While the investigation into the shooting of Tayvon Martin by George Zimmerman continues, racists on both sides of this seeming explosive issue are not toning down the rhetoric. Death threats and a $10,000 bounty offered for a citizen’s arrest of George Zimmerman have raised concerns about the threat of “vigilante justice” in the racially charged case. A group identifying itself as the New Black Panther Party is offering $10,000 to anyone who makes a citizen’s arrest of George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin slaying.
The reward, and an earlier spate of death threats, also raise questions about whether law enforcement is taking steps to protect Zimmerman and his family. Have no fear though, the New Black Panthers are not the only ones raising hell. Members of the Detroit-based National Socialist movement have pledged to descend on Sanford to protect “the white citizens in the area” if there are race riots in the aftermath of the killing that has gripped the nation. “It’s a virtual tinder box right now,” the group’s leader, Jeff Schoep, told the New York Daily News. “It’s explosive. It’s on the verge of violence. We need to make sure our white citizens aren’t left defenseless.”
NBC News has fired a producer for editing a recording of George Zimmerman’s call to police the night he shot Trayvon Martin, a person with direct knowledge of the matter said Saturday. The person was not authorized to talk about the situation publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity. The identity of the producer was not disclosed. An NBC spokeswoman declined to comment.
The producer’s dismissal followed an internal investigation that led to NBC apologizing for having aired the misleading audio. NBC’s “Today” show first aired the edited version of Zimmerman’s call on March 27. The recording viewers heard was trimmed to suggest that Zimmerman volunteered to police, with no prompting, that Martin was black: “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.” But the portion of the tape that was deleted had the 911 dispatcher asking Zimmerman if the person who had raised his suspicion was “black, white or Hispanic,” to which Zimmerman responded, “He looks black.”
Later that night of Feb. 26, the 17-year-old Martin was fatally shot by Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla. Though Martin was unarmed, Zimmerman told police he fired in self-defense after Martin attacked him. Questions subsequently have arisen over whether Zimmerman was racially profiling the teen, a theory the edited version of the tape seemed to support. On Tuesday, NBC said its investigation turned up “an error made in the production process that we deeply regret.” It promised that “necessary steps” would be taken “to prevent this from happening in the future” and apologized to viewers.
AUSTIN, Texas — (DMN/Statesman) – Austin Police Officer Jaime Padron, a father of two young daughters, died early Friday morning responding to a call of an intoxicated man at a North Austin Walmart. Padron, 40, never even had the chance to take his gun out of his holster. “It’s with a heavy heart that I have to report that we’ve lost a police officer this morning,” said Chief Art Acevedo. “I can tell you from my experience with him, we’ve lost a really good, solid human being today. And it’s a loss for the city.” Padron was a three-year veteran of the Austin Police Department who also served 14 years in the San Angelo Police Department and with the law enforcement agency at Austin-Bergrstrom International Airport. He also served in the U.S. Marine Corps and was deployed in both Gulf wars, Acevedo said.
At an emotional news conference late Friday afternoon at police headquarters, Acevedo praised the fallen officer as a family man and a consummate professional. “He was special,” the chief said. “He was quick to smile. … I don’t think he ever had a bad day.” Acevedo choked back tears as he told of Padron’s two daughters, ages 6 and 10, as he described their father as “our hero.”. “Those little girls — when they grow up — are going to have evidence that their dad was a hero,” he said.
City Manager Marc Ott and Acevedo delivered the news to Padron’s children, ages 10 and 6, and ex-wife soon after it happened. The chief said the family is extremely distraught with the news that came very early Friday morning. “It’s a tragedy on Good Friday to lose an officer like this, but it’s part of what these men and women do,” said Acevedo, addressing the media at 6 a.m. “They know when they become police officers that this is ultimately the sacrifice they are willing to make.” And perhaps the most powerful moment came when dozens of fellow brothers in blue lined up on either side of a police vehicle and ambulance in front of the store, standing in salute when Padron’s body was loaded into the vehicle and taken away. “He was an outstanding cop, and it always seems that — we’re not perfect, but — it seems that when we lose an officer, it’s always the best of the best,” said Acevedo. “Because they’re the ones when the call comes out, they don’t hesitate.”
Familiar with the strong ties of a tight-knit police family, Travis County sheriff’s deputies arrived at the scene around 5:30 a.m. to offer their condolences to the department. “We’ve come together as a family,” said Acevedo. “It will be tough these next few days, but as I told and we told our officer’s family: They are not alone.” The chief has reached out to the family in support. “Most importantly, our city, our community will stand with this family. And we’ll make sure those two little girls who just lost their father tonight, through no fault of his own, that they are raised the way they need to be raised and their needs will be met,” he said. “At time like this, it’s important to close the ranks and look out for each other,” said Ott.
