Department of Justice opens investigation into case of black teenager killed by neighborhood watch captain
ORLANDO, Fla. – The Department of Justice is launching an investigation into the shooting death of a black Florida teenager by a neighborhood watch captain last month.
In a statement released Monday, the DOJ said
the investigation would be a joint operation between its Civil Rights
Division, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida,
and the FBI.
"The department will conduct a thorough and
independent review of all of the evidence and take appropriate action at
the conclusion of the investigation," the statement said.
The DOJ said it will also assist and cooperate with the state authorities on the investigation.
17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed by
28-year-old George Zimmerman as he was walking home through Zimmerman's
Sanford, Florida gated community last month.
Zimmerman had called 911 to report Martin as
a suspicious person, and has claimed he shot Martin, who was unarmed,
The department's announcement comes after
Florida college students held a rally demanding for Zimmerman's arrest.
They claimed Martin had done nothing to provoke the attack from
Zimmerman, and that he was a victim of racial profiling.
"I don't think a man who exited his vehicle
after the 911 dispatcher told him to stay inside the car can claim
self-defense," Carl McPhail, a 28-year-old Barry University law school
student, said at a rally in Sanford.
Zimmerman has not been charged in the case.
Although police have described him as white, his family says he is
Hispanic and not racist.
Prosecutors may not be able to charge
Zimmerman because of changes to state law in 2005. Under the old law,
people could use deadly force in self-defense only if they had tried to
run away or otherwise avoid the danger.
Under the new law, there is no duty to
retreat and it gives a Floridian the right "to stand his or her ground
and meet force with force, including deadly force," if he feels
"Prosecutors can have a hard time making a
case if there is no one else around to contradict a person who claims
self-defense," said David Hill, a criminal defense attorney in Orlando.
So far, Sanford police have said there is no evidence to contradict Zimmerman's claims.
"If there is nobody around and you pull a
gun, you just say, `Hey, I reasonably believed I was under imminent
attack. Hey, sorry. Too bad. But you can't prosecute me,"' Hill said,
advocates said the case is emblematic of permissive gun laws in
Florida, which was among the first states to allow residents to carry
concealed weapons. Florida was the first state to pass a "Stand Your
Ground" law, which has been dubbed a "Shoot First" law by gun control
Currently, about half of all U.S. states
have similar laws, said Brian Malte, legislative director of the Brady
Campaign, which describes itself as the nation's largest organization
dedicated to the prevention of gun violence.
"It's coming to dangerous fruition," Malte said. "There are more states like Florida."
The "Stand Your Ground" law's legislative
sponsor, Florida Rep. Dennis Baxley, said it wasn't written to give
people the power to pursue and confront others.
"That's not what this legislation does,"
said Baxley, a Republican. "Unfortunately, every time there is an
unfortunate incident involving a firearm, they think it's about this
law, and it's not."