Frances Robles of the Miami Herald reported yesterday that SPD Investigator Chris Serino has retained attorney Jose Baez to represent him at his upcoming deposition by the defense in the George Zimmerman case.
He has a right to be represented by counsel and, under the circumstances, I believe he did the right thing.
Let us take a look at the circumstances to appreciate his predicament.
Zimmerman’s lawyer, Mark O’Mara, announced in his recent motion for a prophylactic sequestration of witnesses that he intends to question SPD officials supervising Serino’s investigation of the Martin homicide regarding why they decided to recommend against charging Zimmerman with a crime.
We know that during the first night of the investigation Serino “corrected” several witnesses who told police that the boy (i.e., Trayvon Martin) uttered the terrified shriek that abruptly ended with a gunshot to his heart. He told them that the police had determined that the shooter uttered the shriek.
We also know that Zimmerman’s vehicle, which Zimmerman claimed to have parked on Twin Trees Lane close to the sidewalk cut-through to Retreat View Circle, was not checked for evidence and Zimmerman was permitted to clean-up in the lavatory while unsupervised at the station house prior to being questioned by Investigator Doris Singleton. In addition, no one asked him for permission to take a blood or urine sample for subsequent testing for the presence of alcohol or drugs.
Someone in a position of authority in the department that first night, presumably Serino, before police had identified the shooting victim as Trayvon Martin, decided not to arrest Zimmerman for investigation of homicide even though the unidentified victim was “armed” only with a can of iced tea and Skittles. Zimmerman had the gun and police knew from Zimmerman’s recorded NEN call that, despite being told not to follow the victim by the dispatcher, he must have followed and attempted to prevent the victim from getting away mere minutes before the police arrived to investigate his call. They also knew that despite his claim of self-defense, his injuries were minor and not life-threatening.
Based on the information available to the police that first night, coupled with Serino’s apparent effort to influence witnesses to change their statements to support Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense, the decision not to arrest Zimmerman was and remains extremely controversial, not only with the public, but within the department, as a group of Black police officers subsequently protested the decision.
The police only needed probable cause to arrest Zimmerman for investigation of homicide. Probable cause means reasonable grounds to believe that a crime was committed. It is an objective test based on the totality of the circumstances; namely, whether a reasonable person or police officer was aware of sufficient facts and circumstances that first night to conclude that it was more probable than not that Zimmerman did not kill Martin in self-defense. Probable cause is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt or even proof by a preponderance of the evidence. It is a mere threshold requirement to justify detaining a suspect for further investigation.
I believe they had probable cause to arrest that first night and I suspect they did not arrest Zimmerman because they assumed the unidentified victim was a Black gangsta on the prowl looking for a house to burglarize. Never mind that this Black gangsta was unarmed carrying only iced tea and Skittles. Never mind that this was a Sunday night between 7 and 7:30 pm when most people are at home. Never mind that it was raining hard intermittently. Never mind that on this Sunday night the NBA All Star game was going to be on TV and most people would be at home watching it or gathering together with friends to watch it. Never mind that the police knew Zimmerman did not have a reasonable suspicion to believe that the victim was committing, had committed or was about to commit a crime, based on the information that Zimmerman provided to the dispatcher in the NEN call. And for God’s sake, never mind that the dispatcher warned Zimmerman not to follow the victim.
The decision not to arrest Zimmerman, despite the information available to the police that night, appears to have been race-based. That is, the police would have arrested a Caucasian suspect unknown to them, if the victim had been Caucasian. Without any evidence, they appear to have decided that, despite the absence of a reasonable suspicion to believe the victim was “up to no good,” as Zimmerman described it, and despite his decision to ignore the dispatcher’s warning not to follow the unarmed victim — who had run away from Zimmerman — the victim suddenly decided for no apparent reason to attack Zimmerman and attempt to kill him with his bare hands.
Who in their right mind would do such a preposterous thing? They decided that a Black gangsta would do such a preposterous thing. Yet, when they found out the next morning that the victim was not a Black gangsta, but a middle class junior in high school with good grades, loving parents and no criminal record staying in a residence in the neighborhood, they refused to change their minds.
Could that decision have anything to do with efforts by George Zimmerman’s father, a former judicial magistrate in Virginia with connections to Seminole County State’s Attorney Norm Wolfinger, the State’s Attorney in Seminole County and Mark Osterman, Zimmerman’s best friend and former Seminole County Sheriff’s Deputy and close friend of Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee who was Serino’s boss?
There is a strong smell of corruption associated with the investigation of this case and the decisions not to arrest and not to charge Zimmerman with a crime. Norm Wolfinger retired, Chief Bill Lee was Fired, and Governor Scott appointed State’s Attorney Angela Corey to take over the case in response to national protests against the decision not to charge Zimmerman. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement took over the investigation from the Sanford Police Department and in short order Corey charged Zimmerman by information with second degree murder.
Serino, meanwhile, saved his job by recommending at the last minute that Wolfinger charge Zimmerman with manslaughter.
That smell of corruption suggests a possible civil rights violation that the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice, the United States Attorneys Office for the Central District of Florida and the FBI should be investigating.
Chris Serino has a lot to worry about these days and so do former Chief Bill Lee, former State’s Attorney Norm Wolfinger and other members of the Sanford Police Department who supervised Serino and decided not to charge Zimmerman.
Meanwhile, Mark O’Mara has announced his intention to depose the people in the department who decided against charging Zimmerman because he wants to publicize their reasons to influence potential jurors in Seminole County and he wants to call them as witnesses at Zimmerman’s trial.
Never mind that their opinions are irrelevant and inadmissible at trial and probably based on racist assumptions and improper influence.
Yes, indeed. Serino is caught between a rock and a hard place and he definitely made the right decision to retain counsel. Therefore, do not be surprised, if he declines to answer questions at the deposition on the ground that his answers might tend to incriminate him.