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Fatal shooting of Florida teen turned over to state attorney
Vivian Kuo Mar-14-2012 1478 5


A case involving the fatal shooting of an unarmed Florida teen, which has sparked outrage and calls for justice, is in the hands of the state attorney's office.

Police say Trayvon Martin, 17, was returning from the convenience store to the home of his father's fiancee in a gated community in Sanford, Florida, around sunset on February 26.

A neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, 28, saw the teen and called 911 to report a suspicious man, authorities said.

The 911 dispatcher told Zimmerman not to confront Martin, but by the time police arrived, the teenager lay dead with a gunshot wound in the chest, said Bill Lee, the Sanford police chief. He was carrying a small amount of cash, some candy and an iced tea.

Zimmerman told police he shot Martin in self defense, authorities said.

"When you add it up, it just doesn't even make sense," said Ben Crump, the Martin family's attorney. "Trayvon Martin, a kid, has a bag of Skittles. (Zimmerman) had a 9 mm gun. Trayvon Martin didn't approach George Zimmerman, George Zimmerman approached Trayvon Martin. So how can he now assert self defense?"

A gunshot can be heard on the 911 calls recorded that night, police said.

The Martin family has sought to make the tapes available, but State Attorney Norm Wolfinger said Tuesday the calls will not be made public until the investigation is complete.

"Trayvon Martin and his family, interested persons, and the public-at-large are entitled to no less than a through, deliberate and just review of the information provided, along with any other evidence that may or may not be developed in the course of the review process," Wolfinger's office said in a statement. "We intend to honor that commitment."

The shooting has sparked an outrage in the community, with some accusing Zimmerman, who is white, of profiling the black teenager.

Numerous attempts to contact Zimmerman were unsuccessful, and it is unclear whether he has retained an attorney.

Police said they have not charged him because there are no grounds to disprove his story of what happened.

"The evidence and testimony we have so far does not establish that Mr. Zimmerman did not act in self defense. We don't have anything to dispute his claim of self-defense, at this point, with the evidence and testimony that we have," Lee said.

Lee said the 911 directions asking Zimmerman not to confront the teenager are not mandatory instructions.

"That is a call taker making a recommendation to him. He's not under a legal obligation to do that, so that is not something we can charge him with," he said. " But it would have been a good outcome ... if Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman never came in contact with one another."

In a letter sent to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the NAACP expressed doubt in the Sanford Police Department and asked the Department of Justice to review the case.

"The NAACP has no confidence that, absent federal oversight, the Sanford Police Department will devote the necessary degree of care to its investigation. We therefore call upon you to detail personnel to Sanford immediately to review the facts, ensure that the Sanford Police Department conducts an impartial, thorough and prompt investigation of the circumstances involving the death of this unarmed teen, and ensure that the responsible person is held accountable if a crime was committed," the letter said.

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“This is a direct violation of their own rules,” Stewart said. “You cannot use a Taser to escort or prod a subject.”

The lawsuit comes after the April death of Towns after he was repeatedly "drive-stunned" with Tasers by East Point police in an apparent effort to make him get up and walk after a foot chase.

Stewart said he is using copies of the city's own documents to piece together what happened in behalf of Towns' family.

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Stewart said Taser logs, combined with other information from the city, show two officers triggered their Tasers 13 times around the time in question: 10 for Sgt. Marcus Eberhart and three times for officer Howard Weems.

Stewart acknowledged the documents don't show the Taser made contact for each of the 13 trigger pulls. He said officer accounts vary, but none comes close to 13 Taser stuns.

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The names of two Los Angeles police officers who shot and killed an unarmed, mentally challenged man more than two weeks ago have been released.

Police identified 25-year-old Ezell Ford's shooters Thursday as Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas, who were assigned to the Newton Division gang enforcement detail, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The release of their names follows public outrage over the Aug. 11 shooting, during which three bullets were planted in Ford's back while he was lying on the ground, said family.

Wampler has served on the force for 12 years while Villegas has served for eight years.

Police had said that their delay in releasing the two officers' names pended assessment into whether it could threaten their safety.

"In this particular case, it was necessary to investigate evidence brought to the department's attention regarding potential threats to the safety of the officers and ensure that measures were taken to mitigate those threats," the LAPD said in a statement obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

Meanwhile Ford's autopsy report still remains hidden from public review due to a security hold placed by police.

