George Zimmerman -- the Florida man who shot teenager Trayvon Martin to death -- has landed in the news again, after a panicked 9-1-1 call Monday from Shellie Zimmerman in which she told a police dispatcher she was "really scared" because her husband had threatened "that he's going to shoot us," accosted her father causing his father-in-law's glasses to fall to the ground and injuring his nose, and grabbed her iPad from her and "then smashed it and cut it with a pocket knife," among other things. (Audio available here.)
As of Monday night, his wife and her father had declined to press charges against George Zimmerman after he was escorted by police to the nearby station. His attorney claimed Zimmerman did not punch his father-in-law and did not have a gun.
His lawyer also asserted that "there may have been some pushing and touching," but that was simply "heightened emotions" surrounding their impending divorce.
Heightened emotions and pushing, however, appear to be a pattern with Zimmerman based on court documents obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), publisher of PRWatch.org and ALECexposed.org. Some of these documents have been published before but others were thought to have been destroyed by a Florida court.
These court documents involving complaints that were filed against Zimmerman allege acts of violence that reveal a different image than the portrait painted by the criminal defense team of Zimmerman as a docile peacekeeper in the neighborhood.
Fewer than 100 Seconds between Zimmerman Hanging Up and 9-1-1 Call
Many Zimmerman defenders have claimed African American high school student Martin intentionally "jumped" Zimmerman, thus provoking his own death, but Zimmerman's own statement to a police dispatcher less than two minutes before the shooting was that Martin was trying to run away from him.
When he told the police dispatcher that he was following the person later identified as Martin, the dispatcher told Zimmerman "we don't need you to do that," but moments later Zimmerman hung up with the dispatcher and got out of his car to go after Martin. The dispatcher had offered to have police meet Zimmerman at the mailboxes at the front of the housing complex, but Zimmerman instead asked police to call him on his cell phone when they arrived and he would give them his location then. Zimmerman did not tell the dispatcher he was armed with a semi-automatic handgun that night.
Zimmerman had told the police dispatcher at the beginning of the call that he thought Martin was suspicious for walking home slowly in the rain and that there had been recent burglaries, even though Zimmerman knew an African American adult man had already been arrested for a burglary in the neighborhood.
What happened in the 80 seconds between the time Zimmerman hung up to pursue Martin (at 7:15 and 23 seconds) and the time of the first 9-1-1 call from a neighbor concerned about a violent fight (at 7:16 and 43 seconds)? Only two people know and one of them was killed that night.
Zimmerman shot and killed Martin 37 seconds later (at 7:17 and 20 seconds), according to police records. Phone records also indicate that Martin's cell phone call with his friend, Rachel Jeantel, ended 27 seconds after Zimmerman hung up and went looking for Martin. She testified under oath that Zimmerman surprised Martin and that she thought she heard Martin being pushed before his phone fell to the ground and the call ended suddenly.
Zimmerman claimed -- not under oath or subject to cross-examination in court -- that Martin hit him, causing him to fall down and allowing the 158-lb teenager to sit on his stomach, with his legs astride Zimmerman's body, pinning him down, banging his head against the ground, and purportedly putting his hand over Zimmerman's mouth.
Zimmerman also claimed that somehow Martin saw the black gun that Zimmerman wore in a black holster on his back underneath his jacket and other clothing and grabbed the gun out from under the 200-lb Zimmerman, but that Zimmerman was able to get the gun, pin Martin's hand to Zimmerman's side and shoot Martin at an angle that was straight through Martin's heart. (Zimmerman's attorneys presented a fancy video at the trial trying to illustrate that claim and recently indicated that Zimmerman might seek reimbursement from Florida taxpayers for his attorneys' fees and experts' costs, even though there is evidence he and his wife conspired to hide donation income from the government.)
There was no DNA and there were no fingerprints from Martin found on Zimmerman's gun.
When police arrived, Martin was lying face down with his hands under his body. A cold can of Arizona brand watermelon juice was found still sitting in the pocket of Martin's hoodie when first responders tried to revive him (it had not been used as a weapon against Zimmerman). Minutes earlier Martin had been talking with two friends on his cell phone on his way home from a walk to the 7-11 for the juice and candy when Zimmerman saw him and called police claiming he was suspicious of Martin walking in the rain in his neighborhood.
Later, it was discovered that Zimmerman had had such a serious argument with his wife on the night before that she had left Zimmerman to go stay at her father's home. She did not return to the home she shared with him the evening that Zimmerman killed Martin.
