SANFORD, FLORIDA — The mayor of the city where Trayvon Martin was killed says he overruled police and prosecutors who opposed the release of tapes of 911 calls, telling them: “We’re not here to hide anything.”
Jeff Triplett, who is a senior vice president at United Legacy Bank and part-time mayor of Sanford, said he took the decision after Martin’s family asked for the release of recordings of a call that shooter George Zimmerman made to police and 911 calls from neighbors who heard the confrontation.
Police, prosecutors and the city attorney opposed releasing the calls because of the ongoing investigation, Triplett told Reuters.
“Everyone was saying to me, no, no, no, don’t turn them over,” he said. “I just continually asked, ‘Why wouldn’t we do this?’”
“I made that call to try to settle everything down a little bit, to let the family hear what transpired. We were being accused of a lot of things, or the police department was, so we can take the step to say, ‘We’re not here to hide anything,’” Triplett added.
World is ‘watching’
Triplett was governs a population of about 54,000, 30 percent of whom are black and have long complained bitterly about police mistreatment.
“I ran for office to make a better Sanford. And this comes on your plate, and it’s just amazing,” 43-year-old Triplett told Reuters in an interview.
“The decisions I’m trying to make, I could be not only held accountable for them from the city side but from the nation and the world that’s watching right now,” he added.
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Martin’s death has drawn international attention, spurred protests in American cities and prompted a federal review.
George Zimmerman’s brother said late on Thursday that medical records will prove that his brother was attacked and his nose was broken by Trayvon Martin before he fatally shot the teen.
Robert Zimmerman Jr. told CNN’s Piers Morgan: “We’re confident the medical records are going to explain all of George’s medical history,” he said.
Controversy surrounding the case deepened Thursday when surveillance video footage of George Zimmerman being led from a police car shortly after he fatally shot Martin appeared not to show any obvious signs of injuries or bloodstains.
The footage, obtained by ABC News, shows a handcuffed Zimmerman getting out of the police car unaided and walking into the police station.
In the video, there are no readily visible signs of injuries to Zimmerman’s head or blood on his clothes. However, he is wearing a red jacket, which could obscure blood stains. Also, at one point, an officer pauses to look at the back of Zimmerman’s head, which he claims was injured by Martin.
Triplett has had a mixed reaction: he has been booed off a stage, defended by black community leaders, and lectured on racial justice by civil rights activists.
He described how, on March 16, he invited Martin’s family and lawyers to his office at City Hall to listen to the 911 calls prior to the public release. Natalie Jackson, an Orlando civil rights lawyer, was also present.
Martin’s mother weeps
Triplett played the calls on his office computer. Someone was heard crying for help. Martin’s mother wept and ran from the room, convinced it was her son, Jackson said. Everyone was moved to tears.
“It was very emotional,” Triplett recalled. “Obviously when you hear something like that, there couldn’t be anything worse for a family member or a parent … and to hear your own son, what transpired at the last second.”
Police video shows George Zimmerman shortly after Trayvon Martin shooting
Not everyone approves of Triplett’s actions. Sanford City Commissioner Patty Mahany said she thought he meant well, but that he had drawn more attention to the case and the calls could influence jurors in any trial.
“I think it stirred up a lot of anger in very well-meaning people who still don’t have the whole story,” Mahany said.
Meanwhile, a college newspaper has apologized for publishing a cartoon about the Martin case after it received complaints, according to a report in the LA Times.
The editorial board of the University of Texas at Austin’s Daily Texan said its decision to publish the cartoon “showed a failure in judgment on the part of the editorial board”, adding that the cartoonist responsible, Stephanie Eisner, had left the paper.