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Published Jun. 21, 2012

Associated Press

SANFORD - A city official says the police chief who was strongly criticized for his agency's initial investigation of Trayvon Martin's slaying has been fired.

Sanford City Manager Norton Bonaparte said he relieved Chief Bill Lee of duty on Wednesday because the manager said he "determined the Police Chief needs to have the trust and respect of the elected officials and the confidence of the entire community." Bonaparte also cited the "escalating divisiveness that has taken hold of the city."

The initial lack of an arrest following the fatal shooting of Martin, an unarmed black teenager, by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in February led to protests across the nation and spurred a debate about race and self-defense laws.

Lee took a leave of absence in March and offered his resignation in April.

The City Council rejected Lee's resignation by a 3-2 vote.

Several council members wanted to let a Department of Justice review of the police investigation play out.

The local prosecutor recused himself from the case, prompting Gov. Rick Scott to appoint special prosecutor Angela Corey, who charged Zimmerman in April with second-degree murder.

The 17-year-old Martin was fatally shot following a Feb. 26 altercation with Zimmerman, who claims self-defense and has pleaded not guilty.

In May, Rick Myers took over as Sanford's interim police chief, saying he wanted to heal the emotional wounds caused by Martin's death.

During an NAACP forum in Sanford last week, Martin's parents appealed to a crowd of about 100 to press for Lee's firing and an investigation into the Police Department.

"You can't heal with the same people in place," said Tracy Martin, father of the slain teen. "If Chief Bill Lee is hired back, the same things are going to happen."