Sanford Look For An Outsider To Run Police Department

Manager Norton Bonaparte said officials were working with the nonprofit group Police Executive Research Forum to identify potential candidates

Hiring an outsider to run the Sanford police department is a priority to help cool tensions over the investigation of Trayvon Martin's death, the city manager said Tuesday.

Manager Norton Bonaparte said officials were working with the nonprofit group Police Executive Research Forum to identify potential candidates.

Police Chief Bill Lee temporarily stepped down after outrage erupted over the police department's handling of the unarmed teen's shooting death Feb. 26.

A neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, said he shot the teen in self-defense. No charges have been filed.

Martin was black. Zimmerman has a white father and a Hispanic mother.

Darren Scott, a 23-year veteran of the Sanford Police Department, was named acting chief. Lee is still employed with the department and receiving his salary.

At a news conference Tuesday, Bonaparte and Scott refused to answer any questions about an information leak to the media. The leak contained an account by Zimmerman that said Martin was the aggressor in a fight leading up to the shooting. Officials have said they will investigate where the leak came from.

"We have a legal system in place and we ask that people let it take its course," Scott said. "I am concerned with everyone's concerns, but I will not comment on the investigation."

The Sanford City Commission held its first meeting Monday since giving Lee a no confidence vote. Martin's parents addressed the panel, urging them to take steps to arrest Zimmerman. More than 500 people attended.

"We are asking for justice," said Tracy Martin, the teenager's father said.

Civil rights leader Al Sharpton warned commissioners that Sanford risked becoming a 21st century version of civil rights struggle in the South during the 1960s.

Sharpton said Martin's parents endured "insults and lies" Monday over reports that their son attacked Zimmerman.

Officials, including Bonaparte and Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett, have said that the power to bring charges or an arrest rests with the state attorney. But U.S. Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee, who is also an attorney, said at the commission meeting that officials could petition Gov. Rick Scott to use the state police to intervene.

Bonaparte said those suggestions were being considered, but he didn't offer any update.

"We heard a lot and take all those concerns very seriously," Bonaparte said.

Asked whether he thought bringing in an outsider to run the department could help restore some trust with citizens, Scott said it is a start, but not the end of rebuilding broken bridges with the black community that some believe go back decades.

"It won't be easy," Scott said. "But we are going out and being the professionals that we are. ... I think that over time and in the long-term the trust will come back in time."

Scott said they will continue to let the state attorney work.

"We are waiting on the outcome of that investigation," he said. "Whatever that may be."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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