US neighbourhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman publicly accused police of covering up the beating of a homeless black man by the son of a white officer more than a year before he shot unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, it emerged today.
Zimmerman’s public comments could be important because the Martin family and supporters say he singled out Trayvon, 17, because he was black.
Supporters of Zimmerman, 28, who has a Peruvian mother and a white father, say he is not a racist.
Zimmerman, who claims the February 26 shooting in Sanford, Florida, was self-defence, was initially not arrested. But after nationwide protests and an investigation by a Florida state prosecutor, he was charged. He is on bail awaiting his second-degree murder trial.
Trayvon was walking back to a home he was staying at when he got into a fight with Zimmerman, who shot him in the chest at close range.
“I would just like to state that the law is written in black and white,” Zimmerman said during a 90-second statement to Sanford city commissioners at a community forum on January 8, 2011.
The forum took place days after a video of the beating went viral on the internet and then-Sanford police chief Brian Tooley was forced to retire. His department faced criticism for dragging its feet in arresting Justin Collison, the son of a police lieutenant.
“I’d like to know what action the commission is taking in order to repeal Mr Tooley’s pension,” Zimmerman said to the commission.
“I’m not asking you to repeal his pension; I believe he’s already forfeited his pension by his illegal cover-up in corruption in what happened in his department.”
The Miami Herald first reported details from the January 2011 community forum and The Associated Press obtained a copy of the tape from the meeting.
In the speech, Zimmerman said he witnessed “disgusting” behaviour by officers when he was part of a ride-along programme, though the police agency said it did not know when, if ever, Zimmerman was in that programme.
“The officer showed me his favourite hiding spots for taking naps. He explained to me he doesn’t carry a long gun in his vehicle because in his words, ’Anything that requires a long gun requires a lot of paperwork and you’re gonna find me as far away from it’.”
Zimmerman also said the officer in question “took two lunch breaks and attended a going-away party for one of his fellow officers”.
Sanford mayor Jeff Triplett and interim police chief Richard Myers were both unavailable for comment.
Mr Tooley’s successor, Bill Lee, temporarily resigned following a no-confidence vote by city commissioners. He offered to resign permanently, but his commissioners turned down his request. He is on paid leave.