George Zimmerman is suing the family of Trayvon Martin — the unarmed Black 17-year-old he killed in Sanford, Florida, in 2012 — for $100 million in civil damages, per a lawsuit publicized Wednesday. Zimmerman is also suing the publishing imprint Harper Collins and the author Ben Crump, whose book Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People came out last year; Crump is a civil rights attorney who represented the Martin family. Zimmerman is additionally targeting the prosecutors involved in the case against him, with the primary defendant being Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, who’s become a national social justice advocate in recent years as killings of unarmed Black individuals have gained national prominence.
Zimmerman was acquitted in 2013 of homicide charges in Martin’s death. He was accused of shooting the teen, who was wearing a hoodie and carrying a pack of Skittles, without justification. Shortly before the shooting, Zimmerman called the police and reported Martin for being a suspicious person in the gated community where he lived. Zimmerman claimed that Martin attacked him and that the shooting was a form of legal self-defense. The case played a major role in sparking the Black Lives Matter movement over the past several years.
The new lawsuit challenges the version of events that police and prosecutors presented to the jury, alleging that false evidence was used against Zimmerman in court. He now claims that the case against him was falsely constructed by the police, prosecutors, and the Martin family’s lawyer. His filing references a documentary called The Trayvon Hoax: Unmasking the Witness Fraud that Divided America, directed by Joe Gilbert, whic claims to have uncovered evidence that a witness — said to be Martin’s girlfriend — was coached to testify falsely against Zimmerman in court.
Per the complaint, the Sanford Police Department initially closed the case, calling Zimmerman’s conduct self-defense. But a week later, Zimmerman alleges, Crump gave police a recording of Martin’s 16-year-old girlfriend Diamond Eugene, who’d been on the phone with Martin just before the confrontation with Zimmerman. Then, according to the complaint, a different woman — 18-year-old Rachel Jeantel — claimed to be Eugene, testified in court, “and provided false statements to incriminate Zimmerman based on coaching from others.” The suit argues that Jeantel “lied repeatedly to cause Zimmerman’s arrest and to try to send him to prison for life." The suit alleges that Jeantel impersonated Eugene, who refused to testify, in order to fabricate the phone call.
The problem, of course, is that these are highly dubious allegations. As Essence notes: "The first issue here — after getting past the fact that a man who targeted, stalked, and ultimately shot a child to death has the unmitigated gall to sue that child’s family and friends — is that Rachel Jeantel has always made it clear that she was not Trayvon’s girlfriend. The second issue is that Trayvon’s cell phone records, including all of his conversations with Jeantel, were retrieved, and the times and phone number align with the time that Zimmerman made his first call to the [Sanford] Police Department."
Alleging defamation, abuse of civil process, and conspiracy, the suit seeks $100 million in civil damages. Zimmerman is being represented by the high-profile right-wing lawyer Larry Klayman.
This is not Zimmerman’s first time trying to profit off the events surrounding Martin’s death. In 2016, he auctioned off the gun he used to kill Martin for $139,000. He also planned on participating in a pseudo-celebrity boxing match with DMX, which was eventually canceled by the promoter. So while the decision to sue the family of the teenager he murdered is a new low, perhaps it's not an unexpected one.