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Trayvon Martin case: Sanford police chief quits, is called 'scapegoat'

April 23, 2012|By Michael Muskal
  • Sanford, Fla., Police Chief Bill Lee, left, announces last month that he will temporarily step down in the wake of the Trayvon Martin killing. Sanford City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr. looks on.
Sanford, Fla., Police Chief Bill Lee, left, announces last month that he… (Mario Tama / Getty Images )

Bill Lee Jr., who had stepped aside as Sanford, Fla.'s police chief during the investigation of the shooting of unarmed African American teenager Trayvon Martin, has officially resigned as the community’s top cop, a city commissioner said Monday.

Commissioner Patty Mahany said the chief submitted his resignation over the weekend; Lee temporarily left his post last month amid complaints about how his department handled the investigation of the Feb. 26 shooting. The city commission is scheduled to hold a special meeting late Monday afternoon to discuss Lee's severance package, Mahany said.

"Elected officials used this man as a scapegoat to heal our community," she said in a telephone interview with the Los Angeles Times. "Our community was never broken."

Mahany, who had supported Lee during the political furor over his department’s investigation, called the resignation a "terrible tragedy." She said she blamed civil rights activists whose protests "ruined the reputation and career of a really stellar law enforcement officer."

Lee "is nothing but a scapegoat," Mahany said. "Our police department did nothing wrong."

Martin, 17, was shot to death the night of Feb. 26 as he was returning from a convenience store with a bag of Skittles and an iced tea. George Zimmerman, 28, a neighborhood watch volunteer, told police he shot the teenager in self-defense.

Zimmerman was taken to the police station that night but was released after police accepted his self-defense argument.

Anger over his release grew, demonstrations took place across the nation and the shooting even became a factor in presidential politics. Florida Gov. Rick Scott appointed a special prosecutor in the case; she eventually charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder.

Zimmerman, who was taken into custody April 11, was released around midnight Sunday after posting a $150,000 bond over the weekend. He was fitted with an electronic monitoring device before his release.

Zimmerman has said that his life has been threatened, and his current whereabouts are unknown, though there are suspicions that he has left the state.

Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester said at a hearing Friday that Zimmerman cannot have any guns and must observe a 7 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew. Zimmerman also surrendered his passport.

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michael.muskal@latimes.com

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