By Rene Stutzman
SANFORD, Fla. — Following a request from the FBI, the Sanford Police Department reported Thursday that it has halted its plan to return George Zimmerman's gun and other pieces of evidence used at his murder trial.
The move is a clear sign that the U.S. Department of Justice is moving ahead with its investigation into whether the former Neighborhood Watch volunteer violated the civil rights of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black 17-year-old he shot in Sanford last year.
Zimmerman was acquitted Saturday by a six-member Seminole County Jury, a decision that has prompted demonstrations in Sanford, Orlando and major cities across the U.S., including violence in Oakland and Los Angeles.
Zimmerman told police he killed Trayvon in self-defense after the Miami Gardens high school junior knocked him to the ground and broke his nose with one punch then climbed on top and began pounding his head against a sidewalk.
Jurors found Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter. During their 16 hours of deliberations, they had access to all of the 250-plus pieces of evidence, including Zimmerman's gun.
The Seminole County Clerk of Courts released the evidence earlier this week to the police department.
Before returning individual items to their owners, however, department officials talked to one or more FBI agents in Orlando, according to Sanford police spokesman Capt. Jim McAuliffe.
On Thursday, the police department finalized its plan.
"The evidence is just in a hold status, pending their DOJ investigation," McAuliffe said.
It is being stored in a secure area within the police department, he said.
The items include Zimmerman's gun, Trayvon's clothes, cell phone, the bag of Skittles and beverage found in his pockets -- in short all the evidence collected by the agency as it investigated the Feb. 26, 2012, homicide.
Following the verdict, there were demands for a federal civil rights investigation, but the DOJ began its probe more than a year ago, although it has said little about its findings.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told members gathered for the NAACP national convention in Orlando Tuesday that his agency would thoroughly investigate all available evidence that Zimmerman had violated Trayvon's civil rights.
Records released by Special Prosecutor Angela Corey show that FBI agents last year interviewed three dozen friends and associates of Zimmerman, and each said Zimmerman did not use racial epithets or show signs of being a racist.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Copyright 2013 The Orlando Sentinel