SANFORD – George Zimmerman’s girlfriend said he tried to choke her about a week ago during an altercation that wasn’t initially reported to police, a prosecutor told a judge Tuesday during Zimmerman’s first court appearance on domestic violence-related charges.
Assistant State Attorney Lymary Munoz said Zimmerman’s girlfriend Samantha Scheibe feared for her life because Zimmerman mentioned suicide and said he “had nothing to lose.” Zimmerman’s public defenders said after the hearing that he didn’t appear to be suicidal.
Judge Frederic Schott set Zimmerman’s bond at $9,000 and ordered that he stay away from Scheibe’s house, wear a monitoring device and refrain from contact with her. The judge says he can’t possess guns or ammunition or travel outside of Florida.
Zimmerman has been charged with aggravated assault, a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison if convicted. He also has been charged with battery and criminal mischief, both misdemeanors. An arraignment was scheduled for Jan. 7.
Schott said that Zimmerman’s previous brushes with the law weren’t a factor in the conditions he was imposing but he did cite the new allegation of choking as a reason for the bond amount. Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges earlier this year in the fatal shooting of Miami Gardens teenager Trayvon Martin in a case that drew worldwide attention.
Zimmerman wore gray jail garments and handcuffs during Tuesday’s hearing and spoke only when answering yes or no to the judge. Defense attorneys said after the hearing that they expected him to be out of jail the following day and they were confident he’d eventually be acquitted. Public defender Jeff Dowdy said Zimmerman’s family has been supporting him.
“I would think it would be difficult for George Zimmerman to get a job in central Florida,” Dowdy said. Dowdy and another public defender, Daniel Megaro, said Zimmerman wasn’t suicidal despite what the prosecutor said.
“He doesn’t appear to be a danger to himself or a danger to anybody else,” Megaro said.
Zimmerman has previously used a website to raise money for his legal and living expenses, including $95,000 spent on bail in the Trayvon Martin case. The site also says tens of thousands of dollars was spent on living expenses and security.
The most recent posting on the fund’s website, weeks before Zimmerman’s acquittal in the Trayvon shooting case, said that the fund ran out of money in late May but raised tens of thousands more after public requests for help.
A link to donate via PayPal didn’t appear to be working on Tuesday. In this latest scuffle, both Zimmerman and Scheibe called 911 and provided dueling descriptions to police dispatchers about the argument.
Scheibe accused him in the emergency call of pointing a gun at her, smashing a coffee table and then pushing her outside. Zimmerman also called dispatchers, flatly denying pointing a gun at her and blaming her for the broken table.
Scheibe told deputies the ordeal started with a verbal argument and that she asked Zimmerman to leave the house. Her account in the arrest report says he began packing his belongings, including a shotgun and an assault rifle. She says she began putting his things in the living room and outside the house and he became upset. At that point, the report says, he took the shotgun out of its case.
Zimmerman told his girlfriend to leave and smashed a pair of her sunglasses as she walked toward the front door, the report says. Scheibe told deputies he pushed her out of the house when she got close to the door.
“You point your gun at my fricking face,” Scheibe is heard telling Zimmerman on a 911 call. “Get out of my house. Do not push me out of my house. Please get out of my house.”
Playing the game
Seconds later, she told the dispatcher: “You kidding me? He pushed me out of my house and locked me out. … He knows how to do this. He knows how to play this game.” Moments later, Zimmerman called 911 from inside the house to tell his side of the story.
“I have a girlfriend, who, for lack of a better word, has gone crazy on me,” Zimmerman said. Zimmerman then said he never pulled a gun on his girlfriend and that it was she who smashed a table at the home they shared. He also told the dispatcher that Scheibe was pregnant with their child and that she had decided she would raise the child on her own. When he started to leave, “she got mad,” he said.
Seminole County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Dennis Lemma said at a news conference that Scheibe wasn’t pregnant. He also said Zimmerman was compliant and unarmed when deputies went to the house.On Tuesday, Dowdy said he couldn’t confirm whether the girlfriend was pregnant.
The arrest on Monday was the latest legal problem for Zimmerman since he was acquitted last summer of criminal charges in the fatal shooting of Trayvon. Zimmerman, 30, who identifies himself as Hispanic, has said he shot the 17-year-old to defend himself during a fight in February 2012 inside a gated community in Sanford, just outside Orlando. Federal authorities are now reviewing the case to see if Trayvon’s civil rights were violated.
Lack of evidence
Relatives of the Trayvon, who was unarmed, accused Zimmerman of racially profiling the teen and instigating a fight. Zimmerman said he shot the teen in self-defense. That case sparked nationwide debates about race and self-defense laws.
In September, just months after his acquittal, Zimmerman was accused by his estranged wife Shellie Zimmerman of smashing an iPad during an argument at the home they had shared. She initially told a dispatcher her husband had a gun, though she later said he was not armed. No charges were filed against either of them because of lack of evidence. The dispute occurred days after Shellie Zimmerman filed divorce papers.
Zimmerman has also been pulled over three times for traffic stops since his acquittal. He was ticketed for doing 60 mph in a 45 mph zone in Lake Mary in September and was given a warning by a state trooper along Interstate 95 for having a tag cover and windows that were too darkly tinted. He was also stopped near Dallas in July and given a warning for speeding.
In 2005, Zimmerman had to take anger management courses after he was accused of attacking an undercover officer who was trying to arrest Zimmerman’s friend.
Later that year, Zimmerman’s former fianceé filed for a restraining order against him, alleging domestic violence. Zimmerman responded by requesting a restraining order against her. Both requests were granted. No criminal charges were filed.
Associated Press writer Kyle Hightower in Orlando contributed to this report.