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George Zimmerman Trial; "Use of Force" Expert Testifies

Aired July 10, 2013 - 09:30   ET


DENNIS ROOT, USE OF FORCE EXPERT: I also became a certified instructor in -- at the time it was called Ink Pen Knife Defenses. And what that was, the most common thing a police officer has on their person is an ink pen. And when confronted with an adversary or utilizing your pen it's a way to utilize the ink pen in defensive measures against somebody that may have a knife or other edged object and you are not able to transition to your firearm. It was techniques to utilize that to defend yourself.

O'MARA: Now moving forward from Riviera Beach, any other certifications we haven't talked about yet during those -- that first sort of chapter of your career?

ROOT: No, that was -- that was pretty much it there.

O'MARA: And if I might, I 'm going to have something more from my phone. And you provided to us what we commonly known as a resume or a CV documenting some of this information?

ROOT: Yes.

O'MARA: Would it be helpful to have this available to you as we go through your testimony?

ROOT: It could. I mean, if there was something I didn't know. I mean, it's my life, I'm pretty clear on it.


ROOT: Unless you want a specific date on an attendance class, then I would probably have to look at my CV for that.

O'MARA: We have it marked. We'll keep it at that. (INAUDIBLE). So let's move forward then from Riviera Beach. Where did you go after that?

ROOT: The next agency I was with for a very brief period of time was the Jupiter Police Department where I was assigned, again, to road patrol duties.

O'MARA: OK. Any -- how long were you there?

ROOT: That was just under a year. I was there just under a year and during that time, I had the opportunity to also to take on a lead role as a defensive tactics instructor. When I was recruited by the city of Jupiter, I started and immediately began being presented with opportunities to bring the skills and things that I had learned from Riviera Beach to the Jupiter Police Department and I began training with some of their other lead trainers on defensive tactics techniques and various things, dealing with defensive tactics.

O'MARA: So in layman's terms then, defensive tactics is how somebody would defend themselves against somebody else.

ROOT: It's fighting.

O'MARA: It's fighting?

ROOT: Layman's terms is it's fighting.

O'MARA: And fighting in a way that minimizes injury to yourself.

ROOT: Absolutely. The reason was initially the term defensive tactics in law enforcement, pretty much when you utilize force, it's in response to another person's actions. So it became defensive in nature. Even though there are taught offensive techniques, the whole goal in law enforcement was you defended yourself or you defended another person, you just didn't walk up and start a fight.

That's where the term came from. But the reality of it is, you're teaching people how to defend themselves through fighting techniques.

O'MARA: Why such a short period of time that Jupiter PB --

ROOT: When I started there in Riviera because it was a very active city and Riviera Beach, I didn't spend any time on midnights. I actually was pretty much always on 3:00 to 11:00 in the afternoon -- you know, the evening shift when it was really, really busy.

When I went to Jupiter they had a seniority basis and you had to be on midnights until you were there long enough that your seniority allowed you to leave that shift.

Unfortunately from me, I learned while I was there I have a -- for a lack of better words, a condition that doesn't allow my body clock to change. So I couldn't adapt to midnights. I literally would sleep an hour and a half to three hours tops in a and. And it was really affecting me.

So I went to the administration, told them about it. Normally because you're on probation they would just terminate you because you can't perform the job the way they want it done. I was blessed that they extended me the opportunity to move immediately to a -- 4:00 to 12:00 shift which created a lot of strife for my career because there were a lot more senior people ahead of me that should have been given that position.

But the administration, I think, offered it to me. And because of the conflict that it created, it just seemed like a better idea that other options were presented to me and I felt that it would be a good idea to follow them.

O'MARA: And just to clear up any concerns anyone may have, was the short duration of your time with Jupiter due to any disciplinary problems, any concerns or any performance evaluation issues?

ROOT: None, none whatsoever.

O'MARA: Then you went from Jupiter to where?

ROOT: Martin County Sheriff's Office. I took a position as a drill instructor with the juvenile offender training center. Their juvenile boot camp. It was under law enforcement special services and it was a really unique opportunity to work with kids.

O'MARA: And what do you do during that part of your career?

ROOT: The time that I was assigned to the Juvenile Offender Training Center, I started as a drill instructor in the boot camp and because of my background and experience within a short period of time I was asked to take over the training responsibilities for the program where I helped develop training programs for ongoing training for new drill instructors and the current staff.

