The Sanford City Manager issued a statement today claiming that the police were prohibited from making an arrest in the Trayvon Martin shooting, but a closer examination of the law reveals that the City Manager is misleading the press about the law.
When the Sanford Police Department arrived at the scene of the incident, Mr. Zimmerman provided a statement claiming he acted in self defense which at the time was supported by physical evidence and testimony. By Florida Statute, law enforcement was PROHIBITED from making an arrest based on the facts and circumstances they had at the time. Additionally, when any police officer makes an arrest for any reason, the officer MUST swear and affirm that he/she is making the arrest in good faith and with probable cause. If the arrest is done maliciously and in bad faith, the officer and the City may be held liable.
According to Florida Statute 776.032 :776.032
Immunity from criminal prosecution and civil action for justifiable use of force.—(1)
A person who uses force as permitted in s.776.012, s.776.013, or s.776.031is justified in using such force and is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of such force,
However, if you read .012, .013, and .031, you see that Mr Zimmerman does not necessarily qualify under these statues.
776.012 Use of force in defense of person.
776.013 Home protection; use of deadly force; presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm.
776.031 Use of force in defense of others.
Furthermore, the prohibiting of arrest does not apply if the person against whom the defensive force is used has a right to be where they are:
“The presumption set forth in subsection (1) does not apply if: (a) The person against whom the defensive force is used has the right to be in.”
And more importantly, and most disingenuously, the person is not exempt under the claimed statute from arrest if they “Initially provoke(s) the use of force against himself or herself.”
The person who provokes the force against themselves is not protected by the statue the City Manager quoted:
776.041 Use of force by aggressor.—The justification described in the preceding sections of this chapter is not available to a person who:
(2) Initially provokes the use of force against himself or herself, unless:
(a) Such force is so great that the person reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he or she has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant; or
(b) In good faith, the person withdraws from physical contact with the assailant and indicates clearly to the assailant that he or she desires to withdraw and terminate the use of force, but the assailant continues or resumes the use of force.
Trayvon Martin had the right to be where he was. His father’s fiancée lived in the neighborhood, and he was not committing any crime, let alone in the act of threatening bodily harm to anyone when Zimmerman chose to chase him in his vehicle.
In the wake of the Feb. 26 horrific shooting of Trayvon Martin, the AP and many media outlets reported that a state law that allows people to defend themselves with deadly force might limit authorities. But that assumption by the media misleads citizens about when they can use deadly force with impunity, even under the Stand Your Ground law.
The media assumed, perhaps because of the inaction of the Standford Police Department, that the alleged killer was presumed to be defending himself and therefor exempt from arrest. From all witness reports including the 911 call, he was not defending himself. However, even under the contentious Stand Your Ground law, the killer must “reasonably believe” that using deadly force is necessary to prevent “imminent” use of deadly force against himself or others.
So, how did the police leap to self-defense under Stand Your Ground?
The law suggests that a person has the right “to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force,” if he or she feels threatened.
It’s unreasonable to presume that an armed, grown man in his truck who is following a teenager on foot would feel justifiably threatened. It’s unreasonable to interpret getting out of the truck to chase down the teen as feeling threatened, especially after the alleged shooter knew the police were on their way and had been told to stop following the teenager. It’s unreasonable to conclude that pursuit of this nature qualifies as self-defense.
And then we come to the part where the now dead teenager did nothing except walk while talking on his cell phone and carrying some skittles and an iced tea.
USA Today reported:
“He said this man was watching him, so he put his hoodie on. He said he lost the man,” the girl said. “I asked Trayvon to run, and he said he was going to walk fast. I told him to run but he said he was not going to run.”
Eventually he ran, she said, thinking that he’d managed to escape. But suddenly the man was back, cornering Trayvon, she said.
“Trayvon said, ‘What, are you following me for?’ and the man said, ‘What are you doing here?’ Next thing I hear is somebody pushing, and somebody pushed Trayvon because the head set just fell. I called him again and he didn’t answer the phone.”
Then the line went dead, she said.
