Florida security firm gives detailed account of ‘jail escort plan’ to take Zimmerman to safe house once he was released on bail
An extraordinary movie-like plot to move accused murderer George Zimmerman into hiding disguised in a hat and fake glasses has come to light, courtesy of a private investigator’s legal attempts to recoup $27,000 in unpaid security bills.
A lawsuit filed in Florida by an Orlando security company gives a detailed account of the secretive “jail escort plan” Zimmerman’s lawyers commissioned to spirit away the man who shot and killed teenagerTrayvon Martin once he was released from prison on bail.
According to court documents, armed bodyguards from Associated Investigative Services (AIS) were to meet Zimmerman at the Seminole County jail and dress him in body armour before speeding him off in a rental vehicle previously checked for hidden GPS tracking devices.
Then, Zimmerman’s handlers were to deliver him to the disabled bathroom of a busy hotel in Orlando where he would dress in a new shirt, hat and glasses before casually walking out to a different vehicle and being driven to a safe house.
Meanwhile, other members of the security team were to watch closely for anybody conducting “negative counter-surveillance,” presumably a reference to members of the media who might have followed their client from jail.
Zimmerman, a former neighbourhood watch captain who denies murdering Martin, 17, during a confrontation in a gated community in Sanford, Florida, on 26 February, was jailed and released on bail twice during the summer, and it is unclear whether any parts of the plan were ever put into effect.
But AIS is claiming that Zimmerman, 29, his wife Shellie and his lawyer Mark O’Mara owe the company $27,027 for security services rendered but not paid for over 21 days from 26 June.
O’Mara said he was “surprised” at the breach of contract lawsuit and told the Orlando Sentinel that he had paid the company more than $40,000 from Zimmerman’s public defence fund before dropping them because the fund was depleted and could no longer afford such high rates.
He has yet to respond formally to the allegations in the court documents that he reneged on a verbal promise to pay more than $66,000 to AIS in total.
In its lawsuit, filed a week ago in the circuit court of Florida, Orange County, the company says it advised O’Mara that the level of protection he requested was “excessive in scope”.
At one point, it said, AIS bodyguards were protecting several members of Zimmerman’s family almost round the clock.
But O’Mara said that his client, who claims he acted in self-defence and who was originally released without charge, had received death threats and that a high level of security was necessary.
Stephen Milbrath, the lawyer for AIS owner Chris Rimbaugh, told the Guardian that he did not expect the case to be heard for several months at least.
The shooting of Martin, who was black, prompted almost two months of protest before Angela Corey, a special prosecutor appointed by Florida governor Rick Scott, announced the second-degree murder charge in April.
The new lawsuit is one of several legal side issues swirling around Zimmerman, who is in hiding somewhere in Seminole County on $1m bail until his trial in June.
He is suing television network NBC for allegedly altering a recording of his 911 call to the Sanford police department on the night of the shooting to make it appear that he pointed out the teenager’s race without being prompted.
Shellie Zimmerman, meanwhile, was charged with perjury after she gave evidence at her husband’s bail hearing in April that the couple were virtually penniless when, in fact, they had access to tens of thousands of dollars of public donations.
George Zimmerman faces at least 25 years in jail if convicted of murder, although O’Mara has said he will attempt to have the charge dismissed under Florida’s stand-your-ground law, which allows a person to use deadly force if their life is in danger.
Judge Debra Nelson has ruled that any stand-your-ground hearing must take place before the end of April next year.
[Correction: The original headline on this story was “Court documents reveal Zimmerman hatched elaborate escape plan”]