Eventually I was given the responsibility of being the supervisor of what they termed the Sanctions Enforcement Unit which is the equivalent of probation officers. When the young men come into the system by the time that they're there after about six months, they're released back into the community where they are monitored by deputies to ensure that their transitioning, maintain their curfew and doing things like that.

So they equated to a similar as being a probation officer for a juvenile offender and then I was promoted to the rank of sergeant and ran that unit until I went back to road patrol and pursued other opportunities from within the sheriff's office.

O'MARA: During the time you were with the sheriff's office did you accomplish any other certifications or training in particular areas of law enforcement focus?

ROOT: My focus -- I had the opportunity to experience just about everything a police officer can experience while with Martin County. I was within their training unit, I was within their criminal investigations division as a detective. I was in the traffic unit, road patrol. I also served on the canine unit and throughout my time the entire process I also was an ancillary instructor where I would go and take on and do training classes for a variety of topics mostly dealing with force.

I continued my education, I continued going to schools, I also became a master -- first became an instructor and then master instructor with the Taser International which is the -- taser weapons, the stun guns. And then I started transitioning and teaching the instructor level courses for that. I also took over when I was in training, I was designated the use of force specialist in the agency where any time there was a force event, the information was always forwarded to training.

My job was to look at it, evaluate it and see if there were violations of either policy and procedure or training standards and, also, I would try to take the experiences of the other deputies were involved in various issues and see how we could turn them into training opportunities for the deputies that never experienced it but may benefit from the experience.

So throughout the remaining portion of my career, I dedicated most of my time to continuing my training and development of certifications in force-related topics. I went and got my firearms instructor certification. I also became a tactical shotgun instructor. I continued on and became an instructor trainer with pepper sprays. So I'm transitioned from where I had the instructor rating up to the instructor class where I could teach the instructor courses. And I continued, I also took on responsibility at the local academy where I was -- at first started an as an adjunct trainer for the academy for corrections and law enforcement teaching defensive tactics.

I was lucky enough that my teacher and mentor was stepping down and provided me with the opportunity to step up to what they call the lead instructor's position, which is the person who coordinates and organizes the law enforcement and corrections academy's defensive tactics program.

In the process, I also obtained my two-year degree in criminal justice, which enabled me now to start teaching the instructor level classes for the college for life defensive tactics so I became the instructor that taught the defensive tactics instructor's course.

O'MARA: You had mentioned a moment ago about becoming a use of force specialist. Is this something that teaches what we talked about a moment before, which was this continuum of force and how and when to use force in a law enforcement situation?

ROOT: Yes. As the designated use of force specialist for the agency, my job was to develop use of force training. I worked with fantastic instructors for firearms and defensive tactics. I was given the privilege of coordinating a lot of the training that took place, especially -- to force of any type whether it was handcuffing because I took it upon myself, also, to go and get schools for it to become a handcuffing instructor. Not just the ones that come from defensive tactics but other disciplines and other organizations that offered that type of training because I was always trying to find a better way to teach our personnel and other people how to stay safe and utilize the weapons systems.

I throughout my career continued and went back for -- we have regional training where I would go to the CGSTC sponsored annual certification courses for high liability instructors and continue acquiring additional instructor certifications that tapped on to and added to already existing instructor's certifications like tactical handgun and shotgun.

I also went to NRA courses where I started to attend classes to get NRA certifications for firearms training and I became a state licensed firearms instructor so that I started teaching armed security courses. I had already been teaching unarmed security training for security officers, but by obtaining the state licensed firearms instruction certification it enabled me to teach the firearms aspects of security. And I just continued developing training that was eventually geared toward and took over where I was presenting some of the civilian training for the sheriff's office from one of the most important jobs for law enforcement or any company is the fact of communications. So I took on the responsibility of teaching a program known as verbal judo which is tactical communication. How to communicate with somebody in a way that's not aggressive. So I also added that to my responsibilities as the force specialist.

And I continued to develop the training programs for the sheriff's office when I was offered other opportunities like going to canine and things like that, I worked very closely with the lieutenant of our training unit and continuing to develop training for the agency as a whole.

