The Justice Department said its independent investigation found “insufficient evidence” to charge George Zimmerman with federal civil right violations in the shooting death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin.
Attorney General Eric Holder said the evidence did not meet the “high standard for a federal hate crime prosecution,” but the decision should not end efforts to explore racial tensions in the justice system. The decision closes the federal investigation.
“This young man’s premature death necessitates that we continue the dialogue and be unafraid of confronting the issues and tensions his passing brought to the surface,” Holder said in a statement. “We, as a nation, must take concrete steps to ensure that such incidents do not occur in the future.”
Zimmerman shot Trayvon, 17, on Feb. 26, 2012, as the teen walked back to a relative’s home after purchasing snacks at a convenience store in Sanford, Fla.
Federal investigators began their investigation following the shooting, but halted it once the state began prosecuting Zimmerman for murder. On July 13, 2013, a Florida jury found Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter, sparking protests in several cities.
The federal investigation resumed after Zimmerman’s acquittal in state court. Federal investigators reviewed the evidence generated by Florida’s investigation and prosecution, but independently conducted 75 witness interviews and reviewed other encounters Zimmerman had with law enforcement in Florida, the Justice Department said. Federal authorities also retained an independent biomechanical expert who assessed Zimmerman’s descriptions of his struggle with Trayvon and the shooting.
The investigation looked at the events from the moment of their first encounter through the fatal shooting to determine whether Zimmerman approached Trayvon in a “threatening manner” or used force against him because of his race, the Justice Department said.
“Our decision not to pursue federal charges does not condone the shooting that resulted in the death of Trayvon Martin and is based solely on the high legal standard applicable to these cases,” acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Civil Rights Division said.
Prosecutors from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, officials from the FBI and the Justice Department’s Community Relations Service met Tuesday with Trayvon’s family and their representatives to inform them of the findings of the investigation and the decision, the Justice Department said in a press release.
Attorneys for the family did not return calls for comment.
Contributing: Donna Leinwand Leger
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