The city manager of Sanford, Fla., says George Zimmerman wasn't arrested despite his confession that he fatally shot Trayvon Martin because police were legally barred from doing so.
"Zimmerman provided a statement claiming he acted in self defense, which at the time was supported by physical evidence and testimony," Sanford City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr. wrote in a letter released publicly Wednesday evening. "By Florida Statute, law enforcement was PROHIBITED from making an arrest based on the facts and circumstances they had at the time."
The Sanford Police Department has received widespread criticism for its handling of the investigation. Among other issues, it didn't conduct a drug or alcohol test on Zimmerman, although that's standard practice in homicide probes, and a witness has said a police officer "corrected" her claim that she heard Martin yelling for help.
The letter goes on to address several other issues related to the case. Bonaparte writes that Zimmerman's failure to obey a 911 dispatcher's request that he not follow Martin can be taken into account in the ongoing investigation, but adds that the request "is not a lawful order that Mr. Zimmerman would be required to follow."
Bonaparte appears to be saying that disobeying the order wasn't in itself a violation of law.
Bonaparte also addresses a claim made by Martin's father, Tracey Martin: that a law enforcement official told Tracey Martin that Zimmerman wasn't initially arrested because he had a squeaky clean image (in fact, Zimmerman had been charged in connection with assaulting a cop, though the charge was dropped).
Bonaparte writes that the official was merely telling the elder Martin how Zimmerman had portrayed himself. "We believe Mr. Martin may have misconstrued this information," he adds.
"Let me assure you we too feel the pain of this senseless tragedy that has dramatically affected our community," Bonaparte writes.
You can read the full letter here.
The U.S. Justice Department and the state of Florida are conducting their own separate investigations into the killing, which has sparked nationwide outrage.
Zimmerman, a white Hispanic, was patrolling the streets of a gated community in Sanford on Feb. 26, when he spotted Martin, 17, and told a police dispatcher that a "black male" was acting "suspicious." Zimmerman, 28, ignored a warning from the dispatcher not to pursue Martin, and a violent confrontation ensued, leaving Martin dead. Zimmerman told local police he acted in self-defense, and he has not been detained or charged, though questions have been raised about the thoroughness of the police investigation.
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