Martin Smeared as "Thug" But Violence Alleged in Zimmerman's Past
With the hateful rhetoric used by Zimmerman fans -- like on FOX where Martin was called a "thug" -- court filings from witnesses who said they experienced Zimmerman's violent reactions indicated behavior that is consistent with the violence his wife claimed occurred this week.
Beyond those court filings, a former co-worker previously told the New York Daily News that usually Zimmerman was calm when they worked together as security guards but that "it was like Jekyll and Hyde. When the dude snapped, he snapped."
"He had a temper and he became a liability," the man said. "One time this woman was acting a little out of control. She was drunk. George lost his cool and totally overreacted," he said. "It was weird, because he was such a cool guy, but he got all nuts. He picked her up and threw her. It was pure rage. She twisted her ankle. Everyone was flipping out."
However, Zimmerman's criminal history and the allegations of past violence and his temperament were kept from the jury, even though the jury was allowed to learn that Martin had inhaled a controlled substance.
Martin had been suspended from school for tardiness, graffiti with a marker, and possession of a baggie with marijuana residue. Although some have attempted to portray Martin as a criminal for having a trace amount of marijuana in his system the night he was killed, there is no scientific evidence that smoking marijuana typically causes violence; rather, the science indicates the opposite effect. Moreover, according to the U.S. government, in 2012, nearly 40% of American high school seniors had used marijuana in the past year.
Zimmerman defenders like the NRA's Ted Nugent have called Martin a thug "wannabe" but have not said the same about Zimmerman.
Quick Summary of the Court Filings Alleging Zimmerman Violence
Zimmerman, in contrast, had actually been arrested on police allegations of thuggish behavior: for felony assault on a police officer and violent resisting of arrest.
Additionally, Zimmerman's former girlfriend also filed statements with a Florida court that alleged that he had refused to leave her home, taken her phone, and assaulted her, that he had previously hit her in her face, and that another time he had thrown her down on the bed despite her repeated objections.
Zimmerman ended up pleading down the charges stemming from the fight with a police officer, and he was required to take an anger management class and do community service to get the case dismissed.
On the domestic violence front, Zimmerman filed a claim after a domestic violence protection order was issued against him that claimed his ex instigated their fights, and ultimately the court ordered them both to stay away from each other.
These documents were not shared with the jury at Zimmerman's trial for murdering Martin because under procedural rules evidence of "prior bad acts" are generally not admissible to prove the crime at issue. However, Zimmerman's violent past could have been shared with the jury to impeach him if he had testified under oath and claimed he had no history of violence, for example, and it could similarly be an issue in a civil case for wrongful death. (Additionally, several of the pages from the domestic violence case had been destroyed by a Florida court, namely the pages involving his ex-girlfriend's allegations against him, and CMD had to pursue extended efforts to obtain a copy of them.)
The Devil Is in the Details: Zimmerman Charged with Felony Violence
On July 16, 2005, Zimmerman was arrested for felony resisting arrest "with violence" and with "battery" of a law enforcement officer, according to the sworn affidavit filed in the case.
The officer, Paul Fleischman, in the summary of his complaint said that Zimmerman interfered with an arrest of an Orlando bar employee who had been handcuffed and sitting on a curb awaiting transport to county jail. The Division of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms officer said Zimmerman was "obstructing justice."
Zimmerman's Response to a Police Request to Walk Away: "Fuck You"
When the undercover officer showed Zimmerman his badge and asked him to step away, Zimmerman reportedly said, "I don't care who you are." When the officer asked him again to leave, Zimmerman reportedly said, "Fuck you."
The officer stated that when he "attempted to escort Zimmerman away from the interview area, he shrugged away from me, and then pushed my arms away with his hands. After a short struggle with Zimmerman he was placed in handcuffs and detained" for transportation to jail.
The officer said several law enforcement officers witnessed the fight, and that Zimmerman "refused medical treatment." (Zimmerman was also identified as a white male in the affidavit.) His bond was set at $1,000.
Zimmerman was initially charged with a felony in county court and in the process of plea negotiations the case was transferred to a lower court and he was then charged with misdemeanor resisting arrest and pleaded not guilty. Later that year he was accepted into a "pre-trial diversion" program that would allow the charges to be dismissed or not prosecuted ("nolle prosequi").
Zimmerman Given "Special Condition" -- "Anger Management" Classes
The court imposed a "special condition" on Zimmerman: that he complete an "Anger Management" class and write an apology to the officer. (Later, however, when Zimmerman applied to a criminal justice program, he claimed the police officer supposedly never said he was a police officer and that Zimmerman was trying to protect his friend from the officer who had arrested the friend.)
The program also required Zimmerman not to violate any other laws and to be under court supervision for six months for $300 in fees, but he sought an extension to complete its 40 hours of required community service, along with a potential fee of $100 for the extension.
