Former Springs police chief discusses Trayvon Martin case
Published: Monday, November 11, 2013
Updated: Monday, November 11, 2013 01:11
Even half a nation away, Colorado Springs was not immune from the impact of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin late last February.
Former Colorado Springs Police Chief Richard Myers was asked to act as interim police chief in Sanford, Fla., during the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin shooting. Myers shared his experience in a lecture at UCCS on Nov. 6.
“I hoped to get people thinking about social issues, especially students since they are at the forefront of potential job opportunities that impact social change,” said Myers, who took the interim chief position following the resignation of Police Chief Bill Lee Jr.
Lee stepped down after receiving a 3-2 vote of “no confidence” from the Sanford City Council for his handling of the Martin case.
Myers succeeded Lee by becoming Sanford’s fifth police chief in a span of two years, including interim chiefs. His tenure as Sanford’s interim police chief lasted for 11 months. During that time, he worked to mitigate the social fallout from the shooting and the subsequent murder trial involving George Zimmerman.
According to Myers, who served as Colorado Springs Police Chief from 2007 until October 2011 and an interim chief for the Manitou Springs Police Department, it was his job to “stabilize the deteriorating situation in Sanford in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting.”
Zimmerman, a community watchman, shot the unarmed 17-year-old Martin who was returning from a convenience store.
Zimmerman was eventually charged with second-degree murder and later manslaughter but was acquitted by a grand jury.
The controversial events received national media attention. Myers inherited a divided town and a factionalized, “shell-shocked” police department, as he described it.
Myers’ position, while temporary, was a full-time commitment.
“My 11 months there was like one long meeting,” said Myers. He likened most events to “standing up and getting yelled at for two hours.”
Myers pointed out that not a single person was arrested during the protests in Sanford. He credited this to the police force’s unwillingness to overreact to the situation and their ability to appease demonstrators.
He also spoke about the media’s role in ramping up racial tensions and the dangers of reacting to quickly to information, especially when it was released in pieces and potentially taken out of context.
“I think the whole damn case was tried in the media before it even went to trial,” said Myers.
Sanford has, according to Myers, a history of racial disparity dating back to the late 1800s. Myers used the situation in Sanford to illustrate issues that exist at the national level.
“The disconnection between the United States police institution and African-American communities is an issue for which my passion has increased,” said Myers, who was replaced by Cecil Smith, a former Illinois police chief, as the permanent Sanford police chief.
Myers concluded his lecture on an optimistic note.
“I know that our perspectives on a situation are based on a collection of what we are exposed to, and I hope that this exposure broadened the mind of a member of the audience,” said Myers.
Other local and state officials attended the lecture, including Colorado Attorney General John W. Suthers and Trinity Missionary Baptist Church’s Rev. Jim Dotson.
Richard Radabaugh, an instructor in the university’s School of Public Affairs, also participated in the panel. Radabaugh, a former police officer for 30 years, related a story about subduing a suspect using non-lethal force.
“It was a good perspective from the other side rather than just the media perspective – from people who were actually from the inside,” said undeclared freshman Shelby Duran about the event.
Duran and other students attended the event, one of the School of Public Affairs’ Campus Engagements for credit in an intro to criminal justice course.
She also indicated how Myers’ objectivity contributed to the lecture.
“He didn’t tell me his opinion about Zimmerman or Trayvon. He only told me the facts and his job in Sanford, Fla.”