The February 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martion might never have happened if school officials in Miami-Dade County had not instituted an unofficial policy of treating crimes as school disciplinary infractions. Revelations that emerged from an internal affairs investigation explain why Martin was not arrested when caught at school with stolen jewelry in October 2011 or with marijuana in February 2012. Instead, the teenager was suspended from school, the last time just days before he was shot dead by George Zimmerman.
Trayvon Martin was not from Sanford, the town north of Orlando where he was shot in 2012 and where a jury acquitted Zimmerman of murder charges Saturday. Martin was from Miami Gardens, more than 200 miles away, and had come to Sanford to stay with his father’s girlfriend Brandy Green at her home in the townhouse community where Zimmerman was in charge of the neighborhood watch. Trayvon was staying with Green after he had been suspended for the second time in six months from Krop High School in Miami-Dade County, where both his father, Tracy Martin, and mother, Sybrina Fulton, lived.
Both of Trayvon’s suspensions during his junior year at Krop High involved crimes that could have led to his prosecution as a juvenile offender. However, Chief Charles Hurley of the Miami-Dade School Police Department (MDSPD) in 2010 had implemented a policy that reduced the number of criiminal reports, manipulating statistics to create the appearance of a reduction in crime within the school system. Less than two weeks before Martin’s death, the school system commended Chief Hurley for “decreasing school-related juvenile delinquency by an impressive 60 percent for the last six months of 2011.” What was actually happening was that crimes were not being reported as crimes, but instead treated as disciplinary infractions.
In October 2011, after a video surveillance camera caught Martin writing graffiti on a door, MDSPD Office Darryl Dunn searched Martin’s backpack, looking for the marker he had used. Officer Dunn found 12 pieces of women’s jewelry and a man’s watch, along with a flathead screwdriver the officer described as a “burglary tool.” The jewelry and watch, which Martin claimed he had gotten from a friend he refused to name, matched a description of items stolen during the October 2011 burglary of a house on 204th Terrace, about a half-mile from the school. However, because of Chief Hurley’s policy “to lower the arrest rates,” as one MDSPD sergeant said in an internal investigation, the stolen jewerly was instead listed as “found property” and was never reported to Miami-Dade Police who were investigating the burglary. Similarly, in February 2012 when an MDSPD officer caught Martin with a small plastic bag containing marijuana residue, as well as a marijuana pipe, this was not treated as a crime, and instead Martin was suspended from school.
Either of those incidents could have put Trayvon Martin into the custody of the juvenile justice system. However, because of Chief Hurley’s attempt to reduce the school crime statistics — according to sworn testimony, officers were “basically told to lie and falsify” reports — Martin was never arrested. And if he had been arrested, he might never have been in Sanford the night of his fatal encounter with Zimmerman.
In fact, the reason Zimmerman was patrolling the townhouse community the night of the February 2012 shooting was that there had been a rash of burglaries in the neighborhood, although there was no indication that Trayvon Martin was involved in any of those crimes.
As for Chief Hurley’s policy, it was the controversy over Martin’s death that accidentally exposed it. In March 2012, the Miami Herald reported on Martin’s troubled history of disciplinary incidents at Krop High. Chief Hurley then launched the internal affairs investigation in an attempt to find out who had provided information to the reporter. During the course of that investigation, MDSPD officers and supervisors described Chief Hurley’s policy of not reporting crimes by students. Chief Hurley was subsequently accused of sexually harassing two female subordinates. He resigned in February, about a year after Trayvon Martin’s death.