While out on Bond for Assault, More Violence by Zimmerman Alleged
In the meantime, on August 8, 2005, Zimmerman's ex-fiancee, Veronica Zuazo, petitioned for an order of "protection against domestic violence" by him. At the time, Zuazo was living in Orlando and Zimmerman was living in an apartment in Lake Mary, Florida, after they had stopped living together and broken up.
Zimmerman Hung Out Near Ex's House and Reportedly Insisted on Staying There
According to Zuazo's petition, on her way home that night around 10:30 pm, she spotted Zimmerman's car near her home and called him on the phone to ask why he was there. According to Zuazo, Zimmerman replied that he was "checking on me."
She said he asked if he could come in and talk. She said she agreed they could talk for a "little bit," and he stayed for an hour. When she told Zimmerman he had to go home, she said he "insisted on staying."
Zimmerman "Got Upset" When Asked to Leave, said Ex, and "Pushed" Her
When she told him he could not stay, Zuazo said Zimmerman "got upset" and demanded some photos and papers.
When she said she would find them tomorrow and drop them off, Zuazo said Zimmerman "got more upset." She said he also grabbed her cell phone and tried to leave with it. She said she stood in front of the door and asked for it back.
She said Zimmerman then told her the phone was not hers and then "pushed" her.
She said she told him "not to touch me" and to give it back, and she said it then "became a pushing match." She said she got the cell phone from him and they continued pushing each other as she tried to push him out of the door of her home.
In the midst of this fight, she said her dog jumped up and marred his cheek by biting at it. She said the dog's response to his fighting with her "freaked me out" and she reiterated her demand that he leave.
She said she then ran up the stairs, and locked the door and called 9-1-1 on her phone. She said that as he walked out the door he yelled, "I can't believe you'd do this to me."
When the police came, she says they recommended she file for an injunction to protect herself from him the next day.
She did; on August 9, 2005, Zuazo requested a temporary restraining order.
Ex Alleged Other Acts of Violence by Zimmerman
In her request for an order of protection against Zimmerman, his ex detailed other times she says Zimmerman acted violently and that she had reported them to the Orlando Police Department.
She said there was a previous violent incident when he was upset because she got home late and then he started "sexually groping me." When she objected she said he said he could treat her that way because "I was his woman." She said when she "asked him to leave me alone," he picked her up and threw her on the bed. She said when she got up to leave "he grabbed" her and threw her down again. She admitted she smacked him in response and then he left.
She said that another time he had "smacked my mouth" with an open hand during an argument in the car on their way back from a counseling session. She said she decided to stay at a friend's house that night.
Court Issued Domestic Violence Injunction against Zimmerman
On August 9 of that year, a court granted her restraining order against Zimmerman. That injunction barred him from contacting her or hurting her and from possessing a firearm while the order was in effect.
Zimmerman Responded to Domestic Violence Injunction by Claiming Ex Attacked
The next day, on August 10, Zimmerman filed a petition asking the court to protect him from his ex-girlfriend, Zuazo. In that petition, he acknowledged that she had already sought a restraining order against him. That is, he did not call 9-1-1 as she did immediately following the violent fight and he did not report any claim of violence the following day, as she did. He pursued an order only after a court ordered him to stay away from her. In his petition, he lists the name of his criminal defense attorney in the case involving the violent incident with a law enforcement officer as his counsel.
Zimmerman Claimed He Was just in Ex-Girlfriend's Neighborhood, not Watching
In his petition, Zimmerman claimed that on August 8 he was dropping a friend off when Zuazo called to ask what he was doing on her "side" of town. He says she asked him if he "wanted to spend the night."
In his statement, he says he "proceeded to her house" and watched TV. He said he told her he "was not interested in spending the night" because he had an interview the next morning. He claims his ex accused him of wanting to leave to see another woman or go party.
Zimmerman Blamed Ex-Girlfriend for Starting Fight
According to Zimmerman, "we started arguing and she started to get upset and violent."
He said he told her he "wanted nothing more to do with her" and asked for any belongings that remained at her house. He said she refused and said she would give them to him in the morning, the only point of agreement in their two versions of events.
Zimmerman claims he then said he would not stay the night and would be leaving with what he called his cell phone that she had been using. He said he had allowed her to use it "as insurance" "to receive valuable paperwork that she had in her possession," like loan documents.
He said when he headed to the door to leave Zuazo slapped him and said he was not leaving. He said he told her she was losing control and that she responded by saying, "Fine, f-ing leave then."
However, then he claims she "physically assaulted me about the face and upper chest, at one point trying to choke" him. He said he then gave her the phone.
