The federal civil rights investigation into the 2012 shooting death of unarmed Florida teen Trayvon Martin will wrap up with no charges filed, the Justice Department announced Tuesday.
“The death of Trayvon Martin was a devastating tragedy. It shook an entire community, drew the attention of millions across the nation, and sparked a painful but necessary dialogue throughout the country,” said Attorney General Eric Holder in a statement. “Though a comprehensive investigation found that the high standard for a federal hate crime prosecution cannot be met under the circumstances here, this young man’s premature death necessitates that we continue the dialogue and be unafraid of confronting the issues and tensions his passing brought to the surface. We, as a nation, must take concrete steps to ensure that such incidents do not occur in the future.”
The Justice Department statement noted that officials spoke earlier today with Martin’s family and its representatives. In their own statement, the Martin family thanked the Justice Department “for their extensive and thorough investigation.”
The family added: “Although we are disappointed in these findings, it has steeled our resolve to continue traveling the country with the message of the Trayvon Martin Foundation, which is dedicated to protecting our youth and empowering those who demand justice and peace.”
For months, Justice Department officials have signaled that the probe won’t lead to charges being filed. But Tuesday’s announcement offers confirmation.
In its statement, the Justice Department took pains to stress that it had pursued a vigorous investigation. It said investigators conducted 75 witness interviews, examined police reports, and looked at other encounters between Zimmerman and law enforcement since he was acquitted. They also enlisted an “independent biomechanical expert” to examine Zimmerman’s account of his confrontation with Martin.
Martin was 17 when he was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a volunteer neighborhood watchman in Sanford, Florida. The incident provoked racially charged protests, and even President Obama observed that if he had a son, he might look like Martin.
Zimmerman was found not guilty of all charges at his 2013 trial.
Civil rights cases face a high bar. Prosecutors would have to show that Zimmerman tracked and shot Martin specifically because of Martin’s race.
A separate civil rights investigation into the death last August of Michael Brown, the unarmed teen shot by a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer remains ongoing. But that probe, too, is not expected to lead to charges.
Holder has said he wants to resolve ongoing civil rights investigations before he leaves office upon the confirmation of his successor.
Zimmerman filed a defamation suit against NBC News in 2012. A judge dismissed that claim last year, and Zimmerman has appealed.