Norton Bonaparte, the Sanford City Manager, announced via a statement on Wednesday that he has fired Police Chief Bill Lee from his position because he “determined the Police Chief needs to have the trust and respect of the elected officials and the confidence of the entire community.” Lee has been widely criticized for how his department handled the investigation of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.
“We need to move forward with a police chief that all the citizens of Sanford can support,” Bonaparte said. “I have come to this decision in light of the escalating divisiveness that has taken hold of the city.”
Protests broke out across the United States after there was no arrest in the killing of Martin, an unarmed black teenager in February. The incident also sparked a debate about race and the laws governing self-defense in this country. Earlier in the case, the prosecutor from the area recused himself, which led Florida Governor Rick Scott to appoint special prosecutor Angela Corey to the case. Corey charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder back in April. Martin was shot to death by Zimmerman on February 26, who pled not guilty and continues to claim that it was in self-defense.
In March, Lee announced he was taking a leave of absence and then offered his resignation back in April. The resignation of Lee was rejected by a 3-2 vote by the city council. A couple of city council members said they wanted to see the results of a Department of Justice investigation of how the case was handled by the police department for making a decision about Lee. Benjamin Crump, the attorney for Martin’s parents, said in a statement that Martin’s parents respected the decision of the city manager in firing Lee.
Rick Myers took over as interim police chief for Sanford in May and said that he wanted to help heal the wounds caused by the shooting death of Martin. Myers also said that he would reach out to residents who feel slighted by the police in the city. Bonaparte said that he has contacted the Police Executive Research Forum regarding a replacement for Lee.
“I believe that there are many law enforcement officials who will find accepting the opportunity to serve as Sanford’s Police Chief a welcome challenge for their careers”, the city manager said. “I expect the search for a new chief to take several months. I wish Chief Lee all the best in his future endeavors,” Bonaparte said.