The question as to whether to arrest George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin broke down along racial lines within the Sanford (Fla.) Police Department, an FBI investigation reveals.
Lead investigator Chris Serino originally filed what’s called a “capias” requesting that manslaughter charges be filed against Zimmerman because he “reached a faulty conclusion as to Martin’s purpose for being in the neighborhood” and aggressively followed the teenager which lead to the fatal confrontation.
Serino’s requested filing was overruled by his superiors and Zimmerman was initially allowed to walk away as a free man. The day before, police chief Bill Lee held a press conference in which he insisted that the department lacked probable cause to arrest Zimmerman.
Moreover, on March 16th, the same day the city released 911 calls from neighbors on the night of the shooting, Lee and Serino sat down with a local newspaper and justified their reasoning for letting Zimmerman go: they said that not only did they lack cause to arrest Zimmerman, but that the arrest would have been a direct violation of his rights under the (now controversial) Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law.
In an interview on April 3, with FBI investigators (incorrectly dated March 3 in the filing, which was released by prosecutors on Friday as part of a new round of discovery in the case against Zimmerman), Serino alluded to pressure from within the department to file charges in the Martin shooting, and a concern that leaks to the public were inflaming the case. Protests in Sanford, weeks after the shooting, ultimately led to Lee stepping aside as police chief. He was fired from the department formally last month. And the case ratcheted up racial tensions in Sanford, as well as within the Sanford police department, which was no stranger to racial conflicts both with the community and within its ranks.
“Serino is concerned that many of the leaks in this case are coming from within the Sanford Police Department,” the FBI report states. Serino reportedly named the officers he believed were behind the leaks: officers Arthur Barnes, Trekell Perkins and Rebecca Villalona. Barnes and Perkins are black. Villalona is white, but is married to an African-American. Serino is Cuban-American
Perkins is the officer who took the statement of Witness 9, a woman who claimed to know Zimmerman and his family, and who accused Zimmerman of being racist, and “hating black people.” Neither Villalona nor Barnes were involved in the Zimmerman investigation.