He said she then threatened to call the police and "put me away forever" based on the pending charge of assaulting a law enforcement officer. He then claimed that he went to a friend's house and "cleaned up the blood, patched my eye, and iced my bruises." He did not seek medical treatment.
When Zimmerman filed his counter-claim against her restraining order, he included a photo of scratches on his cheek he claimed she caused; she had claimed her dog had jumped on him and caused that. The abrasions on his cheek in the photo could have been caused by a dog's teeth or paws or by nails or by a woman's fingernails.
Zimmerman Claimed Ex Was Aggressor and Attacked Him Previously
In his petition, Zimmerman also claimed that previously Zuazo had been upset that he had gone to a concert without her and then hit him in the face and with a baseball bat. He claimed that when he locked her out of the house during that argument, she beat on the door and then vandalized his car with a pair of scissors. There is no indication that he sought medical treatment for the alleged bat attack or called the police that night claiming she was a vandal.
Court Issued Injunction Barring Zimmerman and Ex from Contact
On August 24, a Florida court issued two final judgments on the petitions that enjoined Zimmerman and his ex from contact with each other for a year and barred them both from possessing firearms during the year the injunction was in force.
Criminal Case against Zimmerman Later Dismissed
The domestic violence case appears to have had no effect on Zimmerman's case for battering a law enforcement officer. He ultimately completed the requirements of the criminal diversion program, and in the summer of 2006 the state of Florida dismissed the case under the "nolle prosequi" provision of the program.
These records about violent acts Zimmerman is alleged to have committed took place a few years ago and there appear to have been no other charges against him until he killed Trayvon Martin last year.
Would Zimmerman's Criminal History Be Admitted in a Civil Case?
If a civil suit by Martin's family for wrongful death were allowed to proceed -- despite the fact that the Florida "Stand Your Ground" law allows Zimmerman to seek a grant of immunity from civil liability -- it is possible that Zimmerman's criminal history or past allegations of violence could be used to impeach him. However, his attorneys would likely argue that telling the jury about the incidents would be prejudicial or that the incidents are not recent enough to be probative.
A civil trial has many advantages over a criminal trial when someone has died at the hands of another. The first advantage is that the burden of proof is more easily met. Rather than having to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the plaintiff would have to prove what more likely happened that rainy night in Florida when Martin was walking home from the store with his Skittles and Zimmerman pursued him.
The second advantage of a civil case is that, unlike a criminal trial where a defendant cannot be compelled to testify against himself in risk of criminal jeopardy, Zimmerman would be put under oath. That is, he would not be able to invoke Fifth Amendment protections and he would be subject to cross-examination from someone other than a friendly TV host like Sean Hannity on FOX. He would have to justify himself before a jury and his claims about that night and his past could potentially be impeached.
The NRA "Stand Your Ground" Law that ALEC Ratified Requires Victim's Family to Pay Killer, if a Judge Grants Civil Immunity
However, that is exactly what the NRA and the American Legislative Exchange Council have sought to prevent in the Stand Your Ground laws. As CMD was first to document, in 2005 ALEC ratified the Florida law as a national model to become law in other states with its changes to the laws governing murder.
As CMD also was first to document, the NRA/ALEC laws require that juries be instructed that a defendant has a right to stand his ground and has no duty to retreat, just as the jury considering Zimmerman's guilt was instructed (and two jurors later said that they felt they had to follow those instructions).
The NRA and ALEC so strongly desired to prevent juries from hearing the evidence and potentially ruling against shooters that they sought to change not just the criminal law but the civil law to allow a defendant to be granted immunity from civil suit.
Under the express language of the Florida law, which ALEC got replicated in other states, if civil immunity were granted, the shooting victim's family would have to pay the killer's lost wages and attorneys' fees.
Zimmerman's spokesman has said he may seek to invoke the Stand Your Ground civil immunity clause in the future.
ALEC has attempted to distance itself from this law in the wake of public outcry -- and protests by civil rights groups that included marches of thousands of Americans upset over Zimmerman's killing of Martin without being held accountable under the changed murder law -- by claiming the law is no longer one of its policies.
ALEC also erroneously asserted in a PR statement that "Stand Your Ground" had nothing to do with the criminal trial, despite the jury instructions. Moreover, ALEC has not called on the more than 30 states that adopted the law to repeal the Stand Your Ground provisions that ALEC had long urged become binding law. Meanwhile, at least 50 corporations and six non-profit organizations have stopped funding ALEC in the past year.
(Beau Hodai, a freelance reporter and the founder of DBApress.com, helped gather material for CMD for this article.)