Sanford police chief steps aside
Sanford, Florida (CNN) — Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee announced today he is stepping down “temporarily” as head of the department, which has been criticized for its handling of the shooting last month of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by a neighbourhood watch volunteer.
“I am aware that my role as a leader of this agency has become a distraction from the investigation,” he told reporters. “It is apparent that my involvement in this matter is overshadowing the process. Therefore, I have come to the decision that I must temporarily remove myself from the position.”
He added, “I do this in the hopes of restoring some semblance of calm to the city, which has been in turmoil for several weeks.”
Lee’s decision came a day after the city commission voted 3-2 in favor of a nonbinding measure of no confidence.
City Manager Norton Bonaparte said he would like an independent review of police action in the wake of the shooting.
NAACP President Ben Jealous, however, was more forthright. Parents, he said, don’t feel that their children will be safe with Lee heading the police department.
“He needs to go right now,” Jealous said prior to Lee’s announcement.
Lee’s decision came as Justice Department officials met todaywith the parents of Martin, who was unarmed when he was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in an Orlando suburb.
“During the course of this meeting, we listened carefully to the concerns of the family and their representatives,” the Justice Department said in a statement. “Earlier this week, the Department of Justice announced the opening of a parallel investigation into the death of Trayvon Martin. That matter remains open at this time.”
The case has riveted the nation.
Martin’s family asserts that race was a factor in the black teenager’s death.
Martin was shot February 26 while walking to the house of his father’s fiancee after a trip to a convenience store. George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch leader, said he shot the 17-year-old in self-defense.