O'MARA: Not to focus on probably the least significant of the certifications you just discussed, but there are actually proper ways to handcuff people? And --

ROOT: Yes. There are techniques because you have to be -- handcuffing somebody is putting restraints on them. You have concerns about that because if you place them on too tightly, it can cause injury to someone. Also, if you don't properly train the individual on how to use restraints, there's -- what I call the good side and bad side to handcuffs. The good side is the side that actually moves. So when you make contact with a person it will ratchet around and actually move.

If you use the bad side, made contact, you can cause injury because it's basically two pieces of steel that you're slamming into a wrist so it can cause injury. So yes, there are techniques that you should continuously revisit even in something as small as handcuffing.

O'MARA: OK. You mentioned that as the use of force expert you would sometimes use opportunities or situations as training exercises. It sounds like good speak for when another officer doesn't do something right, you help retrain them? Is that -- was that part of what you did?

ROOT: Yes and no. I mean, it's not just when they don't do something right, it's also when they do something correctly. When you get a force event in, I get handed paperwork that says basically here's what happened. I took it upon myself, I would speak with the officers involved and I would speak with supervisors involved.

If we determine something was wrong, then obviously we need to re- educate that officer on how to do their job properly but we also use that as an opportunity to make sure everybody else remembers this is the way to do it.

But just as important, when an officer was involved in a situation that was just unique that no one else up to that point had ever been involved in, we take it, we look at it at face value and then we try to create a training scenario that we would be able to put other deputies or officers through a similar controlled event so they gain the experience. So it's not just when they do it wrong, it's also when they're doing it right. We're adapting it to training for the agency as a whole.


BLITZER: Dennis Root is a private investigator. He is explaining his credentials to Mark O'Mara, the criminal defense attorney for George Zimmerman, setting the stage for more substantive questions. We'll take a quick break, resume our coverage from the Zimmerman trial right after this.


BLITZER: All right let's get back to the trial right now. Once again this is Dennis Root; he is being questioned by Mark O'Mara, George Zimmerman's attorney, the criminal defense attorney establishing his credentials for a substantive testimony on the use of force.


ROOT: -- I provide training with it. And if it was a weapon system I was dedicated to like vascular strain circle was impact OC, taser, firearm, I went and became an instructor and eventually created, I currently have four courses that I've created myself that I travel and teach as an instructor of the instructors.

O'MARA: And aside from that specific to law enforcement, do you have any training or expertise in general physical combat, fighting or areas that aren't specifically law enforcement, but still assist you in presentation regarding use of force?

ROOT: I started martial arts training when I was about 13 years old and I became a semi-pro kick boxer. I was very lucky. I got to participate in the '80s in the ISK super fights and actually right here in Orlando was my first super fight that I was able to participate in. So I've always had an interest and involvement in physical combat. I grew up with two older brothers, so I got beat up a lot by my older brothers and it was just seemed like a reasonable thing to do for me to try to bring in that personal experience.

So, in the process of my own personal experiences with fighting, martial arts, kickboxing and training, I was actually training with Chris Andersen and Rico Brockington who were, at the time in the late '80s they held two, they were both championship fighters, boxers. And I had the opportunity to train with them and to learn from them when I was attending my kickboxing schools.

And I just continued on. Currently I'm involved with the martial arts organizations and I have been given the privilege of developing and working with them and developing firearms related to martial arts where it's a component because a lot of people think of the samurai with the swords which is very accurate but believe it or not towards the end samurai's era they actually were using fire arms and it's a lot of things about the history of fighting that people don't know and I'm blessed to work with a gentleman by the name of Dennis Ritchie (ph) that runs an organization dedicated to the traditional aspects and he's trying to bring in all these components so that people can learn safety through martial arts training, the peace, the mind, the essence of the spirit and take it all the way through even the modern day weapon systems that people utilize today.

And I've been blessed with the opportunity to participate with that.

O'MARA: Ever take the opportunity to even score with your brothers?

ROOT: I did and -- but I was very young and I lost and I got blessed enough that as I became a police officer my brother is also a retired police officer, but through our transitions and my schooling he started to realize, I think, that it was better just to leave me alone.

So at some point the tables turned. I could just you know, I like to just think that he knew better. I don't know that he did, but I like to think that he did.

O'MARA: That's good.

And during all this time with Martin County, you completed your law enforcement career with Martin County, correct?

ROOT: Yes, I retired in April of 2011.

