Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee, who came under fire for his department’s handling of the shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin, has been fired, City Manager Norton Bonaparte announced in a statement on Wednesday evening.
“After much thoughtful discussion and deep consideration for the issues facing the City of Sanford, I have determined the Police Chief needs to have the trust and respect of the elected officials and the confidence of the entire community,” Bonaparte said. “We need to move forward with a police chief that all the citizens of Sanford can support.”
Lee’s ouster marks the latest step in a several-month saga at Sanford’s City Hall. The police chief came under intense scrutiny in the weeks following Martin’s death on Feb. 26. in a gated community here.
Lee was placed on paid administrative leave on March 22, after the city’s City Commission gave him a no-confidence vote. He announced the next day that he would step down “temporarily.”
Martin, 17, was killed by George Zimmerman, 28, who lived in the gated community and who volunteered there as a neighborhood watch. Police did not arrest Zimmerman the night of the shooting, later saying that Zimmerman told them he had acted in self-defense.
When an arrest wasn’t made, the case triggered a national discussion about the role race played in the initial police investigation and its intersection with the controversial Stand Your Ground law in Florida. Martin’s parents say he was profiled by Zimmerman because he was a young black man. Zimmerman’s supporters have noted Zimmerman’s part-Hispanic roots, arguing he could not be racist.
National protests ensued, quickly raising the profile of this small Central Florida city.
An interim police chief, Richard Myers, was brought in from Colorado on May 4. Myers has said he will remain on the job here for three to five months, pending completion of a review of operations at the police department.
Zimmerman, who was ultimately arrested, pleaded not guilty to a second-degree murder charge brought in April by Assistant State Attorney Angela Corey. He remains in county jail in Sanford.