as the one with which George Zimmerman
shot Trayvon Martin.
FBI agents have finally arrived at the Retreat at Twin Lakes, the gated community where George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin to death five weeks ago. They’re focusing on whether the unarmed teen’s civil rights were violated. Specifically, they’ll be questioning witnesses to determine whether there was a racial motivation behind the killing.
A senior law enforcement official confirmed that one potential piece of evidence is records of Zimmerman’s prior 911 calls to police dispatchers. The call sheets show that five of seven phone calls Zimmerman had made since last August involved what he viewed as suspicious activity by young men identified as “black males.” But the call sheets do not indicate whether Zimmerman was asked about the race of the suspects or volunteered that information.
If they find such evidence, it could mean Zimmerman might be tried in federal court even if the Florida special prosecutor also now investigating the case chooses not to indict him on the grounds that he was defending himself in sync with state law. Zimmerman told police that he followed Martin but lost him amid the row houses. After he started back to his SUV, Martin knocked him to the ground and smashed his head against the sidewalk, Zimmerman claimed, prompting him to pull his pistol and put a 9mm bullet in the teen’s chest. Martin was dead before police arrived shortly afterward.
Molly Hennessy Fiske of the Los Angeles Times interviewed FBI Special Agent Dave Couvertier and Department of Justice spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa:
Q: What is the FBI investigating?
Couvertier: The parallel investigation we’re running is specifically focused on the death of Trayvon Martin and more specifically, were there any violations of his civil rights? We are not investigating the Sanford Police Department, which has been a little confusing for folks.
Q: So there’s no federal investigation into the local police?
Hinojosa: When the Justice Department investigates a whole police department, like we did in New Orleans or in L.A., that is a pattern of practice investigation – that’s something different. We are not doing that here.
Q: Are you investigating with local officials?
Couvertier: The (Florida) state attorney has started to investigate the state charges regarding the death of Trayvon Martin. That’s their lane. We’re in a parallel lane looking at all the facts in a comprehensive review looking at the circumstances surrounding the death. The threshold for the federal civil rights (violations) is relatively high. There’s some specific requirements that have to be met under that particular investigation or offense.
Q: Such as?
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. [...]
Q: What would you ask the public to do to help now?
Couvertier: Let all the facts come out, let us finish our investigation, and at that point, the nation will be better informed.
The lead investigator is special agent in charge Steven Ibison. He has already had meetings with Martin’s parents, their attorneys, members of the Sanford Police Department and civic leaders in the community. Asked how long the investigation might take, Couvertier essentially said it will be as long as it takes: “there’s no time frame.”
Once the FBI finishes, it will pass its conclusions along to the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, which will conduct a legal review to decide determination whether Zimmerman should be charged with a a civil rights violation.
Martin’s family is also asking the DOJ to see if State Attorney Norm Wolfinger interfered in the Sanford police investigation. The department’s lead investigator said the night of shooting that he did not believe Zimmerman’s self-defense story and wanted him arrested and charged. But Wolfinger’s office said there was not enough evidence.