularly as their actions may lead to Zimmerman’s acquital.

  3. I think there are way too many lawsuits in this country now. But in this case, I firmly believe the Martin’s should sue the police dept. They are hopefully going to trial with critical evidence not gathered. Zimmermans clothes for one.

  4. The DOJ should indict Lee and Wolfinger, as well as Zimmerman’s father if he influenced the decision to cut his son loose. It is worth remembering that Lee got the job in the first place because of previous shenanigans. They need to be made an example of, to the point where no one else would dare try this.

    • I am very interested to see what is uncovered during this process. I’d be willing to bet that George Zimmerman’s not going to be the only one to get into legal trouble about what happened in this case. Everyone who came out to speak on Zimmerman’s behalf said that things would be different once the facts came to light. Well, I guess we’re about to find out, for him and for all the other people who were involved with the path this case took.

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