They are also declining to say why the officers approached him while he was walking down the street.

Police have only said that he tackled an officer and tried to grab his gun.

Witnesses have disputed those claims, however.

"They had him in the corner and were beating him, busted him up, for what reason I don't know he didn't do nothing," Leroy Hill told the Huffington Post. "The next thing I know I hear a 'pow!' while he's on the ground. They got the knee on him. And then I hear another 'pow!' No hesitation. And then I hear another 'pow!' Three times."

One witness has additionally claimed that one officer yelled "shoot him" before they killed the man on the street.

Ford's death came two days before the similar, unarmed shooting death of Missouri teen Michael Brown which sparked nationwide demonstrations and protests.

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In a $40 million federal lawsuit, five people arrested recently in Ferguson, Missouri, accuse police of using "wanton and excessive force" and treating U.S. citizens "as if they were war combatants."

A complaint filed Thursday alleges that police officers from Ferguson and St. Louis County used unnecessary force and made unjustified arrests as they cracked down on protests after the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown earlier this month.

The lawsuit lists Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar, Ferguson officer Justin Cosma, several unnamed officers and the city and county governments as defendants. They did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A St. Louis County police spokesman declined to comment, referring inquiries to the county counselor's office.

The suit -- which includes accusations of intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent supervision, and assault and battery -- details circumstances allegedly surrounding several arrests between August 11-13:

-- Tracey White was about to buy an ice cream sundae at McDonald's when officers "in what appeared to be army uniforms, carrying rifles and sticks and wearing helmets" entered and ordered her to leave, according to the lawsuit. She was told to shut up, thrown to the ground and handcuffed after criticizing officers for the way they were treating her son, the lawsuit claims.

-- Dewayne Matthews was walking to his mother's house when a group of officers in military uniforms shot rubber bullets at him, the lawsuit alleges. He fell into a creek or sewer, the suit says, where officers "pounced on him, slammed his face into the concrete, and pushed his head into the water to the point that he felt he was going to be drowned."

-- Kerry White was shooting footage and holding his camera out his car window when an officer snatched his camera, "took out his memory card and threw it to the ground," the lawsuit says.

-- Damon Coleman and Theophilus Green were peacefully protesting, the lawsuit says, when police in riot gear fired tear gas and what appeared to be stun grenades in their direction, then "hurled racial epithets at them, while punching and kicking them the entire time."

CNN has not independently confirmed details of the arrests.

Police tactics to calm the crowds drew sharp criticism, including a rebuke from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

"At a time when we must seek to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the local community, I am deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message," Holder said as the protests unfolded.

As criticism of police tactics mounted, Gov. Jay Nixon Missouri tapped State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson to head up security in Ferguson on August 14.

This week, Johnson said police were scaling back their efforts in Ferguson now that the situation has cooled.

Belmar, the St. Louis County Police Chief, told reporters on Wednesday that he doesn't regret his agency's decisions to fire tear gas at protesters. That approach, he said, was much better than using nightsticks or dogs.

Even though President Barack Obama has called for a review of military equipment sales to local police deparments in light of the clashes between police and protesters in Ferguson, Belmar said that such equipment is often necessary.

"I never envisioned a day that we would ever see that kind of equipment used against protesters," he said. "But I also never imagined a day in 28 years when we would see that kind of criminal activity spin out of peaceful demonstrations."

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Was a police officer justified in shooting and killing Michael Brown?

That's the question at the heart of the looming legal battles over the controversial case.

What charges could Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson face? What would state and federal authorities have to prove in order to pursue charges? And does the fact that the gunman was a police officer change how the case could play out?

Here's a look at what legal analysts say could happen next.

Was a state crime committed?

A local grand jury has started hearing testimony, but that doesn't mean any particular charges are being recommended by prosecutors at this point, CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said.

"An investigation is just an investigation. ... It's just something that they're looking into," Toobin said.

For a criminal case to go forward, the grand jury must decide whether a crime was committed, and whether it's more likely than not that the accused person -- in this case, Wilson -- committed the crime, said CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin, a former federal prosecutor.

After a fatal shooting, a range of charges are typically on the table, said CNN legal analyst Danny Cevallos, a criminal defense attorney. "They're going to be anything in the spectrum of murder, manslaughter (or) negligent homicide," he said.

