(ORLANDO, Fla.) — ABC News has uncovered questionable police conduct in the investigation of the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white neighborhood watch captain in Florida, including the alleged “correction” of at least one eyewitness’ account.
Sanford Police Chief Billy Lee said there is no evidence to dispute self-appointed neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman’s assertion that he shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin out of self-defense.
“Until we can establish probable cause to dispute that, we don’t have the grounds to arrest him,” Lee said.
Martin had been staying at his father’s girlfriend’s house during the night of the NBA All-Star game on Feb. 26. The teenager went out to get some Skittles and a can of ice tea. On his way back into the gated suburban Orlando community, Martin, wearing a hood, was spotted by Zimmerman, 26.
According to law enforcement sources who heard Zimmerman’s call to a non-emergency police number, he told a dispatcher “these a..holes always get away.”
Zimmerman described Martin as suspicious because he was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and walking slowly in the rain, police later told residents at a town hall.
A dispatcher told Zimmerman to wait for a police cruiser, and not leave his vehicle. But about a minute later, he left his car wearing a red sweatshirt and pursued Martin on foot between two rows of townhouses — about 70 yards from where the teen was going.
Witnesses told ABC News a fist fight broke out and at one point Zimmerman, who outweighed Martin by more than 100 pounds, was on the ground and that Martin was on top.
Several residents heard someone cry for help, just before hearing a gunshot. Police arrived 60 seconds later and the teen was quickly pronounced dead.
According to the police report, Zimmerman, who was armed with a handgun, was found bleeding from the nose and the back of the head, standing over Martin, who was unresponsive after being shot.
An officer at the scene overheard Zimmerman saying, “I was yelling for someone to help me but no one would help me,” the report said. Witnesses told ABC News they heard Zimmerman pronounce aloud to the residents watching that “it was self-defense.”
But after the shooting, a source inside the police department told ABC News that a narcotics detective and not a homicide detective first approached Zimmerman. The detective peppered Zimmerman with questions, the source said, rather than allow Zimmerman to tell his story. Questions can lead a witness, the source said.
Another officer corrected a witness after she told him that she heard the teen cry for help. The officer told her, a long-time teacher, it was Zimmerman who cried for help, the witness told ABC News.
The Sanford Police Department refused to release 911 calls by witnesses and neighbors. Several of the calls, ABC News has learned, contain the sound of the single gunshot.
Lee publicly admitted that officers accepted Zimmerman’s word at the scene that he had no police record. Yet public records showed that Zimmerman was charged with battery against an officer and resisting arrest in 2005, a charge that was later expunged.
Zimmerman has not responded to requests for comment.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
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