Sanford, Florida, Police Chief Bill Lee, who drew criticism for his department’s actions in the Trayvon Martin case, was fired 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,” City Manager Norton Bonaparte said in a news release.
“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 will receive a three-month severance and a week’s salary in addition to any earned time off.
As a search for Lee’s replacement is carried out, interim Chief Richard W. Myers will remain on the job.
Late Wednesday night, representatives of the Martin family said they “respected” the city manager’s decision.
“It’s important that we really believe that, as all of this has unfolded, we’ve continued to move closer to justice,” said family attorney Daryl Parks.
Lee had submitted a resignation letter in April that said he was stepping down, but city commissioners voted not to accept it.
In March, he had said he was stepping down temporarily in the wake of the public furor over the failure of the police to arrest George Zimmerman, the self-appointed neighborhood watch volunteer who has said his shooting of Martin on February 26 was an act of self-defense.
Also Wednesday, the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office released 911 tapes of calls placed the morning after the shooting, when police had still not identified the 17-year–old victim. He was unarmed and carrying no identification when he was shot while walking to his father’s girlfriend’s house after picking up some snacks at a nearby store.
In the first call, Trayvon Martin’s father, Tracy Martin, calls police at 8:39 a.m. asking to file a missing persons report, which typically would not be accepted until 24 hours after a person has been discovered missing. “It hasn’t really been 24 hours,” he tells the police dispatcher. “But I’m from Miami and my son’s up here with me … he don’t know anybody up here.”
In the return call, placed nine minutes later, the dispatcher tells the victim’s father that an officer is en route to where he was staying.
Lee had said Zimmerman was not charged in the shooting because there were no grounds to disprove his account of the events — that Martin had attacked him. Since then, Zimmerman has been arrested and charged with second-degree murder.
The incident sparked a national debate as to whether the shooting was an act of racial profiling by Zimmerman and about the state’s “stand-your-ground” law.
During an appearance at the National Association of Black Journalists convention in New Orleans, Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, said the family has been heartened by the response from the community.
“It’s just nice to see so many people that support us, so many people that walk up to us just to give us a hug. Just to tell us that they support us,” she said. “It does the heart good. Yes, we still are hurting. We just had to go through a Mother’s Day and a Father’s Day and it hurts. It just hurts.”