Sanford Police chief fired

Spokesperson says city manager decides to fire Lee

Published On: Jun 20 2012 08:00:46 PM EDT   Updated On: Jun 21 2012 08:36:06 PM EDT
SANFORD, Fla. -

Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee, who drew criticism for his department's actions in the Trayvon Martin case, was fired Wednesday.

"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," City Manager Norton Bonaparte said in a news release.

"We need to move forward with a police chief that all the citizens of Sanford can support. I have come to this decision in light of the escalating divisiveness that has taken hold of the city."

Local 6 contacted a spokesperson for Lee on Thursday, but was told Lee won't be commenting on his termination. Local 6 obtained Lee's termination letter, which you can read here.

The city said Lee just didn't have the support he needed and that tension in Sanford was growing by the day. The decision to officially fire Lee came after countless protests. Trayvon Martin's family blames Lee for the handling on the investigation, and last week came to Sanford for the first time since their son's death to again push for Lee's termination.

The Martin family's attorney Ben Crump said they agree with the city's decision and "will cooperate with any pending internal investigations into the police department."

Bonaparte said nothing sparked this decision now and called the decision "regrettable" and "unfortunate."

Lee himself sensed the need to remove himself from the growing public furor and suggested he quit, but was told no. The city manager said all along he would not decide Lee's fate until after the internal police review of the case was complete.

"I had said that, but in April it became clear to me once the attorney charged Mr. Zimmerman with second degree murder that it was going to be quite some time before we'd be able to get an independent assessment because it's an ongoing criminal matter," Bonaparte said. "It seems like only after the Zimmerman case has been taken care of would there be an opportunity for the independent review and that's why I said in April we needed to look to move forward and that's why we're continuing to do that today."

Lee will receive a three-month severance and a week's salary in addition to any earned time off.

As a search for Lee's replacement is carried out, interim Chief Richard W. Myers will remain on the job.

Lee had submitted a resignation letter in April that said he was stepping down, but city commissioners voted not to accept it.

In March, he had said he was stepping down temporarily in the wake of the public furor over the failure of the police to arrest George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who has said his shooting of Martin on February 26 was an act of self-defense.

Also Wednesday, the Seminole County Sheriff's Office released 911 tapes of calls placed the morning after the shooting, when police had still not identified the 17-year--old victim. He was unarmed and carrying no identification when he was shot while walking to his father's girlfriend's house after picking up some snacks at a nearby store.

In the first call, Trayvon Martin's father, Tracy Martin, calls police at 8:39 a.m. asking to file a missing persons report, which typically would not be accepted until 24 hours after a person has been discovered missing. "It hasn't really been 24 hours," he tells the police dispatcher. "But I'm from Miami and my son's up here with me ... he don't know anybody up here."
In the return call, placed nine minutes later, the dispatcher tells the victim's father that an officer is en route to where he was staying.

Lee had said Zimmerman was not charged in the shooting because there were no grounds to disprove his account of the events -- that Martin had attacked him. Since then, Zimmerman has been arrested and charged with second-degree murder.

The incident sparked a national debate as to whether the shooting was an act of racial profiling by Zimmerman and about the state's "stand-your-ground" law.