Choking allegation made against Zimmerman in court
SANFORD, Florida (AP) — Prosecutors said Tuesday that a former neighborhood watchman acquitted in the high-profile killing of an unarmed black U.S. teen tried to choke his girlfriend and left her fearing for her life.
George Zimmerman, 30, made his first court appearance after his latest brush with the law, for which he faces charges of aggravated assault. He was acquitted earlier this year of all charges in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin that sparked nationwide debates about race and self-defense laws.
Zimmerman’s 27-year-old girlfriend, Samantha Scheibe, accused him in a police call of pointing a gun at her, smashing a coffee table and pushing her outside. Zimmerman also called dispatchers, denying pointing a gun at her and blaming her for the broken table.
The prosecutor said 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.
A judge set Zimmerman’s bond at $9,000 and ordered that he not possess guns or ammunition. He was ordered to stay away from the girlfriend’s house and wear a monitoring device. He was released from jail hours after his court appearance.
In an affidavit filed Tuesday, Zimmerman asked for a public defense, saying he has liabilities and debts of at least $2 million and no income. He said he had less than $150 in cash on hand.
Zimmerman, who identifies himself as Hispanic, was acquitted earlier this year of all charges in the shooting death of 17-year-old Martin, whose relatives accused Zimmerman of racially profiling the teen and instigating a fight. Zimmerman said he shot the teen in self-defense during a fight in February 2012 inside a gated community. His supporters championed Florida’s so-called stand your ground law, which protects gun owners.
The Justice Department has been investigating whether to file civil rights charges against Zimmerman related to Martin’s death, and a department spokesman said Tuesday that it would announce its decision soon.
Zimmerman wasn’t charged until 44 days after the shooting, leading to protests nationwide from people who believed he should have been immediately arrested. Demonstrations also broke out again after his acquittal.
In September, just months after his acquittal, Zimmerman and his estranged wife were involved in a domestic dispute at the home they had shared. Just days after Shellie Zimmerman filed divorce papers, she initially told an emergency dispatcher her husband had a gun, though she later said he was not armed. She also accused of George Zimmerman smashing an iPad during an argument.
Police later said no charges were filed against either of them because of a lack of evidence.
Zimmerman was served the divorce papers while in custody on the latest charges, said Shellie Zimmerman’s lawyer, Kelly Sims.
In the latest case, 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.
Defense attorneys said after the hearing that they expect him to be out of jail on Wednesday, and they’re confident he’ll eventually be acquitted.
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 police call. “Get out of my house. Do not push me out of my house. Please get out of my house.”
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 police from inside the barricaded 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 Zimmerman 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 came to the house.
In 2005, Zimmerman’s former fiancee 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 writers Kyle Hightower in Orlando, Florida, and Suzette Laboy in Miami contributed to this report.