O'MARA: During the last few years of your tenure with Martin County, can you advise the jury sort of even more of what your focus was on assisting the county, the sheriff's office in dealing with their use of force events?

ROOT: In the latter portions of my career, I became involved with the sheriff's office for just like I already said, all the force training. I maintained that all the way to the last day. As a matter of fact, even after retiring, I was offered the opportunity with Sheriff Prower (ph) to continue training with the agency and I had accepted that opportunity to do so.

And during that time, I also started, I had permission from the sheriff's office to start my training company, where I started doing law enforcement training and eventually individual or what we refer to as civilian training.

O'MARA: And during that time, in particular in the last few years with Martin County, did that include opportunities for you to review use of force events and to either testify on someone's behalf or to deal with the administrative side of a use of force event?

ROOT: Because of the area, we're blessed that we don't have a lot over the careers of shootings but we have had our -- we have had our fair share. Toward the end of my tenure with the sheriff's office as a use of force specialist I was approached by the state to testify to review and provide an opinion for grand jury on use of force events involving police-involved shootings that ended up in the death of the subject being shot.

I was also brought in by our agency at the Martin County sheriff's office when we had organizational involved shootings that there were times where I was brought in to administrative meetings to meet with the attorneys' group to do an evaluation of the use of force to determine whether or not I had considered that event at that time to be reasonable or not and to provide input as to why it was or was not.

So I kind of helped the attorneys group for the sheriff's office representing them in forming an idea as to what actually took place and I was given the opportunity for the state to do the same thing for grand juries.

O'MARA: If you would, just tell us a little bit more about the experience that you've had with your presentation to grand juries. What would -- what would you take on? What was your role? And what would you present? Obviously we know that any particular testimony in front of a grand jury in and of itself would be confidential.

So I'm not asking for specifics but generally or generically, what would you do.

ROOT: Essentially what happens with a grand jury is I would be given all of the evidence, I would be given the copy of all the written reports, any radio transmissions, CDs, of any videos, photograph, crime scene photos, everything. I would be given the opportunity to review all the evidence because as the use of force expert, your job is to evaluate it from every perspective possible. You can't just walk into an event, and look at it and say ok that's how it worked because nothing works that way. Every single person sees things differently.

So I would get all of the evidence. I would be given an opportunity to review all of the evidence, formulate opinions based on my background training and experiences as to how I thought it went, provide an opinion as to whether I thought whatever was done was either considered to be objectively reasonable or was considered not to be objectively reasonable.

Then what would happen is that a grand jury there would call all the witnesses and I would come in and the state would ask for my opinion and I'd provide it to the grand jury, of how -- what my opinion was based on my background, training, experience as whether I thought what "a," "b" and "c" was, was it objectively reasonable given the facts and circumstances known to me with all the evidence or was it unreasonable.

O'MARA: On how many cases did you have an opportunity to present such testimony to a grand jury.

ROOT: I believe it was six different times.

O'MARA: May I approach the witness for a moment, your honor?


O'MARA: I'll review what's marked as our exhibit RR. Can you identify that?

ROOT: That's my curriculum vitae.

O'MARA: You prepared that in connection with other cases.

ROOT: Yes.

O'MARA: I think there's no objection.

NELSON: No objection?


NELSON: Ok. Defense Exhibit RR will come into evidence as defense exhibit 24.

O'MARA: And regarding your most recent testimony -- concerning your testimony with the grand jury we've had a discussion about what you will and will not testify to here today, correct?

ROOT: Yes.

O'MARA: As far as your focus of the Zimmerman case. So let me ask you, in that regard, how you and I first got together, how you became a witness in this case.

ROOT: I actually reached out to Mr. O'Mara. When I saw the case unfolding, obviously like everyone else in the media, I had a unique interest in it, because there was so much information being flooded to the media, I didn't know exactly what had happened, obviously, as no one does.

And I reached out to him because I thought I had a unique perspective as to coming to a realistic conclusion on things. Being able to proffer and look at things and just render my background, training and experience to him to see if it helped. My experience has been, I wanted to ensure -- the most common question is, you know I reach out to a defense attorney as a police officer or former police officer and the truth is, there are a lot of people that can do what I do. There's plenty of experts available.

And I reached out to Mr. O'Mara because it was my belief that if I reviewed the material and felt that I could be of no assistance, I would not be able -- I would not do anything to hinder the progression for anybody in this case whatsoever.

