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Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee Jr. announced Thursday that he is temporarily removing himself as the city's police leader. He acknowledged that his presence as the department's chief had become a distraction amid growing public pressure for the arrest of Miami Gardens teen Trayvon Martin's shooter.
Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee Jr. has been permanently relieved of duty as the city seeks a police leader that all of its residents can support, City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr. said 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,” Bonaparte said in a statement. “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.”
Lee temporarily stepped down as chief on March 22 after he and his department were strongly criticized for their handling of the Trayvon Martin shooting and for not arresting George Zimmerman.
The Sanford City Commission voted 3-2 not to accept Lee’s offered resignation on April 23.
Bonaparte said then that Lee had decided that he can no longer serve as police chief, and that he and Lee agreed he should leave.
Bonaparte said that Interim Police Chief Rick Myers will continue to lead the department while a nationwide search is held for a new permanent leader. Bonaparte said he expected the search to take several months.
Lee will get three months and one week’s worth of severance pay, plus any earned time off, the city said.
“I wish Chief Lee all the best in his future endeavors,” Bonaparte said.
Zimmerman was ultimately charged by a special prosecutor, State Attorney Angela Corey, and has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, claiming he acted in self-defense.