Florida police downgraded proposed charges against George Zimmerman from second-degree murder to manslaughter on the day they turned over the case to prosecutors, newly released documents show.
The downgrade was one of at least four changes that the Sanford Police Department made over the course of five hours on March 13 to the final report on the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
In the first version, investigators recommended that Zimmerman be charged with second-degree murder. But about four hours later, they changed that to manslaughter, a lesser charge, according to paperwork made public Tuesday by defense attorney Mark O’Mara.
The Orlando Sentinel first reported the changes.
The shooting took place on the night of February 26. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, claims that Martin attacked him so he shot him once in the chest. Moments before the shooting, Zimmerman had called the Sanford Police Department to report that he had spotted a young man in his neighborhood and thought his behavior seemed suspicious.
Police took Zimmerman in for questioning on the night he shot Martin and later released him with no charges.
But as news of the shooting spread nationally over the next couple weeks, calls for Zimmerman to be arrested and charged grew.
Then on March 13, just before the case was handed over the prosecutors, police made several changes to their final report on the shooting.
Around 9:40 a.m., their 10-page case summary recommended a second-degree murder charge and four hours later, they downgraded that charge to manslaughter. They also added criticism of Zimmerman for assuming Martin was preparing to commit a crime.
‘The encounter between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin was ultimately avoidable by Zimmerman if Zimmerman had remained in his vehicle and awaited the arrival of law enforcement or conversely if he had identified himself to Martin as a concerned citizen and initiated dialogue in an effort to dispel each party’s concern,’ the report said. ‘There is no indication that Trayvon Martin was involved in any criminal activity at the time of the encounter.’
Around 2:30, another paragraph was added to the report that said a doctor’s office had diagnosed Zimmerman with a fractured nose and scalp wound the day after the shooting.
In the last version, issued around 2:23 p.m., police added a final addition to the now-13-page case summary that noted Zimmerman had called Sanford police four other time since August to complain about suspicious young black men in his neighborhood.