ABOVE PHOTO: George Zimmerman
By Mike Schneider
SANFORD, Fla. — George Zimmerman is once again a free man after an arrest on criminal charges – but his freedom carries conditions.
The former neighborhood watch volunteer who was acquitted in the fatal shooting of unarmed black teen Trayvon Martin earlier this year was released from jail Tuesday pending arraignment on the latest charges against him: aggravated assault, battery and criminal mischief.
Zimmerman was released on the condition that he wear an electronic monitor, keep his distance from guns, and stay away from the girlfriend who accused him of trying to choke her and then a week later pointing a shotgun at her. His bond was set at $9,000.
Zimmerman’s arrest is the latest of several brushes he has had with the law following his acquittal in Martin’s death, a case that drew worldwide attention as it sparked nationwide debates about race and self-defense laws.
The choking accusation was disclosed for the first time by a prosecutor at Zimmerman’s first appearance Tuesday before a judge. Zimmerman’s girlfriend, Samantha Scheibe, feared for her life because Zimmerman mentioned suicide and said he “had nothing to lose,” according to Assistant State Attorney Lymary Munoz.
After the hearing, Zimmerman’s public defenders said he did not appear to be suicidal and expressed confidence he would be acquitted of any wrongdoing.
“He doesn’t appear to be a danger to himself or a danger to anybody else,” said public defender Daniel Megaro.
Zimmerman, 30, wore gray jail garments and handcuffs during the hearing and spoke only when answering yes or no to the judge.
Judge Frederic Schott ordered him to stay away from Scheibe’s house, wear a monitoring device and refrain from contact with her. He was forbidden from possessing guns or ammunition or traveling outside Florida.
Zimmerman has been charged with aggravated assault, a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison. He also has been charged with battery and criminal mischief, both misdemeanors. An arraignment was set for Jan. 7.
Judge Schott said Zimmerman’s previous brushes with the law were not a factor in the conditions he imposed, but he did cite the new allegation of choking as a reason for the bond amount.
Earlier this year, Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges in the February 2012 fatal shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin. The Justice Department has been investigating whether to file civil rights charges against Zimmerman related to that case. A department spokesman said Tuesday that it would announce its decision soon.
Zimmerman revealed in an affidavit for hiring public defenders that he has at least $2 million in debts and no income. He said he had less than $150 in cash on hand.
Public defender Jeff Dowdy said Zimmerman’s family has been supporting him financially.
“I would think it would be difficult for George Zimmerman to get a job in central Florida,” he said.
Zimmerman has previously used a website to raise money for his legal and living expenses, including $95,000 spent on bail in the Trayvon Martin case. The site also says tens of thousands of dollars were spent on living expenses and security.
In this latest scuffle, both Zimmerman and his girlfriend called 911 Monday and provided dueling descriptions to dispatchers about the argument at the home she rented where Zimmerman was also staying.
Scheibe accused him in the emergency call of pointing a gun at her, smashing a coffee table and then pushing her outside. Zimmerman also called dispatchers, denied pointing a gun at her and blamed her for the broken table.
The girlfriend 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 said, 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 said. Scheibe told deputies he pushed her out of the house when she got close to the door.
In his call to 911, Zimmerman said he never pulled a gun on his girlfriend and that it was she who smashed a table. 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 Chief Deputy Dennis Lemma said at a news conference that Scheibe was not pregnant. He also said Zimmerman was compliant and unarmed when deputies came to the house.
On Tuesday, Dowdy said he could not confirm whether the girlfriend was pregnant.
The arrest Monday was the latest legal problem for Zimmerman since he was acquitted last summer of criminal charges in the fatal shooting of Martin. Zimmerman has said he shot the 17-year-old to defend himself during a fight in February 2012 inside a gated community in Sanford, just outside Orlando.
Relatives of Martin accused Zimmerman of racially profiling the teen and instigating a fight. Zimmerman identifies himself as Hispanic.
In September, just two months after his acquittal, Zimmerman was accused by his estranged wife of smashing an iPad during an argument at the home they had shared. Shellie Zimmerman initially told a dispatcher her husband had a gun, though she later said he was not armed.
No charges were ever filed because of a lack of evidence. The dispute occurred days after Shellie Zimmerman filed divorce papers. George Zimmerman was served the papers while in custody on the latest charges, said Shellie Zimmerman’s lawyer, Kelly Sims.
In 2005, he had to take anger-management courses after he was accused of attacking an undercover officer who was trying to arrest Zimmerman’s friend.
Later that year, 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, and no criminal charges were filed. Since his acquittal, Zimmerman has also been pulled over three times for traffic stops.