The prosecutor will make a recommendation to the grand jury.

From there, the grand jury could decide to indict Wilson, or that there isn't enough evidence to move forward. In order to bring charges against Wilson, nine of 12 jurors will have to agree.

But the prosecutor plays a key role in the hearings, which are not open to the public.

"The grand jury ultimately decides whether to indict, but it's 100% the prosecution's show. ... The prosecutor could, in theory, make less of an effort if he doesn't want someone indicted," Cevallos said.

Some residents and community leaders contend St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch has deep ties to the police and has favored law enforcement in criminal cases.

J.Tom Morgan, a former district attorney in Georgia who knows McCulloch, defended him as fair and objective.

"I believe Mr. McCulloch will present the facts and the evidence to the grand jury and the Missouri law as he is required to do so," Morgan said. "We do not put defendants on trial just to see what a jury will do."

Were Brown's civil rights violated?

As part of a federal civil rights investigation, authorities are interviewing witnesses and weighing a number of factors.

Key among them: whether Wilson exhibited "racial hostility," Toobin said.

"The most important thing would be, did he say anything that indicates racial hostility, either before, or after, or during (the shooting)?" Toobin said.

Wilson is white, and Brown was African-American.

"The bar is very high," Hostin said, "and they're difficult cases to prove."

But race doesn't have to be a factor in the shooting for investigators to allege there was a federal civil rights violation, Cevallos said.

Federal statute says it's a crime for government officials "to willfully deprive a person of a right or privilege protected by the Constitution."

Federal prosecutors could argue that Brown's right to life was violated, Cevallos said, but it's a tough case to make.

"They have to show that the officer intended to deprive somebody of that constitutional right. They would have to show intent to kill...which is not a particularly easy showing to make," he said.

The fact that Wilson is a police officer could influence whether he faces charges -- and how the case plays out.

"Often jurors are extremely sympathetic to police officers," said Paul Butler, a professor at Georgetown University Law School and a former federal prosecutor. "They think, even if he made a mistake, he's got the hardest job in the world, so they often want to cut police officers some slack."

Authorities also weigh different factors when deciding to prosecute police.

"There are issues that come up when you're prosecuting cases against police officers, because police officers by the very nature of their jobs can use deadly force," Hostin said.

Police officers have the same rights civilians have to self defense, Cevallos said, and they also have the right to make arrests.

"To do that," he said, "they can use deadly force to prevent an escape."

If Brown was trying to get away from the officer, Cevallos said, the Supreme Court case Tennessee v. Garner allows the use of deadly force when an alleged felon is trying to flee if "the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others."

But given the number of times Brown was shot, along with newly released audio that may show a pause in rapid gunfire, Wilson has a lot of explaining to do, the analysts said.

"Evidence suggests that he wasn't fleeing and was facing the officer," Cevallos said. "If that's true ... the officer has to explain six shots. He has to explain a reason for each of those six shots. He has to have justifiably been in fear of his life or fear of some imminent serious bodily harm."

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The IRS filed a tax lien against Vanessa Williams, saying the singer-actress owes the federal government $369,249 for her 2011 earnings.

The lien was filed at the New York City register office on August 13, 2014, according to a document on that website.

The publicist for Williams did not immediately respond Wednesday to requests for comment.

Williams, 51, was the first black Miss America, but her reign soon erupted into scandal when nude photos of her appeared in Penthouse magazine.

Her career soared in the aftermath, with music, television and Broadway performances that earned her Grammy, Emmy and Tony nominations.

A mother of four children, Williams lives in New York.

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The bride will wear a gown with a corporate logo.

Courtney McKenzie, 27, and fiancé Jamil Newell, 34, are trying to get businesses to sponsor their nuptials and cover the $30,000 price tag of their dream wedding in Thailand.

The enterprising Orlando, Fla., couple, slated to get married in December, launched their Sponsor Our Wedding campaign and website last week.

McKenzie, a former beauty queen turned entrepreneur with a mind for marketing, told the Daily News she came up with the idea in middle of the night. She talked it out with her husband-to-be, and they decided to go for it.

"We're still going to get married either way," she said. "It was one of those things that we just wanted to see if it worked."

