In January 8, 2011, newly elected Sanford, Florida mayor Jeff Triplett presided over a community meeting at which one topic of discussion was the then police chief, Brian Tooley. Tooley was under fire for his officers’ failure to arrest the son of a police lieutenant who had beaten up a black homeless man the previous December. Justin Collison would later be arrested, but Tooley was forced to retire later that January, after a cellphone video of the beating went viral on YouTube.
Among those who spoke at that community meeting was George M. Zimmerman, who a year and one month later, would shoot and kill Trayvon Martin.
The meeting was first reported by the Miami Herald on Thursday.
ZIMMERMAN RECALLS SPENDING TIME WITH SANFORD POLICE
Zimmerman, who was studying criminal justice at Seminole State College (where Tooley’s eventual replacement, Chief Bill Lee, was a law enforcement instructor,) expressed to the commission his displeasure with the handling of the Collison case. He said “i would just like to state that the law is written in black and white. it should not be enforced in the gray, for those who are in the thin blue line.” he wanted to know “what action the commission would take with regard to “the repeal” of Tooley’s pension, which Zimmerman said he believed Tooley had “already forfeited… by his illegal cover up” in the Collison case, “and corruption and what happened in his department.”
Zimmerman’s family members had claimed he distributed fliers in the African-American community supporting the victim in the Collison case, Sherman Ware. But Ware’s sister, Tonnetta Foster, told theGrio in April that she recalls no such support from Zimmerman and never saw him before his face appeared on television following the Trayvon Martin shooting. And several pastors who spoke to theGrio refuted the claim, made in a letter to Foster from an unnamed member of the Zimmerman family, saying they never saw him distribute fliers at their churches, urging people to attend the January 8, 2011 public meeting. Ware was represented by Natalie Jackson, one of the attorneys now representing the Martin family. Jackson told theGrio Wednesday that the idea that Zimmerman supported Ware is false. And in the recording, obtained by theGrio Thursday, Zimmerman never mentions Ware in his remarks to the commission.
During the public meeting, Zimmerman also told the commissioners that he had “had the opportunity to ride along with Sanford police,” and that what he saw was “disgusting.”
“The officer showed me his favorite hiding spots for taking naps,” Zimmerman said, adding that the officer, who he did not name, “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 closed by addressing the mayor’s recent election, stating, “I am aware of how vital it was for your election to secure the Fraternal Order of Police endorsement, but please do no underestimate the most important endorsement is that of the residents, and the constituents of this city.” Zimmerman, a Virginia native, had moved to Sanford in 2007 from neighboring Lake Mary, where his parents lived. He and his wife Shellie had rented a townhome at the Retreat at Twin Lakes since 2009. In that time, Zimmerman had been a repeat caller to police to report everything from menacing dogs, to potential robberies. He became the townhome complex’s neighborhood watch coordinator in September 2011.
After Zimmerman’s remarks at the public meeting, Triplett replied that he and the other newly elected commissioners, had “full faith and credit, and we’re putting a lot on [then-interim police chief Steve] Harriett’s shoulders.”
The mayor promised that the review of the department’s handling of the Collison case would be “swift. There’s not gonna be delays.” And he said the police union would “be the first to tell you that there’s issues. That’s what the reviews are for and we’re gonna rely on those, and we’ll look into your other issues.”
TheGrio has also obtained a copy of a “ride-along” request and release form filled out and signed by a “George M. Zimmerman” on March 15, 2010. The request states that the request would be for “any Friday or Saturday evening,” and that the purpose of the ride-along was to “solidify my interest in a career in law enforcement.”
The form indicates that a background check or “QP” to discover any outstanding warrants was done, and came back “negative,” but “Yes” is written in under “History,” indicating police may have been aware of Zimmerman’s prior arrests for domestic violence and resisting a police officer. It was signed and approved on March 15th by a Lieutenant Harden, as well as by the department’s “primary operations captain” and deputy chief. Tooley’s approval appears on the form on March 16. Hand-written notes on the firm include one stating “called 3/16/10 confirmed,” and three other names written in, including a “Lt. Collison.” Lt. Chris Collison is the father of Justin Collison, the man accused in the Ware incident.
Zimmerman had displayed an interest in the Collison case at other times. According to evidence released by prosecutors in his second degree murder case, Wendy Dorival, the volunteer coordinator for Sanford Police, who worked with homeowners’ associations who wanted to start neighborhood watches, said Zimmerman wrote to Tooley’s replacement, Chief Bill Lee, commending her for her responsiveness, and citing what he called the prior chief’s mismanagement of the Collison case.
Contacted by theGrio, Sara Brady, a spokesman for Lee, who remains on paid leave with the City of Sanford, maintained that Lee does not know Zimmerman, despite the correspondence, and a report in the Herald that he replied to at least one Zimmerman email. Brady forwarded the following statement:
“Chief Lee has never met Mr. Zimmerman and does not know him. The email Chief Lee received in 2011 was not unique among the numerous complimentary emails Chief Lee has received from Sanford residents. As is his practice, Chief Lee responded to a positive comment from a citizen. Based on comments that Mr. Zimmerman is reported to have made in a public forum before Chief Lee was hired, it is not likely that Mr. Zimmerman would have endeared himself to members of the police department.”
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