George Zimmerman, the Florida man who made national headlines when he gunned down an unarmed teen because the boy was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and, according to neighborhood watch volunteer, looked suspicious was back in the news last week for allegedly threatening to shoot a man.
The alleged victim in the most recent incident, 35-year-old Matthew Apperson of Winter Springs, did not want to press charges despite complaining about Zimmerman following him on two separate occasions, according to Lake Mary Police Chief Steve Bracknell.
The first incident was reported on Sept. 9, after Apperson called 911. Apperson said he was driving his Honda Accord on a local street when he made a U-turn. That is when, according to Apperson, Zimmerman, driving a Honda Ridgeline truck, pulled up next to him and threatened to “kick my ass and to shoot me.”
Apperson told the dispatcher that when he tried to stop at a convenience store to find a phone so that he could call for help, Zimmerman allegedly moved his truck to block him and almost hit his car. A store surveillance video shows Apperson walking into the store as a Honda Ridgeline leaves the area, according to the police report.
On Sept. 11, Apperson again called the police to report that he believed Zimmerman had followed him and was watching him. Officers found Zimmerman in his Ridgeline truck nearby, stopped him, and questioned him. According to the Orlando Sentinel, the officers initially took Zimmerman’s handgun but returned the weapon when they released him about eight minutes later. Zimmerman, according to police, said he was in the area for a doctor’s appointment.
Zimmerman was acquitted last year in the murder of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old who Zimmerman shot and killed in 2012. Zimmerman claimed self-defense, saying he had followed the teen because he thought Martin looked suspicious. Zimmerman testified that he was forced to shoot Martin after the 17-year-old knocked him to the ground, punched him, and slammed his head against the sidewalk.
Zimmerman’s use of the “stand your ground” defense in the killing of Martin polarized the nation, bringing the debate over race issues and gun rights to a fever pitch. He was, however, acquitted of two felony counts – second-degree murder and the lesser charge of manslaughter. And as much as gun control advocates might despair, Florida police were acting well within the law when they returned his gun following last week’s traffic stop. That is because Florida, like Virginia, allows citizens to openly carry handguns without permits once they turn 18.
Whether Apperson’s claims are valid no one can ever know for certain. Apperson’s refusal to press charges and the DA’s decision not to pursue prosecution mean there will likely be no further investigation and information. As hard as that may be for some to accept, it is in complete accordance with the state’s laws. Also, it’s important to note that prior incidents don’t diminish or lessen anyone’s right to the presumption of innocence, no matter how strongly or emotionally people may feel. The loss of a human life, particularly such a young life like Martin’s, is always tragic. Such tragedy, however, does not trump our constitutional rights to a fair and balanced trial.