A year before George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin, he stood before a City Hall community forum with a grievance: Sanford cops are lazy, he told the then-mayor elect.
The community college criminal justice major said he knew, because he went on ride-alongs with the Sanford police.
“And what I saw was disgusting,” Zimmerman said, according to a clip of a recording of the January 2011 meeting obtained by The Miami Herald. “The officer showed me his favorite hiding spots for taking naps, explained to me that he doesn’t carry a long gun in his vehicle because, in his words, ‘anything that requires a long gun requires a lot of paperwork, and you’re going to find me as far away from it.’
“He took two lunch breaks and attended a going away party for one of his fellow officers.”
Zimmerman’s public lambasting of the police department and its former chief is rich with irony: A year later, the new police chief took a national beating over how the department handled Zimmerman’s shooting of high school junior Trayvon Martin. The department was accused of sloppy police work and favoritism — in Zimmerman’s favor.
The recording raises new questions about whether the neighborhood watch volunteer received preferential treatment that night because he was familiar to officers in the department — or whether the officer he skewered publicly was among the ones who took him into custody. It suggests Zimmerman was telling the truth when he said he rallied against the police department in a controversial case involving the beating of a homeless black man, and throws doubt on the Sanford Police Department’s longstanding position that nobody at the department knew Zimmerman before the Feb. 26 killing.
From the start, attorneys for Trayvon’s family have said that as a wannabe cop, Zimmerman had been protected by the “blue wall.” Police Chief Bill Lee denied knowing Zimmerman, who was a criminal justice student at the same community college where Lee conducted police academy training for new recruits.
A video released last week by the state attorney prosecuting the case shows Zimmerman, a bandage on his head, walking unescorted at the police station three days after the killing. Records show Lee and Zimmerman exchanged courteous emails last fall, when the volunteer wrote to praise a police department employee.
“The deeper questions here are: What are the relationships?” said Natalie Jackson, an attorney for Trayvon’s family. “We have always had a concern about the relationships.”
Jackson was also the attorney for Sherman Ware, a homeless man whose December 2010 beating led to the ouster of former police chief Brian Tooley.
Justin Collison, son of a Sanford Police lieutenant, was caught on video punching Ware, yet no arrest was made for weeks. The incident came to exemplify nepotism and favoritism at the Sanford Police Department. Tooley was forced out the same day Collison, the lieutenant’s son, turned himself in.
The community forum in which Zimmerman spoke, hosted by the incoming mayor and several city commissioners, took place at City Hall just five days later.
Over the past few weeks, members of Zimmerman’s family have said he was so upset about the Ware case that he posted fliers on cars parked at black churches urging everyone to attend the community forum. At the meeting, Zimmerman did not mention Ware by name, but said Tooley should be denied his pension.
Read the rest of this story on the Miamiherald.com