Today in Trayvon: The More You Know, The More You Don’t Know

Orlando Sentinel:

With a single punch, Trayvon Martin decked the Neighborhood Watch volunteer who eventually shot and killed the unarmed 17-year-old, then Trayvon climbed on top of George Zimmerman and slammed his head into the sidewalk several times, leaving him bloody and battered, authorities have revealed to the Orlando Sentinel.

That is the account Zimmerman gave police, and much of it has been corroborated by witnesses, authorities say.

The Sanford police report indicates that a number of witnesses were interviewed the night of the shooting, but their statements are not included. The Sentinel story does not indicate whether the reporter saw the witness statements, but suggests reliance on a police summary.

Not that there’s any reason to doubt the police summary, but the events of that night are an Adventure in Epistemology. Also, police typically withhold evidence that might prove useful in an investigation, so there’s no reason to expect full disclosure.

With that, a more detailed police summary:

Trayvon was visiting his father’s fiancée, who lived there. He had been suspended from school in Miami after being found with an empty marijuana baggie. Miami schools have a zero-tolerance policy for drug possession…

Zimmerman got out of his SUV to follow Trayvon on foot. When a dispatch employee asked Zimmerman if he was following the 17-year-old, Zimmerman said yes. The dispatcher told Zimmerman he did not need to do that.

There is about a one-minute gap during which police say they’re not sure what happened.

Zimmerman told them he lost sight of Trayvon and was walking back to his SUV when Trayvon approached him from the left rear, and they exchanged words.

Trayvon asked Zimmerman if he had a problem. Zimmerman said no and reached for his cell phone, he told police.

Trayvon then said, “Well, you do now” or something similar and punched Zimmerman in the nose.

Zimmerman fell to the ground and Trayvon got on top of him and began slamming his head into the sidewalk, he told police…

Zimmerman then shot Trayvon once in the chest from very close range, according to authorities.

Trayvon’s family has confirmed the empty pot baggie as the reason for his suspension.

Trayvon’s girlfriend — through a Martin family lawyer — earlier provided this account of the initial exchange, which she heard while talking to Trayvon on his phone:

Eventually, he would run, said the girl, thinking that he’d managed to escape. But suddenly the strange man was back, cornering Martin.

“Trayvon said, ‘What are you following me for,’ and the man said, ‘What are you doing here.’ Next thing I hear is somebody pushing, and somebody pushed Trayvon because the head set just fell. I called him again, and he didn’t answer the phone.”

So, do we know any more than we did? Not really. Not yet. Who approached whom? Who threw the first punch? There may yet be a witness who saw the fight begin. There may yet be more details that Trayvon’s girlfriend heard over the phone, but the family lawyer didn’t disclose.

The rest of us simply don’t know.

Update: ABC News, via Tommmcatt:

George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch crime captain who shot dead 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, originally told police in a written statement that Martin knocked him down with a punch to the nose, repeatedly slammed his head on the ground and tried to take his gun, a police source told ABC News.

The Orlando Sentinel has also updated its story above:

There have been no reports that a witness saw that initial punch Zimmerman told police about.


But after the Sentinel story appeared on the newspaper’s website Monday morning, City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr. issued a news release, saying there would be an internal affairs investigation into the source of the leak and if identified, the person or people involved would be disciplined.

He did not challenge the accuracy of the information.

So: The police leaked the story to the Sentinel. And, apparently, to ABC. The ABC story mentions the gun. The Sentinel story doesn’t.


@Tommmcatt Be Fat, And That Be That: Post updated. Our Epistemological Adventure continues.

And so: We still don’t know shit.

You can’t witness a fight in progress and know how it started. You can’t extrapolate backwards from a moment when the eventual loser has the upper hand. You also can’t, midway through, judge whether the eventual loser was using undue force.

For that matter, without knowing more, you can’t really prosecute the eventual winner. Not under Florida’s law.

@Tommmcatt Be Fat, And That Be That: Trying to take the gun = trying to disarm one’s attacker?