But if it was something that I felt that I could help with, I went to one party that if there was an opportunity to be of assistance, I knew that I would be able to do so. So I reached out to him and to see if he had interest in using my services.

O'MARA: Ok. And that then began the process for you and you and I began working together on this case.

ROOT: Yes.

O'MARA: And if you would, just advise the jury, generally if appropriate, but more specifically, what you would want available to you for review in a case like this and then what you got in this particular case.

ROOT: What I request is just like with the state and the grand juries, everything that I can. As a use of force expert, I have to look at it from as many perspectives as possible, because everybody's perspective is different. You have to take into consideration what their upbringing was, what their background was, where they live, what their personal life experiences were and currently are.

You know, so my request is to obtain as much information as possible, get any witness statements that I can get, any photographs that I can get, all the evidence that's available so that I can help see a complete picture and not just a picture that will be guided from one direction or another.

An expert's job is merely to look at everything and evaluate it in the totality of the circumstances, not skewed by one person's opinion or another person's opinion.

O'MARA: And in this case then, what information did you request and what information was given?

ROOT: Pretty much everything that I requested was provided. I can't think of anything that wasn't. I requested to be able to review the 911 calls. I requested to be able to review the reports from law enforcement, from the medical examiner's office, anything that was documented or written down so that I could get an insight from not just the witnesses that provided statements, whether it be orally or in writing, but also from the investigators that were conducting it so I could also look at the questions that were being asked to see.

Sometimes you can think of a question you don't know but then as you go through a different investigator, they thought of the question. So seeing all the investigators reports was very important. I also requested any crime scene photos that were there to try to give me an idea of what the environment was like. And everything that I requested I can't think of anything that I wasn't provided with for evaluation.

O'MARA: And realizing that you weren't here during the trial, I'll go over a quick overview of some of the information to make sure that the jury knows you may have had this specifically to the extent they have heard testimony. So did you get witness statements that were produced pursuant to law enforcement request?

ROOT: Yes, I received the written witness statements and I also had the witness statements from the interviews where they actually conducted the criminal investigation interview.

O'MARA: And on the occasions that deposition, transcripts were available, did you receive those as well.

ROOT: As far as I know. If they were available I did get a chance to see them.

O'MARA: And did you receive all the entirety of the police, if you will, police file, the investigator file that's prepared in this case? ROOT: To the best of my knowledge I've gotten everything. I -- of course you don't know what you don't know. But I believe I received everything.

O'MARA: And I think you mentioned that you were able to review for purposes of your testimony today, the autopsy itself concerning the injuries to Mr. Martin.

ROOT: Yes.

O'MARA: And pictures of Mr. Martin and Mr. Zimmerman?

ROOT: Yes.

O'MARA: You have an opportunity to review any of the scene mock-ups or drawings that were created either by the state or defense in this case?

ROOT: The only scene drawings that I saw from what I received were from the investigators. I didn't see any -- you mention a state mock- up. I didn't see a state mock-up.

O'MARA: Ok if I might approach for a moment, your honor? As an example, this is in evidence as state's 139. Just to see -- did you see something, a much smaller version of this?

ROOT: Yes, sir, I did.

O'MARA: And on 140, another sort of similar mock-up of the same thing. Have you seen that?

ROOT: Yes, sir.

O'MARA: When I say mock-up, I was speaking --

ROOT: I apologize. Yes I've seen that.

O'MARA: My mistake, not yours.

Did you also have an opportunity to review video and audio and the written statements from Mr. Zimmerman?

ROOT: Yes, I did.

O'MARA: To your knowledge, I know you don't know what you don't know but did you get the entirety of the information that you requested?

ROOT: As far as I know, I got everything that I was looking for.

O'MARA: Was there anything that you asked to get from us that we said we don't want you to have or we just didn't give you?

ROOT: No. Quite the contrary. Some things came up during the deposition that apparently you didn't know I didn't have and I was given it immediately.

O'MARA: That may be some of the witness statements or some other pieces of evidence.


BLITZER: I just want to reset for a moment. It's the top of the hour. Dennis Root, a private investigator going through the background, how he got involved in looking into this case, the George Zimmerman trial that is under way.

Mark O'Mara, Zimmerman's criminal defense attorney questioning him now. They're going through some of the background, his expertise, why he's involved.