SANFORD, Fla. (AP) _ Trayvon Martin had been suspended from school for marijuana when the unarmed teenager was shot to death by a neighborhood watch volunteer, a family spokesman said Monday.
Martin, 17, was suspended by Miami-Dade County schools because traces of marijuana were found in a plastic baggie in his book bag, family spokesman Ryan Julison said. Martin was shot Feb. 26 by George Zimmerman while he was visiting Sanford with his father.
Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, and family attorneys blamed police for leaking the information about the marijuana to the news media in an effort to demonize the teenager.
“The only comment that I have right now is that they killed my son and now they’re trying to kill his reputation,” Fulton told reporters.
The Sanford Police Department insisted there was no authorized release of the suspension information but acknowledged there may have been a leak within the agency. City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr. said the source of the leak would be investigated and the person responsible could be fired.
“We do not condone these unauthorized leaks of information,” Bonaparte said.
Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump said the link between the youth and marijuana should have no bearing on the probe into his shooting death. State and federal agencies are investigating, with a grand jury set to convene April 10.
“If he and his friends experimented with marijuana, that is completely irrelevant,” Crump said. “What does it have to do with killing their son?”
Also Monday, the state Department of Juvenile Justice confirmed that Martin does not have a juvenile offender record. The information came after a public records request by The Associated Press.
Zimmerman, 28, claimed he shot Martin in self-defense and has not been arrested. Because Martin was black and Zimmerman has a white father and Hispanic mother, the case has become a racial flashpoint that has civil rights leaders and others leading a series of protests in Sanford and around the country.
The Orlando Sentinel reported Monday that Zimmerman told police he lost Martin in the neighborhood and was walking back to his vehicle when the youth approached him from behind. The two exchanged words, Zimmerman said, and Martin then punched him in the nose, jumped on top of him and began banging his head on a sidewalk. Zimmerman said he began crying for help; Martin’s family thinks it was their son who was crying out. Witness accounts differ.
The Sanford police statement said the newspaper story was “consistent” with evidence turned over to prosecutors.
In another development, city officials named a 23-year veteran of the Sanford police department as acting chief. The appointment of Capt. Darren Scott, who is African-American, came days after Chief Bill Lee, who is white, temporarily stepped down as the agency endured withering criticism over its handling of the case.
“I know each one of you _ and everyone watching _ would like to have a quick, positive resolution to this recent event,” Scott told reporters. “However, I must say we have a system in place, a legal system. It may not be perfect but it’s the only one we have. I urge everyone to let the system take its course.”
Professional football players Ray Lewis and Santonio Holmes are joining civil rights leaders Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton at a rally in Sanford later Monday. Also joining the rally are comedian Sinbad and leaders from the Urban League and ACLU.
Commissioners with the city of Sanford will also meet Monday for the first time since they gave Lee a no confidence vote.
Martin’s parents plan to address them. The meeting was moved from City Hall to the Sanford Civic Center to accommodate the expected large crowd.
Martin was returning to his father’s fiancee’s home from a convenience store when Zimmerman started following him, telling police dispatchers he looked suspicious. At some point, the two got into a fight and Zimmerman pulled out his gun.
Zimmerman has not spoken in public about the shooting. His lawyer, Craig Sonner, has denied there was any racial motive in the shooting.
A man identified as a friend of Zimmerman said Monday the neighborhood watch volunteer would tell the teen’s parents he’s “very, very sorry” if he could.
Speaking on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Joe Oliver said George Zimmerman is not a racist and has virtually lost his own life since the shooting.
“This is a guy who thought he was doing the right thing at the time and it’s turned out horribly wrong,” Oliver said.
On NBC’s “Today” show, Oliver said he had spoken with Zimmerman’s mother-in-law, who said Zimmerman was remorseful.
“I learned that he couldn’t stop crying for days after the shooting,” Oliver said.