It is possible to make a semi-auto pistol misfire by grabbing its slide, btw:

“The death weapon was a Kel-Tec PF9 semiautomatic 9mm pistol. It has been reported that the gun was recovered with a full magazine and that only the chambered round had been fired. This is a condition we associate with something preventing the gun from cycling a fresh round from the magazine into the chamber after the shot was discharged.* One thing that can cause that is another man’s hand wrapped around the pistol, retarding its slide mechanism. This would indicate, as could certain gunshot residue patterns or cuts in certain places if found on Trayvon Martin’s hand(s), that a struggle for a gun was taking place when the fatal shot was fired. This would clearly change the shape of the case. But – WE DON’T KNOW YET.”

– Massad Ayoob, “George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin: What We Don’t Know Yet” The author is a respected authority on the defensive use of firearms.

What Ayoob is saying is that when you fire a semiautomatic pistol, the slide is driven backward by recoil. The return movement of the slide strips a fresh round from the magazine as the slide goes forward and the pistol is ready to fire again unless something stops the slide from going back, leaving you with one round fired, an empty chamber and whatever you had left in the magazine. A hand grabbing the slide could do it, but tests have shown that pushing a semiauto pistol into a target can also cause it to misfire, or “go out of battery.” Sticking the pistol into the victim could also have impeded proper slide movement.

@redmanlaw: And he posted that on Friday. Good deduction.

So will the cops leak the gunpowder residue evidence? If Travon was grabbing the gun when the slide activated for whatever reason, wouldn’t there be marks on his hand?

Next question: Zimmerman had a concealed-carry permit. So, was his carry concealed?

And if it was, how did Trayvon see the gun to grab it? Had it already been pulled?

Or was it conventionally holstered? Or — RML alert! — would you still notice it in somebody’s belt, or under his shirt? At night?

Can’t nail down a damn thing in this case.

@Dodgerblue: They were so busy testing his corpse for drugs and alcohol, they probably didn’t have time to get around to swabbing him for gunpowder.

@nojo: As I posted over the weekend, dude had an in the waistband (IWB) holster that attaches to a belt or top of one’s pants on the outside and places the inside surface of the holster against one’s boxers.

Video: Wearing and using an IWB holster.

As shown in the video, you would not immediately notice that someone was packing in an IWB holster until they lifted their shirt. Some holsters have “retention devices” that keep your heater from falling out and prevent someone from grabbing it.

@Dodgerblue: That’s what Ayoob’s column says.

@redmanlaw: I knew you had mentioned IWB, but I had forgotten the details.

Not that we can draw any conclusions from that — I can imagine a situation where it was inadvertently exposed — but it’s one more detail to navigate.

And while we’re navigating details…

Witness “John” — the old witness presented over the weekend as a new witness — recalled the following the next day:

1. He sees Zimmerman on his back.

2. “John said he locked his patio door, ran upstairs…”

3. “…and heard at least one gun shot.”

4. ““And then, when I got upstairs and looked down, the guy who was on the top beating up the other guy, was the one laying in the grass”

So, between locking his patio door and looking out the upstairs window, everything happens. I’m not sure how many seconds that accounts for, but any hypothesis has to squeeze into a very short time.

Not sure whether he saw Zimmerman standing at that point. The local TV report doesn’t say either way.

This whole thing is really starting to piss me off.

Legalized vigilantism justified after the fact by the court of public opinion.

Rule of law is officially dead.

Lawrence O’Donnell never fails to piss me off.

ADD: Main point O’Donnell wants to make in his half-hour of coverage: He is outraged. Good to know.

Zimmerman’s lawyer has seen Chicago too many times.

“They both reached for the gun!”

@nojo: “So, between locking his patio door and looking out the upstairs window, everything happens. I’m not sure how many seconds that accounts for, but any hypothesis has to squeeze into a very short time.”

Could have been hours. They are in Florida.

@SanFranLefty: +1

I wish we did away with this gun stuff, and hit people with fish.

@¡Andrew!: :-) I did it. I did it. No court would convict me… (or something like that).

@¡Andrew!: Tommmcatt beat you to it.

Also, I’ve been doing the puppet dance all afternoon.

