Sanford retracts threat to arrest reporters for contacting workers

Sanford hires 'Mistress of Propaganda' to handle media

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March 3: Trayvon Martin is laid to rest in the Miami area. His family holds a memorial service.

SANFORD, Fla. - The city of Sanford retracted its threat to arrest reporters who ask city employees questions about the Trayvon Martin case after hours.

The threat came in a press release a public relations firm hired by the city sent Wednesday, stating workers had been followed and approached at their homes by reporters working on the Martin story.

The press release said police won't hesitate to arrest members of the news media. The threat drew national attention Thursday, and by the end of the day the city retracted it.

"The City of Sanford regrets any inconvenience caused by the improvident wording of the Advisory," the Thursday release stated.

The public relations firm, Massey Communications, was hired by the city in the wake of the Trayvon Martin case to help handle the media firestorm. When initially contacted by Local 6 Wednesday, Massey Communications Director of Public Relations Services Susan Vernon-Devlin stood by the Wednesday press release and said she didn't see it as a First Amendment issue.

Vernon-Devlin's biography on the Massey Communications website says that she is "Nicknamed the Mistress of Propaganda." 

Local 6 has learned the public relations contract was not approved by the Sanford City Commission, and was instead signed by City Manager Norton Bonaparte.

Trayvon Martin, 17, was fatally shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer last month while walking through a gated community. The shooter, George Zimmerman, 28, has claimed self-defense and he hasn't been arrested for killing the unarmed black teen.

A special prosecutor is reviewing the case.

The case has garnered international attention because it raises questions about racial profiling, vigilantism and Florida's gun laws.

Watch Local 6 News for more on this story.

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