George Zimmerman says he was punched in the face after talking about the Trayvon Martin case at a Sanford-area restaurant over the weekend, officials said.
Zimmerman said he was ordering food at Gators Riverside Grille Sunday evening when he walked by a table with several people and complimented a man’s Confederate flag tattoos, according to the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office.
The man, Joseph Whitmer, thanked him and asked “aren’t you that guy.” Zimmerman said yes and pulled out his ID to prove who he was, an incident report shows.
Whitmer asked about the Trayvon Martin case and as Zimmerman started to explain that he fatally shot the unarmed teen in self-defense, another man walked up and asked “You’re bragging about that?”
Zimmerman told that man he wasn’t but the man said “you better get the (expletive) out of here,” a report shows.
Zimmerman told deputies he went back to his table where several of his friends were eating.
Several minutes later, the man, who was only identified as Eddie, walked over to his table and said, “Didn’t I tell you to get the (expletive) out of here, (expletive) lover?” a report states.
Zimmerman told the man he wasn’t looking for any trouble and that’s when the man punched him in the face, breaking his glasses, records show.
Restaurant staffers broke up the scuffle. Zimmerman then called 911.
“This man just punched me in the face,” he told a dispatcher. “ … He said he was going to kill me. You need to send three or four cops.”
He said the man and about five of his friends were holding him back. The man then fled in a blue Harley-Davidson motorcycle. A Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman said they are still attempting to locate the man, who could face battery charges.
Zimmerman told the dispatcher he was injured and needed paramedics.
“I don’t know where I’m bleeding from. My face is bloody,” he said.
Several witnesses told deputies a slightly different version about what happened.
Whitmer’s wife said Zimmerman approached them while they were eating and said “Hey, I like your racist tattoos,” records show. He then told them about killing Martin “to brag,” a report states.
Another witness who was at Whitmer’s table said he also asked Zimmerman to leave their table. He said he had issues after “Zimmerman came to his table and proceeded to brag about how he was the one who killed Trayvon Martin,” an incident report states.
Zimmerman told The Orlando Sentinel he thinks the incident was a miscommunication. He said the man was apparently intoxicated.
Zimmerman was acquitted of murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in 2012.
He said he thinks the man thought he was Matthew Apperson, who was accused of shooting at Zimmerman during a road-rage confrontation in May 2015 in Lake Mary.
Zimmerman said the man told him to go away and accused him of “shooting George Zimmerman,” prompting the fight.
Gators Riverside owner Ed Winters told a different story.
He said the incident started when Zimmerman approached a shirtless patron who had just come in from the St. Johns River and told him he didn’t like one of his tattoos. After a few words, Zimmerman walked back to his table.
A friend of the first man to approach Zimmerman – who was at the restaurant with family celebrating a 12-year-old’s birthday – walked over to Zimmerman to confront him, Winters said.
The two argued, but no punches were thrown, Winters said. The two shoved each other, but Winters said claims of anything further are “blown out of proportion.”
Winters said Zimmerman called 911, prompting a full-fledged response from the police and fire department.
Zimmerman had been to the restaurant at least once before the incident, but Winters said Gators Riverside asked him not to come back after the fracas.
“Everywhere this guy goes he causes controversy,” Winters said. “You’d think he’d keep a low profile.”