All the while, many are jarred by the fact Padron lost his life over what appeared to be a routine call. “Man, this is a routine call. What makes our jobs deadly is there is no such thing as routine, and at any moment you can go from being stopped at a red light to being engaged in a fight for your life,” said Acevedo. A U.S. Marine Corps veteran, Padron leaves behind parents and family in San Angelo. He was a member of the Austin Police Association Board of Directors representing the Northeast Area command, a board on which Hipolito also served. Before serving on the force, he worked for Austin-Bergstrom International Airport police as part of the emergency management department that consolidated with APD in 2009. Before that, Padron was on the San Angelo Police Department for 14 years.
Man charged with capital murder in officer’s shooting death
A man charged with fatally shooting an Austin police officer had talked of robbing a store and told investigators he intentionally shot the officer because he was trying to stop him from fleeing, according to court documents released late Friday. A four-page arrest affidavit for Brandon Montgomery Daniel, 24, provided new details on a day that brought the city’s first line-of-duty death of an officer in more than seven years. Senior police officer Jaime Padron, a 40-year-old former Marine and father of 10-year-old and 6-year-old daughters and who had been with the department for about three years, died just inside a North Austin Wal-Mart after an encounter with Daniel, authorities said.
Daniel, 24, opened fire with a semi-automatic pistol about 2:30 a.m., officials said. After Daniel was taken into custody, he said, “I killed a cop,” while being walked through the police parking garage, according to the affidavit, which police made public shortly before 10 p.m. Friday. A call to 911 from store employee had been the kind that officers working the overnight patrol shift considered routine: A man inside the store off Interstate 35 near Parmer Lane appeared drunk, and employees wanted police to check on him. But the burst of violence minutes later left the Police Department and city grieving.
In what he described as acts of heroism, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said several Wal-Mart employees, whom he declined to identify, then tackled Daniel, wrestling him to the ground and pinning him to the floor as nearby officers heard Padron’s cry for help on police radios and raced to him. Acevedo said Daniel fired another shot after the employees had overpowered him. “Even in this tragedy, I am heartened by two brave souls who took action,” said Acevedo, who became tearful during a late-afternoon news conference Friday. Police have charged Daniel with capital murder, and he remained in the Travis County Jail late Friday. Officials said most of the incident — including the struggle between Daniel and Padron — was captured on numerous security cameras inside the store, providing critical evidence in the case.
A software engineer, Daniel lived in an apartment on West Parmer Lane, a few miles from the Wal-Mart. Daniel, who moved to Austin from Colorado, was charged with drunken driving in February after an officer said he was swerving and ran a stop sign on a North Austin street. Daniel’s roommate told the American-Statesman that he left the apartment Thursday night after saying he was going to find some Xanax, a prescription anti-anxiety medication. In two rare back-to-back confrontations between officers and suspects, the shooting came eight hours after an officer fatally shot a man after a foot chase in East Austin. Police emphasized that the incidents were not related, but even so, city officials called for Austin residents to remain calm. “Obviously, we have had two very tragic incidents involving loss of life,” Mayor Lee Leffingwell said. “My sympathies and heartfelt condolences go out to families of both of those who lost their lives.”
Leffingwell added: “Austin is still a very safe city. Nothing has changed about that, and we will continue to work to make sure this is a very safe city for everybody who lives here.” Numerous Central Texas government and law enforcement officials gathered at the shooting scene before dawn Friday, hugging one another, expressing condolences and offering support to officers who worked with Padron. “It’s a tough day for all of us,” said City Manager Marc Ott. “We lost a family member. But with all other situations, we will get through this as well.” Across the city Friday, flags were lowered to half-staff, and police and other first responders began wearing black mourning ribbons across their badges in honor of Padron within hours of the shooting.
Padron’s death also prompted an immediate outpouring of sympathy and support at Austin police headquarters. The department received calls from more than 100 residents and others from across the state and nation, including Gov. Rick Perry, who called Acevedo. “When the people that you are paid to keep safe turn around and support you and try to keep you safe, it makes you realize that is why you became a police officer,” Assistant Police Chief Patti Robinson said.
The death was the first involving an Austin officer since October 2004, when officer Amy Donovan was struck and killed by a patrol car as she chased a suspect in a drug case on foot. The last officer felled by a bullet was in May 2000, when Austin park police officer William Jones was shot and killed during a traffic stop near Zilker Park. His assailant killed himself a few hours later as police closed in on him in the Houston suburb of Katy. During a Friday’s afternoon news conference, Acevedo said that when Padron entered the store, loss prevention officers pointed out the suspect, later identified as Daniel. He attempted to flee, and when Padron pursued him, a struggle ensued, Acevedo said. Both men fell to the ground, and Daniel pulled out a semi-automatic pistol and fired it at Padron. One bullet struck the officer’s body armor, but another struck him in the neck area, inflicting a mortal wound, Acevedo said.
Immediately, two Wal-Mart employees rushed Daniel and took him to the ground, Acevedo said. Daniel fired one shot at them but missed, he said. The employees were able to subdue Daniel until backup officers arrested him. “We’ve seen video of members of the Wal-Mart team, after our officer was shot, immediately without hesitancy, taking action to take that suspect and detain him,” Acevedo said. Detectives spoke to Dante Davis, Daniel’s roommate, who told them that the night before the shooting Daniel suggested they “hit a store,” the affidavit said. Davis thought that meant getting some food, but Daniel spoke as though he wanted to rob a convenience store, the affidavit said.
