George Zimmerman Sues NBC, Three Employees Over Altered 911 Tapes

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Will George Zimmerman’s NBC lawsuit succeed? Photo credit: Sanford Police Department

The lawsuit was filed on December 6 in the Circuit Court in Seminole County, Florida.

George Zimmerman is claiming unspecified damages from the defendants for defamation, and the intentional infliction of emotional distress in the reporting of the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February, 2012.

The action is centered upon the 911 tapes that NBC admitted were “edited’.

In the lawsuit, Zimmerman says that the alterations to the tapes were done “to create the myth that George Zimmerman was a racist and a predatory villain.”

Making several references to ‘yellow journalism,’ Zimmerman alleges the network doctored the tapes to boost their ratings by changing the tragedy that befell Martin into a sensationalized “racial powderkeg” that would boost NBC’s ratings.

Trayvon Martin’s Death

In February 2012, Zimmerman lived in a gated community in Sanford, Florida.

As a result of several crimes committed in the area, a neighborhood watch was formed.

Around 7 p.m. on February 26, Zimmerman was on patrol when he spotted Martin, a 17-year-old black youth. According to Zimmerman, Martin was acting in a suspicious manner, and Zimmerman made the first of several 911 calls that evening.

At one point, Zimmerman and Martin came into contact with each other and Zimmerman shot and killed him. Zimmerman, who never denied shooting Martin, claims Martin attacked him first and the shooting was done in self defense. Zimmerman is relying on Florida’s “stand your ground law.” The law states that when a person is in imminent fear of grievous bodily harm or death they can use force. There is no requirement to retreat. While many states limit this law to persons who are lawfully in a residence, Florida has extended it to include public places.

Note: The “stand your ground law” is not a defense to murder. If the “stand your ground law” is found to be applicable, the killing is lawful, and therefore the killing is not murder.

Zimmerman was taken into custody after the shooting and later released without charge. This led to the impression that the police believed the shooting was justified.

On March 16, the Sanford Police Department released transcripts of the 911 calls between Zimmerman and the dispatcher. It is the editing of these tapes by NBC that forms the basis of the lawsuit.

The release of the tapes, and the “editing” by NBC led to protests across the country in response to what the doctored tapes showed to be an obvious racist hate crime. On March 23, Florida Governor Rick Scott appointed Angela Corey as special prosecutor to look into the incident. On April 3, the FBI began an investigation.

On April 11, Corey announced her investigation was complete and Zimmerman had been charged with second-degree murder. He was then in custody but has since been released.

Zimmerman 911 Tapes

On March 19, NBC aired the tapes in a report from Sanford. A portion of the tape was as follows:

“Zimmerman: There is a real suspicious guy. Ah, this guy looks like he is up to no good or he is on drugs or something. He looks black.”

What the tape edited out was the dispatcher asking Zimmerman what the race of the man was. Here is the following unedited portion of the tape:

“Zimmerman: This guy looks like he is up to no good or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.

Dispatcher: OK, and this guy—is he white, black, or Hispanic?

Zimmerman: He looks black.”

The edited version makes it appear Zimmerman was saying Martin looked suspicious because he was black. The altered tape left out the question by the dispatcher, asking what the race of the man was. Zimmerman only told the dispatcher “he looked black” after being specifically asked about race.

The following day, NBC played a differently altered version of the same part of the tape:

“Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or on drugs or something. He’s got his hand in his waistband. And he’s a black male.”

Again, the dispatcher’s question about race is omitted. And the phrase “He looks black” has been replaced with “And he’s a black male,” making the connection between Martin’s suspicious actions and his race even stronger.

The phrase “And he’s a black male” was taken from a later portion of the conversation with the dispatcher. Initially, Zimmerman told the dispatcher only that Martin “looks black,” saying he wasn’t sure. But later during their conversations Zimmerman tells the dispatcher the man is approaching him and he now knows for certain he is black.

The lawsuit also alleges one of the defendants, Ron Allen, reported Zimmerman had used a racial epithet to describe Martin. Allen reported Zimmerman as using the term “f*****g coons” at one point during a conversation with the dispatcher. Although Zimmerman did say “f*****g punks” at one point, he never said the word “coons” or anything else during the taped conversations that could be construed as a racial slur.

The omission of the dispatcher’s question regarding Martin’s race and the report Zimmerman used a racial epithet led television viewers to conclude that Zimmerman found Martin acting in a suspicious manner and called 911 simply because the teen was African American.

The alteration of the tapes became known after other media outlets played them alongside the original unedited versions.

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