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Reality Training: Interviewing George Zimmerman’s girlfriend

Recently leaked video of the interview of Samantha Scheibe by the Seminole County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office prompts an opportunity for discussion about interviews with victims of suspected criminal activity

In mid-November 2013, George Zimmerman was arrested after his girlfriend — Samantha Scheibe — called 911 and claimed he had smashed a glass table, threatened her with a shotgun, and pushed her out of the house, according to reports. Zimmerman then reportedly pushed Scheibe from the home, barricaded the door with furniture, and called 911 himself, saying, “I have a girlfriend, who, for lack of a better word, has gone crazy on me.”

Although Scheibe ultimately declined to press charges, news of this domestic dispute held a high position in the national media for several news cycles. Now, because leaked video of the interview of Samantha Scheibe conducted by the Seminole County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office, this incident is again making salacious headlines.

The video contains very little — if any — news value, but it does prompt an opportunity for discussion about interviews with victims of suspected criminal activity. As you watch the video, consider these questions:

What does Samantha Scheibe’s body language tell you? What about her verbally articulated replies? What about the positioning of her chair? Are you able to piece together some conclusions?

What do you think about conducting this conversation in an interrogation room? Does your agency have a “soft room” (replete with indirect lighting and living room furniture for interviewing victims? This group of people would include officers involved in a shooting who must be interviewed and/or debriefed. If you don’t have such a space, can you think of an alternative place that might put the subject at ease?

Do you like the interviewing technique? What questions might you ask that were not — and what might you not ask that was? Would you interrupt/interject more frequently or less than this interviewer?

Finally, we must recognize that the mere involvement of George Zimmerman has the potential to change the dynamic of a victim interview. Most people are either “pro” or “con” this guy — few, if any, are ambivalent. Putting yourself in the shoes of this interviewer, how might you ensure you’re truly objective, dispassionate, and unbiased?

Police1 Staff
Police1 Staff

This series of columns takes recent situations in the news and uses video footage to start a discussion.