And, so far, it is working.

McKenzie said they already have a handful of sponsors on board, including a hotel that will provide lodging and a company that has agreed to sponsor the wedding bands (McKenzie was clear that Newell purchased the engagement ring).

They will also pick a brand's logo to incorporate into the groom's tuxedo and the bride's wedding dress.

This tidbit in particular has riled up people on the Internet, some of whom have called the plan tacky.

"Sarah Jessica Parker wore a logo on her dress at the Met Gala and it was fashionable," McKenzie pointed out, referencing the actress' Oscar de la Renta gown.

Logos will pop up on the newlywed's honeymoon wardrobe, and the newlyweds will be Instagramming and tweeting their 11-day trek through Thailand.

"The whole goal around it was to create something fun that would be fun to follow and watch," the bride-to-be said.

The couple's forthcoming nuptials have already generated a lot of buzz, and their initial wedding announcement has gotten nearly 42,000 likes on Facebook.

A portion of the money from the sponsors will be donated to two of their favorite charities — Positive Habitat for Aspiring Teens and Big Brothers Big Sisters, McKenzie said.

So, why do the husband-and-wife-to-be think companies should sponsor them?

"We are a young, fun couple who opted to have an adventure instead of a traditional wedding," they write on their website. "We have created several sponsorship categories that incorporate your amazing company in our one-of-a-kind social wedding."

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Police in Beverly Hills detained an innocent, Harvard-educated movie producer on his way to a Friday Emmys celebration because he "fit the description" of a wanted bank robber, he claimed.

Charles Belk, who has also helped organized the NAACP Image awards, said police investigating a nearby bank robbery held him for six hours, while denying him a phone call and even an explanation as to why he was under investigation.

"It's one of those things that you hear about, but never think it would happen to you," Belk wrote on his Facebook page. "All because I was mis-indentified as the wrong 'tall, bald head, black male.'"

Belk said he was walking to his car around 5:30 p.m. Friday so he could check the time left on his parking meter. The 51-year-old had just finished a meal at his a Los Angeles restaurant and was due to attend the Emmys pre-party later that night.

Suddenly, officers approached him and demanded he sit on the curb.

Belk obeyed, and cops searched him, handcuffed him and took him to police. The officers never told him why he was being investigated, he claimed.

At the police station, police denied him a phone call and didn't let him speak to his lawyer, Belk said.

It wasn't until midnight — six hours after Belk's nightmare began — that police reviewed the video surveillance tapes and realized they had the wrong guy.

Belk said he believes he was detained because he shared a few, loose physical characteristics with the wanted man: He's tall, black and bald, too.

"All they saw was someone fitting the description. Doesn't matter if he's a 'Taye Diggs BLACK,' a 'LL Cool J BLACK' or 'a Drake BLACK,'" he wrote. "I was 'tall,' 'bald' a 'male' and 'black,' so I fit the description."

Belk holds an electrical engineering degree from the University of Southern California and an MBA from Indiana University, he said. He also earned an executive leadership certificate from Harvard's Business School.

He's worked as a film producer and has helped organized at least four NAACP Image award shows, according to his IMDb page.

The police department apologized to Belk, but in a statement to Los Angeles' KTLA, it explained its officers were just following procedure.

"The Beverly Hills Police Department regrets the inconvenience to Mr. Belk, but was under obligation to thoroughly verify that he was not the suspect before releasing him," the statement said.

Police did arrest one suspect for Friday's bank robbery: 47-year-old Brianna Klouste, who is wanted for at least 10 other California incidents, police said.

They never found the suspect who "fit" Belk's description.



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Michael Walsh Aug-26-2014 215 0
"No one believed" a suburban Detroit man's claim that he fatally shot an unarmed woman out of self-defense, one juror said.

During the murder trial, Theodore Wafer, 55, testified that he was protecting himself when he killed Renisha McBride, 19, on the porch of his Dearborn Heights home.

But the night of McBride's death he told police that the shooting was an accident, the juror told the Detroit Free Press.

"That hurt him big time," he told the Michigan broadsheet, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Wafer testified that he heard banging on this door just before dawn on Nov. 2, 2013. He armed himself with a 12-gauge shotgun, opened the door and shot.

"I didn't know there was a round in there," he reportedly told police.

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