Thursday, November 23, 2017
Public safety

Sanford officials issue 'no confidence' vote for police chief in teen's death

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The Sanford City Commission on Wednesday night voted "no confidence" in police Chief Bill Lee Jr., who has been publicly lambasted for his department's handling of the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin.

Commissioner Mark McCarty made the motion to fire the chief, who has been on the job less than a year, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

"I take no pleasure in a public flogging of our police chief," McCarty said before a packed meeting. "But he really should turn in his resignation."

The vote was 3-2. Commissioners can't fire Lee because he reports to City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr. But their vote sent a strong signal.

Bonaparte told reporters he would not make a decision about the chief's fate until he learns from an independent law enforcement agency what mistakes police might have made. Lee, who makes $102,000 a year, was not at the meeting.

While the commission was voting, Trayvon Martin's parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, marched in his memory in New York City with hundreds of other people.

"We're not going to stop until we get justice," said Tracy Martin. "My son did not deserve to die."

Seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed Feb. 26 in Sanford. He was returning to a gated community in the city after buying candy at a convenience store.

He was unarmed, carrying only a bag of Skittles and an iced tea, and was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, called a hoodie.

He was shot to death by a neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, who has not been charged. Zimmerman, 28, has said the teen attacked him and he shot him in self-defense.

On Wednesday night, demonstrators chanted "we want arrests" during the Million Hoodie March in Manhattan's Union Square.

Fulton told the crowd: "My heart is in pain, but to see the support of all of you really makes a difference."

• • •

The case has ignited a furor against police Chief Lee and his department in the Orlando suburb of 53,500 people, prompting rallies and a protest in Gov. Rick Scott's office on Tuesday. The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division said it is sending its community relations service to Sanford this week to "address tension in the community."

Earlier in the week, the federal agency opened a civil rights inquiry into the shooting. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is looking into how the investigation was handled by Sanford police, and Seminole County State Attorney Norm Wolfinger said a grand jury will meet April 10 to consider evidence in the case.

At Wednesday's meeting, Sanford City Commissioner Patty Mahany called the no-confidence vote against Lee a "knee-jerk reaction."

"A rush to judgment is wrong," she said.

Lee, 52, a Sanford native, was hired as chief in May 2011 in the wake of criticism from the black community surrounding the beating of a homeless black man by the son of a Sanford lieutenant.

• • •

Tracy Martin said he and his son's mother found out about the march after arriving in New York City, where they have done interviews about the case. They got in touch with the organizers to say they would attend and speak.

The timing of the teen's parents being in the city when the march was happening was "incredible," said one of the organizers, Daniel Maree, who heard about the case earlier this week.

"I was outraged and wanted to do something about it," Maree said.

Tracy Martin, asked how he was holding up, said he was trying to stay strong.

"I don't feel this is the time to break down, even though it's a very troubling time in my life," he said. "I've told myself, when I get justice for Trayvon, then I'll have my time to break down."

Information from the Orlando Sentinel, Miami Herald and Associated Press was used in this report.

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