Gun Rights

Did Police and Paramedics Conspire to Invent George Zimmerman's Injuries?

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Many people suspect that George Zimmerman, in seeking to justify shooting Trayvon Martin, exaggerated the threat posed by the unarmed teenager. But the attorneys hired by Martin's family have a history of exaggeration as well. One of them, Natalie Jackson, declared, based on the recording of a 911 call made during the fight between Zimmerman and Martin, "It is so clear that this was a 17-year-old boy pleading for his life, and someone shot him in cold blood." Zimmerman claimed the cries cited by Jackson were his own, not Martin's, and a witness backed him up. The same witness confirmed that the fatal shot was fired in the midst of a violent struggle, apparently when Martin was on top of Zimmerman—i.e., in the heat of the moment, not in cold blood. Another lawyer for the family, Benjamin Crump, said the testimony of Martin's girlfriend, who was talking to him on his cellphone right before the fight, "completely blows Zimmerman's absurd self-defense claim out of the water." It doesn't. Most crucially, her account does not resolve the question of who started the fight, let alone the question of whether Zimmerman (who claimed Martin tried to grab his gun) reasonably feared for his life and had no feasible means of escape. This pattern of hyperbole continues with the lawyers' tendentious interpretation of security camera footage (below) showing cops bringing a handcuffed Zimmerman into the police station, which ABC News aired last night (and Mike Riggs noted this morning).

"An attorney for the teen's family said it looks to him that Zimmerman doesn't have injuries to his face and head in the video as Zimmerman's supporters have described," A.P. reports. Those injuries—a bloody nose and a cut on the back of Zimmerman's head—were described not just by his "supporters" but by police officers who said they saw them. It is true that no blood or injuries are discernible in the video, which is fuzzy but shows the back of Zimmerman's head a few times and includes a pretty clear image of his face as he walks through a door at the 1:25 mark. But since "he was tended at the scene by paramedics but told them he did not need to go to a hospital," as The Orlando Sentinel reports, that is hardly surprising. Any wounds presumably would have been cleaned up by the time Zimmerman got to the police station. According to A.P., Zimmerman's lawyer "said the gash on the back of Zimmerman's head probably was serious enough for stitches, but he waited too long for treatment so the wound was already healing." The most that can be said based on the video is that Zimmerman's wounds were not severe enough to be visible in grainy security footage, a point reinforced by the fact that he declined to go to the hospital. But here is what Crump had to say:

This certainly doesn't look like a man who police said had his nose broken and his head repeatedly smashed into the sidewalk. George Zimmerman has no apparent injuries in this video, which dramatically contradicts his version of the events of February 26.

It does not really contradict Zimmerman's version of events. Although the apparent mildness of his injuries may reinforce the impression that he overreacted, it is still possible that Zimmerman reasonably feared severe injury or death, especially since he said that Martin tried to take away his gun. By casting doubt on whether Zimmerman really had the injuries police reported and paramedics treated, Crump implies an official conspiracy to make up details supportive of Zimmerman's account. Although there are good reasons to question the thoroughness of the police investigation and the decision by the state attorney's office not to charge Zimmerman, there is no evidence that Sanford police—whose lead investigator, Chris Serino, reportedly wanted to arrest Zimmerman—were so eager to absolve him that they falsified their records.

Addendum: In an interview with WOFL, the Fox station in Orlando, Zimmerman's father says the neighborhood watch volunteer deemed Martin suspicious because he was walking in the rain between townhouses, instead of on the street or the sidewalk. He adds that Zimmerman kept following Martin after the police dispatcher suggested that he stop because he wanted to get an address from one of the houses so he would know where exactly he was in the development.