George Zimmerman walked out of the Seminole County jail just after midnight on Monday, heading off for parts unknown. Magic Bail Bonds, the company that the second-degree murder defendant used, said his safety is their top priority.
Zimmerman awaits his second-degree murder trial for fatally shooting Trayvon Martin of Miami Gardens.
The commissioners debated Lee's status for more than an hour, with Commissioners Patty Mahany and Randy Jones repeatedly making the case that Lee did not deserve to lose his job. They were joined by Mayor Jeff Triplett in the vote.
City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr. told the commission that Lee had decided that he can no longer serve as police chief, and that he and Lee agreed he should leave.
Mahany said she was surprised when Bonaparte told her earlier Monday that he was going ahead with Lee's resignation, referring to his long career in law enforcement and "impeccable" character.
“I am just devastated by this. I wouldn’t want to see this happen to anybody in this room," she said.
The city manager said he wants to know what the Sanford Police did on the night of the Feb. 26 shooting, but said it has become apparent to him that it may take three months or more for an outside federal agency to come in and give him the report that he wants.
"I don’t know that Sanford has to heal, but we do need to move forward," he said, because of that timing and because of the lack of confidence the city commission has in Lee. Commissioners said in a 3-2 vote March 21that they had no confidence in him over his handling of the Martin shooting.
Moments before the split vote taken Monday, Triplett said of Lee, “My question continues to be does he have the capability to be effective in the future, and I think that’s going to come out in a report."
Lee temporarily stepped down as chief on March 22 after he and his department were strongly criticized for their handling of the Martin shooting and for not arresting Zimmerman. Lee has said that Zimmerman was not arrested the night of the incident because his self-defense claim “was supported by physical evidence and testimony,” and police were thus prohibited from arresting him “based on the facts and circumstances they had at the time."
Zimmerman was ultimately charged by a special prosecutor, State Attorney Angela Corey, and has pleaded not guilty.
Bonaparte said in a statement after the vote that "Chief Lee will remain on paid administrative leave while an investigation continues into the handling of the Trayvon Martin case by the Sanford Police Department," while Capt. Darren Scott continues to serve as acting police chief.
The Seminole County Sheriff's Office said in an email statement that before being released from the John D. Polk Correctional Facility, Zimmerman was fitted with a GPS device, which will be monitored by them and Seminole County Probation.
The neighborhood watch volunteer was wearing a brown jacket and blue jeans and carrying a paper bag when he walked out of jail around midnight. He walked out following another man and didn't look over at photographers gathered outside. He then followed the man into a white BMW vehicle and drove away.
Moments before, two Seminole County sheriff's vehicles blocked access to the intake building parking lot where Zimmerman was being released. Zimmerman emerged after two public information officers confirmed the credentials of the photographers outside.
No questions were shouted at Zimmerman, and he gave no statement.
His ultimate destination is being kept secret for his safety and it could be outside Florida.
"Monitoring is “real-time” and enables immediate identification of an offender’s whereabouts at any given time anywhere in the U.S.," the sheriff's office statement said.
Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester said at a hearing Friday he cannot have any guns and must observe a 7 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew. Zimmerman also surrendered his passport.
Zimmerman had to put up 10 percent, or $15,000, to make bail. His father had indicated he might take out a second mortgage.
Later Monday, Lester issued an order unsealing the Zimmerman court file, which had been sealed during his first appearance in court earlier this month.
Zimmerman's arraignment is set for May 8 at 1:30 p.m., but defense attorney Mark O'Mara wrote in a court document that his client would not appear in court for the hearing.
Zimmerman worked at a mortgage risk-management company at the time of the shooting and his wife is in nursing school. A website was set up to collect donations for Zimmerman's defense fund. It is unclear how much has been raised.
Bail is not unheard of in second-degree murder cases, and legal experts had predicted it would be granted for Zimmerman because of his ties to the community, because he turned himself in after he was charged last week, and because he has never been convicted of a serious crime.
Prosecutors had asked for $1 million bail, citing two previous scrapes Zimmerman had with the law, neither of which resulted in charges. In 2005, he had to take anger management courses after he was accused of attacking an undercover officer who was trying to arrest Zimmerman's friend. In another incident, a girlfriend accused him of attacking her.
Zimmerman, 28, fatally shot Martin, 17, Feb. 26 inside the gated community where Zimmerman lived during an altercation. Martin was unarmed and was walking back to the home of his father's girlfriend when Zimmerman saw him, called 911 and began following him. A fight broke out — investigators say it is unknown who started it.
Zimmerman says Martin, who was visiting from Miami, attacked him. Zimmerman says he Martin in self-defense, citing Florida's "stand your ground" law, which gives broad legal protection to anyone who says they used deadly force because they feared death or great bodily harm.
Zimmerman was not charged for over six weeks, sparking national protests led by Martin's parents, civil rights groups and the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Martin was black; Zimmerman's father is white and his mother is from Peru.
Earlier Sunday, Zimmerman's attorney was working to secure the money for bail and a safe place for Zimmerman to stay. But residents in Sanford, where Martin was killed, didn't expect a ruckus once Zimmerman was released.
City commissioners said they hadn't received calls from nervous residents. Protesters didn't show up outside the jail. And talk at one local coffee shop seldom focused on the case.
"It's just kind of a non-issue now," said Michele Church, a server at Mel's Family Diner. "That's pretty much all anybody in Sanford wanted, was an arrest, so it could be sorted out in the court system."
On Friday, a Florida judge agreed to let Zimmerman out on $150,000 bail. O'Mara has said there are several options for where Zimmerman should go, but would not disclose any of them. Lester on Friday indicated Zimmerman would be allowed to leave the state if arrangements with law enforcement could be made for him to be monitored. He will be fitted with an electronic device.
About a half-dozen photographers and cameramen camped outside the Sanford jail Sunday, focused on the door marked "Bonds Rooms," where other people who had been arrested and released on bail exited. Zimmerman had entered the jail about a week earlier after more than a month of nationwide protests calling for his arrest.
"The mood in Sanford has calmed down tremendously," said Sanford Commissioner Patty Mahany, whose district includes the neighborhood where Martin was killed. "I think now that people are able to see the justice system taking place, even though they understand it's going to be quite slow, people are willing to just remain calm and really we're all getting back to our daily routines."
A spokeswoman for the Seminole County Sheriff's Office declined to release any information about whether they were increasing patrols or security.
Defense attorneys for other high-profile clients who awaited trial on bail have said Zimmerman should leave Florida and refrain from going out in public. Sanford residents say they aren't expecting to see him around the neighborhood anytime soon.
"They've already said they're going to move him to a safe place," Church said. "Everyone has calmed down. That's all anyone in Sanford wanted, an arrest."
Meanwhile, Martin's parents published a "Card of Thanks" in The Miami Herald obituary page Sunday. The note says Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin express their appreciation for all the public's support since their son's death. The notice includes a photograph of Trayvon Martin dressed in a hooded sweatshirt, similar to one he was wearing the evening he was killed.
"Words will never express how your love, support and prayers lifted our spirits and continue to give us the strength to march on," the letter says.