About that photo of George Zimmerman’s bloody and “broken” nose… part 2
In my last post (part 1) I noted the anatomical anomalies that lead me to believe the photo of George Zimmerman’s nose injuries taken by Officer Michael Wagner of the Sanford Police Department shortly after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin has been altered in some sort of photo editing software, i.e. “Photoshopped.” Here again is the comparison between Zimmerman’s nose in the Wagner photo, and his nose as seen several hours later at the Sanford Police Station.
Assuming I’m right, and the Wagner photo has been manipulated, several questions arise: How could this have happened? Why would anyone do this? What role will it play during Zimmerman’s trial?
The HOW is pretty easy. I recapped the documented provenance of the photo in the last post, and I’ll repeat it here: According to official State documents, the photo was taken by Officer Michael Wagner of the Sanford Police at 7:31PM on the evening of February 26, 2012. Zimmerman had been taken into custody by SPD officer Timothy Smith, handcuffed and placed in the back seat of Smith’s squad car. Zimmerman had not yet been seen by the paramedics, who would later clean up and dress his wounds. Wagner took the photo with his personal iPhone4. According to the records, he took the phone home, uploaded the photo to his computer, erased it from the phone, and then forgot that he had it. He claims he only remembered having the photo some three weeks later when the investigators on the case mentioned that they had no pictures of Zimmerman’s injuries before he was attended to by the EMTs. On March 18th, 2012, Wagner turned the photo over to the investigators via email. So that’s almost three weeks between the time the photo was snapped and the time it became part of the official evidence collection of the investigation. That’s plenty of time for Wagner to have shown it to other people privately, for other members of the SPD to decide they needed to goose some evidence to cover their decision to let Zimmerman go without charging him, to recruit someone skilled in photo editing to doctor the image, and for that person to come up with a fairly convincing looking manipulation.
I’ll talk more about the technical details of the Wagner photo in the next post. But in summary here I’ll note that in TECHNICAL terms, unlike the anatomical anomalies I noted in the previous post, there are no obvious and telling signs of “Photoshopping” that jump out from it. If indeed the photo has been doctored, it would have taken a lot of time, care and skill to make it appear as authentic as it does. I use Photoshop a good bit. Though I’m hardly a retouching expert, I can’t imagine that any alterations to this photo could have done quickly. I would guess at a minimum they would have taken several long days of work and much trial and error. If the photo had gone right into evidence, we would be hard pressed to question it. But a lot of devious digital dickering can be accomplished in a 20 day window.
The WHY of this is much harder to fathom. One strong argument against the idea of the photo having been manipulated is it just doesn’t make much sense for anyone to do that. The risk/reward ration seems all wrong. In a first glance at the Wagner photo, I think we take the whole thing in at once as a gestalt, and nothing seems obviously amiss. But once we focus in on that nose bridge specifically, the manipulation appears (to me anyway) to be dangerously obvious, far too easy to detect. And it doesn’t seem necessary. As I mentioned in the last post, I’ve known people who suffered badly broken noses — and had such an injury myself — without our features becoming anywhere near as altered as Zimmerman’s nose is in the Wagner photo. You do not need to go that far to “document” a possible broken nose by a long shot. So why, why, why would someone doctor a photo to such an extreme degree? Obviously I can only speculate. If there was indeed a cover-up of letting-Zimmerman-off, it was likely executed by rank-and-file members of the SPD. Beat cops are generally not the sharpest knives in the drawer, and may not be experts in facial anatomy. Whoever got recruited to do the Photoshopping may be an ace at blending tones and various compositing tricks, but also be ignorant of nasal bone structure and too stupid or pressured for time to look up the relevant information on the Internet. I might also speculate that whoever felt they needed to show Zimmerman with a broken nose needed it to appear to be an OBVIOUS broken nose since Zimmerman did NOT get medical attention for his nose that evening, did NOT get an x-ray, refused referrals to an ENT specialist, and the physicians assistant who gave him a check-up the day after the shooting noted only a “possible” nose fracture on her report.
