George Zimmerman sues Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren over Trayvon Martin birthday tweets

Jeff Weiner
Orlando Sentinel

Orlando, Fla. – George Zimmerman, the former Sanford, Fla., resident acquitted of murder in the 2012 killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, is suing Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg over tweets they posted to commemorate the teenager’s birthday.

The lawsuit was reported Wednesday morning by Newsweek. The attorney representing Zimmerman, Larry Klayman, posted a copy of the suit online, which seeks damages “in excess of” $265 million.

George Zimmerman

“Trayvon Martin would have been 25 today,” said a tweet posted to the verified Twitter account for Buttigieg on Feb. 5. “How many 25th birthdays have been stolen from us by white supremacy, gun violence, prejudice, and fear? #BlackLivesMatter”

Tweeted Warren’s verified account: “My heart goes out to @SybrinaFulton (Trayvon’s mother) and Trayvon’s family and friends. He should still be with us today. We need to end gun violence and racism. And we need to build a world where all of our children – especially young Black boys – can grow up safe and free.”

In a lawsuit filed in circuit court in Polk County, where Zimmerman now lives, Klayman alleges the tweets “defamed Zimmerman for political gain in misguided and malicious attempts to bolster their standings amongst African-American voters, all at Zimmerman’s expense.”

Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., and Warren, a Massachusetts senator, were retweeted more than 7,600 times combined in the three days after their tweets posted, the suit says, and garnered tens of thousands of likes – 42,000 for Buttigieg and 7,300 for Warren.

Zimmerman shot the Miami Gardens 17-year-old inside the Retreat at Twin Lakes community in Sanford on Feb. 26, 2012. Prosecutors said Zimmerman profiled, pursued and killed Trayvon after calling police to report him as suspicious. Zimmerman said he fired in self-defense after Trayvon attacked him.

After Sanford police opted not to arrest Zimmerman, citing his self-defense claim, the case became an international cause celebre and sparked a debate about racial profiling and unequal treatment in the criminal justice system. Zimmerman was later charged with murder but acquitted at trial.

The lawsuit against Buttigieg and Warren argues that, though the candidates didn’t mention him in their tweets, they unfairly tied Zimmerman to racism, white supremacy and gun violence.

“The false impression of … Zimmerman, which Defendants created, caused irreparable harm to him, his business and person and his calling, as well as to his good will and reputation, as well as harmed his family,” states the lawsuit filed Tuesday.

Klayman is also representing Zimmerman in a lawsuit against Trayvon’s family and officials involved in his prosecution, based on a filmmaker’s claim that a key witness in the case was faked. The witness, Rachel Jeantel, testified she was on the phone with Trayvon during his confrontation with Zimmerman.

The filmmaker, Joel Gilbert, is known for promoting conspiracy theories, including unproven or debunked claims about President Barack Obama’s parentage and a secret son of President Bill Clinton.