Sanford police chief temporarily steps down

Trayvon Martin shot, killed last month in gated community

Published On: Mar 22 2012 01:51:28 PM EDT   Updated On: Mar 18 2013 02:30:24 PM EDT
Trayvon Martin
SANFORD, Fla. -

The police chief at the center of the Trayvon Martin shooting death says he is stepping down temporarily because he has become a distraction.

Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee made the announcement Thursday at a news conference at City Hall.

While Lee said he was stepping down "temporarily," the resignation could become permanent once a formal separation agreement is agreed to.

Local 6 has obtained Lee’s employment contract and a sample draft separation agreement prepared by the city today after the city council voted no confidence in the chief Wednesday night.

Under Lee’s current contract, he would receive no severance pay if he resigned today, just over 10 months into his $102,3000 a year contract.

But under the draft “agreement, waiver and release” prepared for discussion with Lee today, he would have received 13 weeks’ severance, the city would continue to pay his health insurance premiums for one year and the city would not oppose him getting unemployment benefits.

In exchange, Lee would agree not to sue the city for any reason.

But, when Lee emerged this afternoon from city manager Norton Bonaparte’s office after a 20-minute meeting, a city official said he did not know if a separation agreement had  been signed.

Instead, they immediately walked downstairs to the press conference and announced his "temporary resignation."

The draft separation agreement would give Lee seven days to revoke it, stating, "This Agreement shall become effective and enforceable immediately upon expiration of this seven-day revocation period."

It also states Lee would have been advised to consult with an attorney of his choosing prior to signing it.

Neither Lee nor city officials would not comment on whether Lee had requested a "temporary" resignation until he had sought legal advice on whether to sign the proposed separation agreement, or whether his signing an agreement with the revocation period constitutes a "temporary resignation."

City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr., has appointed joint commanders, Captain Darren Scott and Captain Robert O’Connor to lead the Sanford Police Department.

Scott has been with the Sanford Police Department for 23 years. O’Conner is a 30-year veteran of law enforcement, retired from FDLE, before joining SPD.

“I am confident that Captain Scott and Captain O’ Connor will provide the leadership necessary to keep this agency functioning at the highest level," Bonaparte said in a release.

Lee has been criticized after police did not arrest George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed Martin on Feb. 26.

The police chief has said authorities were prohibited from making an arrest based on the facts and circumstances they had at the time of the shooting.

Sanford police will appoint an interim police chief in Lee's absence.

Sanford City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr. said the news conference is the first of many that will be held to keep citizens updated on the Martin investigation.

The Sanford City Commission on Wednesday passed a motion of "no confidence" for Lee.  The commission voted 3-2, with Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett and commissioners Velma Williams and Mark McCarty voting in favor of the motion.

Martin, 17, was shot and killed by Zimmerman, 28, in a gated community.  Zimmerman says Martin attacked him and claims the shooting was in self-defense.  Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law allows someone to "meet force with force."

Watch Local 6 News for more on this story.