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?
How about this one?
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.”