McClatchy Newspapers, Published March 27 2012
Multiple suspensions paint complicated portrait of teen whose death has been racial flashpoint
The Miami Gardens teen who has become a national symbol of racial injustice was suspended three times, and had a spotty school record that his family’s attorneys say is irrelevant to the facts that led up to his being gunned down on Feb. 26.
In October, a school police investigator said he saw Trayvon on the school surveillance camera in an unauthorized area “hiding and being suspicious.” Then he said he saw Trayvon mark up a door with “W.T.F.” The officer said he found Trayvon the next day and went through his book bag in search of the graffiti marker.
Instead the officer reported he found women’s jewelry and a screwdriver that he described as a “burglary tool,” according to a Miami-Dade Schools Police report obtained by The Miami Herald.
Word of the incident came as the family’s lawyer acknowledged that the boy was suspended in February for getting caught with an empty bag with traces of marijuana, which he called “irrelevant” and an attempt to demonize a victim.
Trayvon’s backpack contained 12 pieces of jewelry, in addition to a watch and a large flathead screwdriver, according to the report, which described silver wedding bands and earrings with diamonds.
Trayvon was asked if the jewelry belonged to his family or a girlfriend.
“Martin replied it’s not mine. A friend gave it to me,” he responded, according to the report. Trayvon declined to name the friend.
Trayvon was not disciplined because of the discovery, but was instead suspended for graffiti, according to the report. School police impounded the jewelry and sent photos of the items to detectives at Miami-Dade police for further investigation.
A lawyer for the dead teen’s family acknowledged Trayvon had been suspended for graffiti, but said the family knew nothing about the jewelry and the screwdriver.
“It’s completely irrelevant to what happened Feb. 26,” said attorney Benjamin Crump. “They never heard this, and don’t believe it’s true.
“If it were true, why wouldn’t they call the parents? Why wasn’t he arrested?”
Trayvon, who was a junior at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School, had never been arrested, police and the family have said.
“We think everybody is trying to demonize him,” Crump said.
No evidence ever surfaced that the jewelry was stolen.
“Martin was suspended, warned and dismissed for the graffiti,” according to the report prepared by schools police.
That suspension was followed four months later by another one in February, in which Trayvon was caught with an empty plastic bag with traces of marijuana in it. A schools police report obtained by The Miami Herald specifies two items: a bag with marijuana residue and a “marijuana pipe.”
The punishment was the third for the teen. On Monday, the family also said Trayvon had earlier been suspended for tardiness and truancy.
Trayvon was shot to death Feb. 26 while serving out his suspension in San-ford, where his father’s girlfriend lives. A neighborhood watch volunteer called the police to say he saw someone in a hoodie who looked high on drugs, and was suspicious because he walked too slowly in the rain. The unarmed teenager carried Skittles and iced tea, and was talk-ing to his girlfriend on the phone, records show.
Zimmerman told police Trayvon jumped him, punched him in the face and slammed his head on the ground, according to information published by the Orlando Sentinel. The news account came a day after a friend of Zimmerman’s took to television network programs to say the watchman was the victim in the case.
“That sounded like someone in dire need of help,” said friend Joe Oli-ver, referring to cries heard on 911 tapes. “That sounded like George.”
Zimmerman’s attorney, Craig Sonner, did not return repeated requests for an interview.
Trayvon’s parents viewed the new reports as an orchestrated campaign to demonize their son as a “junkie and thief,” a routine occurrence in such cases, the Rev. Al Sharpton said at an afternoon news conference. Zimmerman, Sharpton said, had no way of knowing about Trayvon’s school record - “because he didn’t interview him before he shot him.”
“The only thing that’s relevant is what Zimmerman knew,” Sharpton said. “Let’s not play this double standard of trying to damage who is dead and sanitize who is the cause of the death.”
Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, said her son never had any problems with gangs or the police. In fact, she said, when she transferred him out of Carol City High School to be closer to home, the school wanted him to stay at Carol City because they liked him and he was a good student.
“They killed my son, and now they are trying to kill his reputation,” Fulton said.
Another lawyer for the family said she didn’t put much credence in the report about the jewelry and the screwdriver.
“This is someone in a school writing a report, rumor as far as I’m concerned,” said attorney Natalie Jackson.
The boy’s checkered school record was of little importance to the thousands of people who descended on the city’s civic center for a special City Council meeting. Speaker after speaker blasted the investigation and demanded the police file charges in the case.
“We want to reaffirm that we too are in pursuit of truth and justice,” Mayor Jeff Triplett said.
Participants included bus and carloads of people from Miami, including some from Trayvon’s church. Wearing a T-shirt declaring “I am a man,” Miami Homicide Sgt. Ervens Ford was among them.
“This is personal,” Ford said. “I have a son that age. I am getting ready to release him to the world. I have to expose him to things like this. I also have a 12-year-old. I have to be realistic about it: It very, very well could have been either one of them.”
Like so many black fathers in America, Ford finds himself schooling his sons on what clothes to wear, what to say to a cop. He calls it “conflict resolution.”
“That man was following him around the way he was, placing Trayvon in fear. Had Travyon shot him and claimed ‘Stand Your Ground,’ Trayvon would have been arrested,” he said. “I’m saying this having been law enforcement for 25 years. I am saying this, and it is my conviction.”
Liberty City activist Renita Holmes attended with about a dozen fellow protesters.
“This case broke me,” she said.
“If we continue to do it, it will make a difference. The way we handle this should be a precedent on how we handle every case.”