All that said, I still don’t see a compelling logic to doctor this photo, and if the concrete visual evidence of manipulation wasn’t so blatantly obvious to my eye, I’d have a hard time believing someone would have messed with this picture. But I do think the concrete visual evidence is overwhelming, so I have to put aside my qualms about the rationale that would have led to what I see, and just deal with the physical evidence. (And, again, if some plastic surgeon or other face doctor can give me a specific medical explanation of how these two photos can be reconciled, I’ll happily shut up and post a mea culpa…)
Of course, addressing the WHAT of the photo’s role in the ongoing trial is purely speculative. At least two witnesses — RATL resident Jenna Lauer and EMT Stacey Livingston — have already testified that the photo is a “fair and accurate” representation of how Zimmerman appeared when they first saw him after the shooting. (I missed most of SPD Ofc. Timothy Smith’s testimony, and the Defense may have shown him the photo as well.) Livingston appeared so nervous and fidgety during her testimony I thought she might burst from the witness stand like a jack-in-the-box. I think it’s entirely possible the photo will be shown repeatedly at trial, yet never have it’s authenticity challenged. Obviously, the Defense won’t question it. It’s Exhibit A (figuratively) supporting the argument that Trayvon Martin assaulted George Zimmerman, beginning by sucker-punching him in the nose. But why would the prosecution refrain from pointing out signs of possible manipulation?
The answer is that it has to have been one of their peeps that done it, and they want to convict Zimmerman without exposing the SPD to any sort of corruption charges. State Attorney Angela Corey, who is supervising Zimmerman’s prosecution is a conservative law-and-order Republican, a political ally of Tea Party Governor Rick Scott. Norm Wolfinger, the previous State Attorney on the case, who had to resign from the case citing an un-named and mysterious conflict of interest, and then immediately went into retirement, was also a Scott ally. Though a good number of observers of the case believe Wolfinger interceded in the SPD’s investigation of Zimmerman, and was material in releasing Zimmerman without charge and shutting down the investigation along with then SPD cheif Bill Lee, Corey had nothing but praise for Wolfinger and everyone in the SPD when she took over the case. Regardless of whether Zimmerman is acquitted or convicted and sent to the slammer for life, a scandal revealing that white cops and a white State Attorney conspired to help a white suspect avoid prosecution for the shooting of a black teenager would be very bad politically for Rick Scott. So I don’t expect the prosecution team to take any action that would forward that possibility.
Still, even if the prosecution accepts the Wagner photo at face value [:-)], it seems to me that, at a minimum, they will need to have a medical expert testify that Zimmerman’s injuries were not serious enough to place him in reasonable fear for his life. And that will require said medical experts to opine on both the Wagner photo and the photo of the blood dripping down the back of Zimmerman’s head taken by RATL resident Jonathan Manalo before the police arrived. For example, In the Wagner photo, there isn’t that much blood running down Zimmerman’s lips, and what blood does show there appears to come not from inside his nose (i.e. from the nose being broken) but instead from several small abrasions on the tip of his nose. A physician might also testify that the swelling shown on the right side of Zimmerman’s nose below the small wound is no big deal, especially given that it had subsided by the time the photos at the police station were taken. But I wonder how a trained medical expert looks at that photo and fails to see and comment on the apparent major bone displacement on the bridge of Zimmerman’s nose. Are the prosecutor’s questions just draw any experts’ attention away from the nose bridge? Can the expert just remain mum? Could they even locate an experts who would perjure themselves on this question? Or will the State stay away from interrogating the Wagner photo altogether, even if it risks leading to an acquittal?
Of course, all these questions are moot if I’m wrong about the whole nose-bridge-width thing. But until somebody who knows a heckuva lot more about medicine than I do presents a detailed explanation about how a crooked nose bridge — apparently showing major displacement of both the right maxilla and the nasal bone — can straighten itself back out in a matter of hours, I’m sticking with my “It was Photoshopped!” conclusion. And I will be watching with great curiosity to see what happens with this photo as the trial continues.