Trayvon was running away from an armed stranger who came back to corner him. Since the girlfriend’s accounting lines up with both witnesses and the cell phone logs, we have further suggestion that Zimmerman does not qualify for exemption for arrest.
Already, the Stand Your Ground law should not apply. And yet, police department officials said in a public statements that they lack sufficient evidence to disprove Zimmerman’s accounting of the events.
Here is Zimmerman on the 911 tape:
“We’ve had some break-ins in the neighborhood, and there’s this real suspicious guy. This guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.”
How does “just walking around, looking about” qualify as “imminent threat”? How does just walking around provoke an altercation with Zimmerman?
Zimmerman claimed that he had stopped giving chase when Martin attacked him. The police say they lacked the evidence to disprove Zimmerman’s account, which presumes that Zimmerman following the teenager after being told not to is covered under the Stand Your Ground law, and that as such, it exempts them from arresting him. It also presumes that it’s the police department’s job to interpret the law. Their job is to enforce the law, not interpret it.
George Zimmerman, with a history of being charged with using violence to resist arrest, has already proven that he is aggressive and was the provoker of the altercation by giving chase, and yet the police had no reason to question his accounting?
Lawyers are arguing that Trayvon was not the aggressor and that the 911 tapes and the witnesses’ stories confirm that Trevyon was the person yelling for help. The shooting occurred within minutes of Trayvon telling his girlfriend some man was following him. However, why would we even need to go this far?
Zimmerman pursued a walking, unarmed teenager in a vehicle. He knew police were on their way. No crime was being committed by the teen. He then got out of his vehicle with his gun and chased the teenager down. He obviously provoked any encounter between himself and Martin.
Even if Zimmerman’s version of the story were accurate (and the evidence does not support this conclusion), and Trayvon had then turned around to chase him, Zimmerman was the armed, pursuing aggressor who provoked the confrontation. Zimmerman was the threat.
Zimmerman was the person who gave Trayvon a reason to stand his ground, not the other way around. Remember, the killer must “reasonably believe” that using deadly force is necessary to prevent “imminent” use of deadly force against himself or others.
In what world is it self-defense to chase an unarmed person down, someone who is just “walking around, looking about”?
The Sanford Police Department is being backed by a City Manager who clearly doesn’t understand the law or is cherry picking it to defend their inaction. Furthermore, the police department’s actions have permitted their inaccurate interpretation of the law to permeate into the collective.
The very implication of the phrase “stand your ground” does not involve using a vehicle to chase someone who was not committing a crime. Stand your ground means you don’t back down, it doesn’t mean you give chase. The entire debate should have stopped right there, but since the police chose to accept this absurd claim for self-defense, the debate has been successfully reframed so that Treyvon Martin has been forced to prove from his early grave that he was not threatening Zimmerman.
Standing one’s ground does not involve chasing someone down. The very phrase implies not moving at all. It means there is no duty to retreat. Retreat is the opposite of giving chase. It means that one does not have a duty to retreat if they are attacked in a place they have a right to be, and to use force “necessary” to prevent death, serious bodily harm, or “the commission of a forcible felony.”
Once Zimmerman exited his vehicle and chased Martin (who was not in the commission of a crime) on foot, he provoked contact and is not exempt from arrest.
Of course, that may all be moot now, for with the FBI and the DoJ investigating, it appears that they may view this crime as a hate crime, and therefore a federal crime. Let this serve as a warning to those who misinterpret Stand Your Ground laws as a get out of jail free card.
The City Manager is nothing but an administrator, and has no legal standing to determine that the police were prohibited from making an arrest. It’s more than curious why he chose to cherry pick the statue and leave out the most relevant part of it.
If you’re wondering why the City Manager is making such a statement, and not the City Attorney, you’re getting warm. It’s called political cover. It appears that the police department invoked a Florida statute as a defense for not arresting George Zimmerman, but their logic doesn’t hold up because that statute is only applicable if the person is acting is self-defense.
Perhaps the City Manager and the Florida police need a refresher on the law itself. Let us not forget that behind all of this political pandering, a young man is dead and his family and friends are grieving a loss that can’t be revoked.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.