Lessons for Cops
From The Zimmerman Trial.
The same media-fueled wildfire of lynch mob mentality that almost incinerated George Zimmerman also burned some of the cops who investigated it, and the department itself.
Police don’t try their cases in the press. Talking heads were convincing the general public a sinister vigilante had murdered a helpless child. The Sanford, Fla. Police Department had already determined the evidence was instead consistent with a 17-year-old self-styled “gangsta” violently attacking a man and bashing his head into concrete, forcing that man to shoot him in self-defense. Thus arose the false meme of racist jack-booted thugs defending a fellow racist. Careers of good, honest cops were severely impacted.
The law enforcement site PoliceOne.com focused on Captain Robert O’Connor, Sanford PD, and published, “Following the incident, O’Connor was placed in charge of the Zimmerman investigation.
Three canvasses of the neighborhood were done the night of the shooting. A video reenactment was done, and George Zimmerman was cooperative. The department held a meeting with the residents in the gated, townhome community, home to a cross section of ethnicities including whites, blacks and Hispanics. ‘We answered as many questions as we could for homeowners. We were honest with them,’ O’Connor said. After 48 hours of investigation, the local State’s Attorney was given a run-down of the findings. Lee and O’Connor were told by the State’s Attorney’s Office that there was no criminal case, and there was no way to prosecute. It appeared to be a clear case of self-defense.”
In the Ayoob Files in this issue, Mas talks specifics about the events leading up to this incident. He explains more about the scene, shown here, and how Martin likely doubled-
back to confront Zimmerman.
Detective Chris Serino, the lead investigator, wound up back in uniform at police officer rank. At trial, his honest testimony would be far more powerful for the defense than for the prosecution. At the time of the shooting, Bill Lee, a highly respected career cop, was the Chief of Police in Sanford. Against his wishes, city officials gathered members of Trayvon Martin’s family to hear the 9-1-1 tape of a neighbor’s call, which included the controversial screams just before the single, fatal shot. The multiple family members — who would later be asked to identify the voice — hearing that together was a clear violation of good police procedure, and was done against the Chief’s will.
An inflamed public demanded an arrest. But, as Chief Lee later explained, “Our focus was the truth about what happened. There wasn’t anything to refute or invalidate Zimmerman’s claim to self-defense. Race didn’t have anything to do with the investigation.”
Chief Lee was fired for doing his job, following the law, and not filing charges without probable cause when the politicians wanted him to. He told the press at the end of the day, he at least maintained his integrity. That’s more than can be said for some who were involved in the prosecution, in my opinion.
Issues about lack of trace evidence on Trayvon Martin’s hands at trial brought questions of competence: It’s standard procedure for a homicide victim’s hands to be “bagged” to preserve that, and they weren’t in this case. The question may arise, “Who exactly does that?” The evidence technician? The lead homicide investigator? The medical examiner’s people? The first responding patrolman? And when the deadly fight has taken place on wet grass in a heavy rainstorm, where exactly do the cops get a giant Plexiglas bubble to cover the entire crime scene, assuming the trace evidence hasn’t been washed away before they got there, anyway?
Angela Corey fired Ben Kruidbos, director of information services in the office of Special Prosecutor Corey, right after the trial for providing discovery materials to the defense. Interesting the one person in the office fulfilling the office’s duty to do that in a timely manner lost his job over it. A lot of good, honest people in the criminal justice system took hard career hits for being honest, telling the truth, and fulfilling their oaths. People like Bill Lee, Chris Serino and Ben Kruidbos make you all the more proud to wear a badge.
By Massad Ayoob