@JNOVw00tah: Standard condo, more or less. No mansion. They show it in the news video.

But that brings something else to mind: I haven’t seen the standard crime-scene illustration anywhere. I’m still unclear about the geography of the neighborhood.

@nojo: The streets have designated Hoveround lanes.

@redmanlaw: Not familiar with the Kel-Tec, but the Colt .45 M1911 will not fire if “pushed out of battery.”

While Ayoob is correct that a hand gripping the slide can prevent normal cycling, thus resulting in a spent casing in the chamber, pushing the slide out of battery will prevent firing in the first place.

@stickler: I’m wayyyy out my depth here. Can we talk about phasers?

@nojo: Tommy’s right, and btw that Zimmerman dude is the fugliest Roxie Hart ever.

Meanwhile, since the smear campaign has now reached his social-media accounts, here’s Trayvon’s Twitter feed. Good luck finding anything damning, unless you don’t like Mystikal or Scooby snacks.

@¡Andrew!: You haven’t seen him in a low-cut white gown.

Here’s where assignment of blame begins and ends for me: when the police dispatcher tells Zimmerman not to follow Trayvon. He didn’t listen, and everything that happened afterwards can be attributed to his failure to do as she said. I don’t care who attacked whom–that wouldn’t have happened if Mr Wannabe Cop had stayed put and waited for the real police to arrive. It’s entirely his fault.

@nojo: I look great in an off the shoulder bone white gown!

Oh, wait, you were talking about Zimmerman. Carry on.

@Mistress Cynica: Here’s the problem: We don’t know that Zimmerman disregarded the operator’s advice. Contrary to what’s been said elsewhere, there’s nothing on the 911 tape that demonstrates Zimmerman continued to follow Trayvon.

Zimmerman’s story is that he was jumped while returning to his SUV. And to my knowledge, nothing yet contradicts that, besides the girlfriend’s account of Trayvon’s phone call. Nor does anything corroborate it.

@Tommmcatt Be Fat, And That Be That: No, you just enjoy being thrown around by a bunch of dudes in penguin suits.

@JNOVw00tah: I got fish in the freezer and the will and ability to get more.

/covering all my bases

Son of RML and I are going fly fishing on Saturday. Report to follow then.

@redmanlaw: Not frozen fish, please. Fish sticks, okay. Got any turkey in that freezer?

@JNOVw00tah: I’ve seen it out there, but I haven’t bothered to deal with it. I have my head full just keeping the facts straight.

@nojo: Good luck with that.

In this world, facts are like assholes, and truth is what the majority says it is.

@JNOVw00tah: Oh! So how far has SCP made it into Mad Men?

@JNOVw00tah: Which reminds me…

Thirty years ago, there was a story making the rounds about a package that took decades to deliver. Everybody laughed and laughed about the incompetence of the post office!

But since there was a local angle, and I was a Professional Reporter, I called around to check it out. Turns out not only was the post office innocent of the crime, it was their work that rescued the package from oblivion.

Of course, our rag wasn’t AP, so my story went no farther than the local circulation. Truth may be a team sport, but I was happy to play for the facts.

@JNOVw00tah: Last iMessage I received from him last night was a screenshot of his Mad Men-enabled Netflix queue.

I’m tempted to write a blaggz entry about tools and how I need to use ’em if I carry ’em. Hence, I don’t, and hope I never will, carry a gun. It’s on my belt, I’m gonna pull it out and use it, it’s like a built-in lizard-brain reaction. I wonder if something like that (or the standard “gun = no need to act like prey and RUN” reaction that seems to hit some people like a quart of whiskey delivered intravenously) was why the rod came out.

Sorry. I’ve been reading a lot of Raymond Chandler lately. Everyone, and I mean everyone in 1930s LA was carrying at least one gun at all times, if he’s to be believed.

@IanJ: There was some study or poll last week that folks who carry guns are more likely to think that other folks are carrying guns, and behave appropriately. I didn’t bother with it, because then you have to double-check methodology and shit, and likelihood doesn’t translate to specific cases.

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