The U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division and the FBI will investigate the killing of Miami Gardens teenager Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch volunteer, the department announced late Monday.
The announcement coincided with a statement from Florida Gov. Rick Scott asking the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to offer "appropriate resources" in the case.
The federal and state agencies are intervening in what attorneys call a botched investigation into the killing of the Michael Krop Senior High School student, who was killed Feb. 26 in Sanford, a town of 55,000 just north of Orlando. Trayvon, 17, on suspension from school, was staying at his father's girlfriend's house when he walked to a nearby a 7-Eleven store to buy candy and iced tea.
George Zimmerman, 28, a neighborhood watch volunteer with a long history of calling in everything from open garage doors to "suspicious characters," called police to say he had spotted someone who looked drugged, was walking too slowly in the rain, and appeared to be looking at people's houses. Zimmerman sounded alarmed because the stranger had his hand in his waistband and held something in his other hand.
The unarmed teen was carrying Skittles and a can of Arizona iced tea.
Zimmerman said he had stepped out of his truck to check the name of the street he was on when Trayvon attacked him from behind as he walked back to his truck, police said. He said he feared for his life and fired the semiautomatic handgun he was licensed to carry because he feared for his life.
"The department will conduct a thorough and independent review of all of the evidence and take appropriate action at the conclusion of the investigation," the Justice Department said in a statement. "The department also is providing assistance to and cooperating with the state officials in their investigation into the incident. With all federal civil rights crimes, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person acted intentionally and with the specific intent to do something which the law forbids -- the highest level of intent in criminal law.
"Negligence, recklessness, mistakes and accidents are not prosecutable under the federal criminal civil rights laws."
From the start, Trayvon's family accused Sanford police of molding the investigation to fit Zimmerman's account. Several witnesses said they heard cries that sounded like a boy wailing -- howling silenced by the crack of gunfire -- and were shocked to hear police later portray the cries as Zimmerman's. One witness said police ignored her repeated phone calls.
The police chief was accused of telling lies big and small in ways that shielded Zimmerman. The family hired attorneys who helped devise a national campaign to demand a federal investigation.
Members of Congress and prominent black clergy members joined the chorus for a federal probe. At a rally outside the Sanford courthouse Monday, students called for Zimmerman's arrest.
Police Chief Bill Lee told The Miami Herald that he was comfortable that his investigators were fair and thorough.
"I can say very confidently we would welcome any outside entity that wants to come look at what we did," Lee said last week. "They are welcome to come here and look at it. We have not done anything but conduct a fair and complete investigation."
He dismissed accusations of irregularities and insisted that investigators found no probable cause to arrest Zimmerman because there was no evidence to disprove his version of events.
The U.S. Community Relations Service will be in Sanford this week to meet with civil rights leaders, community leaders and local law enforcement officials to address tension in the community, the Justice Department announcement said.
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