While Zimmerman told police he shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense, the case has spurred national outrage and accusations the shooting was race-based. Online petitions, protests, and statements by African American and civil rights leaders have all demanded Zimmerman be brought to justice. Zimmerman has not been arrested, and Sanford, Fla. police say they do not have any information to dispute his self-defense claim. Federal agencies have now taken over the case.
A report in the Orlando Sentinel today has more information about Zimmerman. The 28-year-old was born in Virginia, attended Seminole State College, and aspired to become a law-enforcement officer, according to the Sentinel. A former neighbor in Manassas, Va., told the news site Zimmerman was “a good-enough kid” when he was younger.
The Sentinel also reports that Zimmerman has allegations of domestic violence and criminal misconduct in his past. In one case, Zimmerman allegedly pushed a state alcohol agent because he was arresting one of his friends. Zimmerman avoided conviction by entering a pretrial-diversion program, according to the Sentinel. In another case, a woman accused Zimmerman of domestic violence, but Zimmerman filed a petition “of his own” the following day, the Sentinel reports.
The news site notes that injunctions have kept the cases’ outcomes sealed.
But Zimmerman had also been effective at times as a neighborhood watchman, according to the Miami Herald. He called 911 to report suspicious activity in the neighborhood nearly 50 times in the last year, the Herald reports.
“He once caught a thief and an arrest was made,” Cynthia Wibker, secretary of the homeowners association, told the Herald. “He helped solve a lot of crimes.”
There are indications that Zimmerman may not have been an official neighborhood watchman, however. In a statement, the National Sheriffs’ Association said its Neighborhood Watch Program is to act as the “eyes and ears” within the community and that the “the alleged action of a ‘self-appointed neighborhood watchman’ last month in Sanford, Fla. significantly contradicts the principles” of the program.
“NSA has no information indicating the community where the incident occurred has ever even registered with the NSA Neighborhood Watch program,” it said.
In a letter to the Orlando Sentinel, Zimmerman’s father defended his son, saying the portrait in the media is “extremely misleading.” The letter reads, in part:
“George is a Spanish speaking minority with many black family members and friends. He would be the last to discriminate for any reason whatsoever.... The media portrayal of George as a racist could not be further from the truth...
“At no time did George follow or confront Mr. Martin. When the true details of the event become public, and I hope that will be soon, everyone should be outraged by the treatment of George Zimmerman in the media.”