Davis said he warned his roommate about breaking the law, the affidavit said. Daniel, who owns a motorcycle, responded, “Dude, I’ve gotten away with worse … than that. I run from the cops on my bike almost daily,” the document stated. Officials said few shoppers were inside the store — which Acevedo said likely saved lives and prevented injuries — but the few who were in the area reported hearing the sound of shots. Pflugerville resident Pedro Garcia and his roommate, Sapna Sharma, said they went grocery shopping about 1:30 a.m. and were in the back of the store when they heard a loud noise. They stayed inside, but as they were leaving, they said, more than a dozen officers swarmed in. They said it appeared as though someone was administering CPR on a victim. Garcia said: “You’re at Wal-Mart. You think you’re safe.”
Michelle Pearson was on her way home from work and stopped at the store with a friend to buy milk and bread. She said she was in the parking lot, about to go inside, when she saw an officer walk to the front door and begin talking to a store employee. Seconds later, “We heard a gunshot, but we didn’t know what it was,” she said. “It sounded like a firecracker or something.” As she decided to leave the parking lot and pulled away, Pearson said, she could see through the front door of the store that an officer was on the floor. “I just hope that people are praying for his family,” she said. Acevedo became particularly tearful in discussing Padron’s daughters and the department’s efforts to help plan Padron’s funeral in coming days. “Those little girls are going to have evidence when they grow up that their dad was a hero,” he said.
Accused killer’s roommate: ‘It doesn’t make sense’
As he was leaving his North Austin apartment Thursday night, Brandon Montgomery Daniel told his roommate that he was going to get some Xanax. Dante Davis said he went to bed early and that, when he woke Friday, all the lights in the apartment were still on and Daniel’s bed was still made. In an interview with the American-Statesman, Davis said he knew something was wrong. By the time Davis realized his roommate hadn’t come home, Daniel was in police custody, accused of fatally shooting Austin police officer Jaime Padron in the neck at a North Austin Wal-Mart. The 24-year-old has been charged with capital murder, which is punishable by the death penalty or life in prison.
His Facebook page and court documents stemming from a February drunken driving arrest say that Daniel was born in Wichita, Kan.; lived in the Denver suburb of Parker, Colo.; and attended Colorado State University, from which officials said he graduated in December 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science. He moved to Austin and took a job as a software engineer at Hewlett-Packard. He rented an apartment in a sprawling gated complex on Parmer Lane. Davis, 26, said he moved into the apartment in January after Daniel posted a Craigslist ad seeking a roommate. “He’s a good person. Nice, quiet and chill,” said Davis, whom police identified as Kelvin Davis in an affidavit. “He’s been a great roommate. We’ve never had any problems. It doesn’t make sense.” He described his roommate as a “computer nerd” who spent his free time playing video games and working on his motorcycle.
Daniel’s Facebook page contains a couple of photos of a green Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle and lists “likes” for the Denver Zoo and skateboarding, computers and Xbox. It shows music tastes running from Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift to ’70s rock band Blue Öyster Cult, and a link to a story about insecticides’ connection to honey bee die-offs — and to another article titled “Cheers! Drink beer and live longer.” Daniel had just received a promotion at Hewlett-Packard, Davis said. An H-P spokeswoman said she could not confirm whether Daniel was employed at the company, citing company policy.
Davis, a student at Le Cordon Bleu culinary school and an Army veteran who served in Iraq, said he hadn’t thought much of it when Daniel mentioned he owned a gun. But he said he took notice of Daniel’s consumption of Xanax, an addictive prescription anti-anxiety medication. Davis said Daniel drank as well. According to an arrest affidavit, at just before midnight Feb. 1, an officer witnessed Daniel speeding and swerving in a black 2009 Honda Fit on Powell Lane, near Interstate 35 and U.S. 183. The officer pulled Daniel over after he ran a stop sign, the affidavit said, adding that Daniel had a strong alcoholic beverage odor, glassy eyes and was swaying and stumbling while walking.
The affidavit also noted that Daniel was polite and cooperative. Daniel told the officer that he had two or three shots of Jack Daniel’s and two beers at a local pool hall, the affidavit said, and when the officer asked for his driver’s license, Daniel first presented his health insurance card. Daniel was administered a field sobriety test — he lost his balance while walking and turning, then swayed and set his foot down during the one-leg-stand test — but refused a breath test, the affidavit said. The case is pending. A few weeks ago, Davis said he had a heart-to-heart talk with Daniel about his Xanax use. You have a good job, Davis said he told his roommate. You don’t need to be taking all these pills. On Friday, Davis was struggling with the idea that his roommate had been accused of killing a police officer. “He had so much going for him,” Davis said. “I couldn’t imagine it being him.”
KXAN-TV contributed to this report.