George Zimmerman, right, is escorted by a police officer in Lake Mary, Fla. (John Raoux / Associated…)
The dramatic, tearful 911 call was unambiguous in at least one respect: George Zimmerman was about to step into the media spotlight yet again.
The disbelief that ricocheted around the nation Monday at Zimmerman's latest high-profile encounter with the law was summed up piquantly by the police chief of Lake Mary, Fla. After answering the 20th media call of the afternoon, Chief Steve Bracknell told a Los Angeles reporter what he really thought of the man acquitted in the killing of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin.
"Man, it would be fantastic if you have an apartment out there [in California] for George Zimmerman," Bracknell said. "This guy is killing me."
Lake Mary police swarmed a home Monday afternoon after a 911 call from Zimmerman's estranged wife, Shellie, who told the dispatcher: "I'm really, really afraid. I don't know what he's capable of."
She filed for divorce last week.
"He's in his car, and he continually has his hand on his gun and saying, 'step closer,'" Shellie Zimmerman tells the dispatcher during the 911 call. "He's just threatening all of us with his firearm, and he's gonna shoot us. He punched my dad in the nose. My dad has a mark on his face."
She says her husband smashed her iPad and cut it with a pocketknife.
"Dad, get inside the house," she says. "George might start shooting at us, I don't know."
As police arrive, the dispatcher urges her and her father to stay inside the home. "Oh my god. Oh my god!" Shellie Zimmerman says.
"Shellie, you're doing really good, OK? This is a tough situation for anyone," the dispatcher says.
Shellie Zimmerman can be heard weeping quietly.
Officers briefly detained George Zimmerman while they investigated the incident, but did not arrest him. He went free when his wife and her father "both refused to press charges and [gave] us statements to that effect," Chief Bracknell said.
Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, downplayed the encounter.
"I know the 911 tape suggests that Shellie was saying something, but I think that was heightened emotions," O'Mara told the Associated Press. "There may have been some pushing and touching. That happens a lot in divorce situations.… Nobody was injured."
Emotions ran high, O'Mara said. Over the weekend, Shellie Zimmerman had gone to the house where the couple had been living to pick up some things, the attorney said, and surprised her husband by returning Monday. An argument ensued.
"He acted appropriately," O'Mara told CNN, confirming that his client had a gun. "He never took the weapon out."
Bracknell said in a phone interview that investigators had gathered as much information about the altercation as possible, adding, "people change their minds" about prosecution.
Florida law allows officers to make a domestic violence arrest without the victim's consent. Prosecutors potentially could build a case using surveillance video from cameras outside the house and from video from the squad cars that responded.
George Zimmerman's first brush with notoriety came in February 2012, when the neighborhood watch volunteer spotted Martin walking in a gated community in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman called police to report a suspicious person. At some point he got out of his vehicle, had a confrontation with Martin and shot the teenager to death. Zimmerman maintained that he acted in self-defense.
Martin had been visiting his father and his father's fiancee and had walked to a convenience store to buy Skittles and a soft drink.
Police did not arrest Zimmerman that night. But amid a national outcry, the governor appointed a special prosecutor. Several weeks later, Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder.
The case became a national laboratory for debates over gun rights, self-defense and racial discrimination. Martin was black, and Zimmerman identifies as Latino.
In July, a six-person jury acquitted Zimmerman of second-degree murder and manslaughter after deliberating about 16 hours.
Shellie Zimmerman was charged with perjury for lying to a judge about the family's finances so her husband's bond would be set lower. She pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor last month and was sentenced to a year of probation and 100 hours of community service. Her husband did not attend the sentencing.
In a recent interview with ABC News, she had hinted at discord in the marriage. "I have a selfish husband, and I think George is all about George," she said, adding that she had moved out of the home they shared Aug. 13 after counseling had failed.
Last Thursday, she filed for divorce. In a divorce petition obtained by the Associated Press, she requested that her husband take out a permanent life insurance policy with her as beneficiary.
Her 20-year-old brother, DJ Dean, said Monday that George Zimmerman had changed radically since he killed Martin, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
"Before the incident he was probably the nicest person I ever met," Dean said. "I think the guilt and self-hatred got to him."
After news of the 911 call broke, George Zimmerman's brother, Robert Zimmerman, urged caution. "We've learned from [the Trayvon Martin] case not to 'jump to conclusions,' to wait for facts, & to avoid speculation," he tweeted. "'News' is a business — not your friend."