911 Tapes Raise Questions In Fla. Teen's Shooting

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Police in Florida have released recordings of 911 calls from the night Trayvon Martin was killed. The unarmed black teenager was visiting his father outside Orlando when he was shot by a white neighborhood watch volunteer. George Zimmerman says it was self-defense, but Martin's relatives say the 911 tapes paint a very different picture. They want federal authorities to take over the investigation.


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Welcome, David.

There's a protest planned for this morning outside the courthouse in Sanford, Florida. People say they want justice for the family of Treyvon Martin. Last month, that black teenager was shot by a white neighborhood watch volunteer. The shooter says he acted in self-defense, although the teen he shot was unarmed. And newly released recordings of 911 calls offer painful details of the killing.

We should warn you, this three-minute report from our colleague Joel Rose contains the sounds of those calls, which some may find disturbing.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: The first call to 911 comes from George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Florida, just outside Orlando.


GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: Hey, we've had some break-ins in my neighborhood, and there's a real suspicious guy...

ROSE: Zimmerman gives the dispatcher a description of a young black man who appears to be, quote, "up to no good," unquote, with his hand in his waistband, looking around at local homes.


ZIMMERMAN: He's a (bleep). They always get away.

ROSE: Then Zimmerman tells the dispatcher that the suspicious man is running away.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (911 Dispatcher) Are you following him?


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (911 Dispatcher) OK, we don't need you to do that.


ROSE: But Zimmerman apparently disregarded that instruction. What happened next is in dispute. Another caller to 911 reported two men yelling and fighting outside her house. In the background, you can hear what may be one of the men screaming, followed by a gunshot.




UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (911 Dispatcher) Do you think he's yelling help?


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (911 Dispatcher) All right. What is your phone number...



UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Just - there's gunshots.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (911 Dispatcher) You just heard gunshots?


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (911 Dispatcher) How many?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: There's one, two...

ROSE: What's not in dispute is that Treyvon Martin was unarmed when he was shot in the chest and killed. The 17-year-old from Miami was walking from a convenience store back to his father's house in Sanford. George Zimmerman has not been charged with a crime. He was licensed to carry a concealed gun and told police he was acting in self-defense.

But Martin's family wants Zimmerman arrested for murder. Their lawyer, Benjamin Crump, has been saying that for weeks at press conferences like this one.


BENJAMIN CRUMP: All the world is watching to see how this is going to conclude. We want an arrest. How many nights do they have to go to bed knowing that the killer of their son is walking around free?

ROSE: If the shooter was black and the victim was white, the family says there's little doubt that police would be handling the case differently.

But at another press conference, Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee denied that race is a factor in their decision not to arrest Zimmerman.

BILL LEE: Mr. Zimmerman has made the statement of self-defense. Until we can establish probable cause to dispute that, we don't have the grounds to arrest him.

ROSE: Police say they've handed the case over to the state attorney's office to determine what will happen next. Legal experts say prosecutors may find themselves hemmed in by state law.

JEFFREY BELLIN: Florida law really pushes the envelope of making the right of self-defense as broad as possible.

ROSE: Jeffrey Bellin teaches law at Southern Methodist University. He says Florida is one of 17 states that have what's known as a Stand-Your-Ground Law, meaning you have no obligation to back down in the face of a threat, even when you're outside your home.

BELLIN: As long as you are somewhere you have a lawful right to be, if someone attacks you, the words of the statute are you can meet force with force, including deadly force, if you reasonably believe that that is necessary.

ROSE: That has not discouraged the family of Treyvon Martin. His mother, Sabrina Fulton, spoke at a press conference on Friday.


SABRINA FULTON: I just want answers from the police department about what happened with my son.

ROSE: The family is calling on federal authorities to take over the investigation, saying they've lost faith in the Sanford Police Department.

Joel Rose, NPR News.

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