As the Department of Justice is looking into whether criminal civil rights charges could be brought against George Zimmerman, who was acquitted over the weekend from second-degree murder charges in the death of Trayvon Martin, some are pointing to interviews by the FBI that could thwart such a case accusing Zimmerman of racial profiling. Additionally, Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz has another bit of information that could also thwart the civil rights action.
The FBI interviews
The Miami Herald reported last week that FBI records released Thursday recorded Sgt. Arthur Barnes saying he “felt the shooting was not racially motivated, but it was a man shooting an unarmed kid.” The Herald included that Barnes was among others in the police department who lead investigator Chris Serino with the Sanford Police felt were “pressuring him file charges against Zimmerman,” the FBI’s records stated, even though he “did not believe he had enough evidence at the time to file charges.”
Here’s more from the Herald regarding some of the information included in the nearly 300 pages of the FBI’s report as it pertained to potential racial profiling:
After interviewing nearly three dozen people — including gun dealers, Zimmerman’s former fiancé, co-workers and neighbors — the FBI found no evidence that racial bias was a motivating factor in the shooting, the records show. It’s unclear whether more interview transcripts remain to be released.
The evidence released Thursday includes witness-statement summaries from co-workers. They described Zimmerman as a consummate professional who was exceedingly pleasant and didn’t fly off the handle, even when someone cut off the lock he had used to make sure no one moved a special ergonomic chair from his desk. An ex-girlfriend described him as someone who sometimes wanted to drive into a lake and was prone to road rage, but she said he had plenty of black friends and was the “last person” she would expect to get into the kind of confrontation that led to Trayvon’s death.
The Smoking Gun posted an FBI document that also noted “Serino believed Zimmerman’s actions were not based on Martin’s skin color, rather based on his attire, the total circumstances of the encounter and the previous burglary suspects in the community.”
“Serino described Zimmerman as overzealous and having a ‘little hero complex,’ but not as a racist,” the report stated.
In addition to these statements given to the FBI during their interviews regarding the shooting that occurred Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida, resulting in the death of 17-year-old Martin, Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz told Mike Huckabee Sunday of other challenges that could arise from such a case.
“In general, the Justice Department does not investigate civil rights violations committed by one individual against another unless that individual works for the state or federal government,” Dershowitz said.
Dershowitz continued that “George Zimmerman can’t really alone violate the civil rights of an individual even if he were to be guilty of the crime.”
Watch the clip with Dershowitz’s thoughts (via the Gateway Pundit):
Though the Justice Department does have an established history of using federal civil rights laws to try to convict defendants who have been previously acquitted in related state cases, experience shows it’s almost never easy getting guilty verdicts in such high-profile prosecutions.
Lauren Resnick, a former federal prosecutor in New York who secured a conviction in the killing of an Orthodox Jew during the 1991 Crown Heights riots in Brooklyn, said the Justice Department could conceivably proceed under a theory that Zimmerman interfered with Martin’s right to walk down a public street based on his race. But even that is difficult since the conflict occurred in a gated community, which may not fit the legal definition of a public facility. Prosecutors would also probably need to prove that trailing Martin on the street constituted interference, she said.
“One could argue it did, if it freaked him out and he couldn’t comfortably walk down the street – there’s an argument here,” said Resnick, who now specializes in white-collar defense and commercial litigation.
But she said federal prosecutors were likely to encounter the same hurdles as state prosecutors in establishing that Zimmerman was driven by racial animus and was the initial aggressor, as opposed to someone who acted in self-defense.
Samuel Bagenstos, a former No. 2 official in the Justice Department’s civil rights division, said: “This is an administration that hasn’t shied away from bringing hate crimes cases that are solid prosecutions based on the facts and the law, but from what I’ve seen this would be a very difficult case to prosecute federally because the government would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that George Zimmerman acted because of Trayvon Martin’s race. If you’re trying to prove racial motivation, you are usually looking for multiple statements related to why he is engaging in this act of violence. I think it’s a difficult case to prove.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.