Trayvon Martin in an undated photo. Sanford, Fla., Police Chief Bill Lee… (Orlando Sentinel )
The Florida police chief who faced heavy criticism for his officers' failure to arrest the man who killed Trayvon Martin has been fired, Sanford city officials told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday night.
Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee met with the city manager earlier in the day to discuss the terms of his employment, officials said.
“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 statement Wednesday night. “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 took a leave of absence after Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old, was shot Feb. 26. George Zimmerman said he shot Martin in self-defense.
Lee offered to quit in April, but the City Council rejected his resignation on a 3-2 vote.
“Since February, the discussions have been whether it was feasible for him to come back and whether the city could move on, quote unquote, if he does come back,” Lonnie Groot, a lawyer from Lake Mary, Fla., who represents Sanford, told The Times just before he heard of Lee’s firing. “Everything that you [have] seen, read and heard since he stepped aside – that’s been the continuing conversation within the city.”
Lee will receive three months and one week’s worth of severance pay, in addition to any earned time off, officials said. The search for a new police chief will begin immediately.
Zimmerman, 28, a neighborhood watch volunteer in a gated community, had called police to report Martin as a suspicious person, then followed him. Martin was visiting the home of his father's fiance, who also lives in the gated community, and had gone for a walk to buy Skittles and an iced tea.
A confrontation ensued and Zimmerman fatally shot Martin. Police took Zimmerman to the station that night but did not arrest him.
After a nationwide uproar, Florida Gov. Rick Scott appointed a special prosecutor, who charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder in April. He was arrested April 11, and had been free on $150,000 bail. He was rearrested June 3, when the judge learned he and his wife had lied about their finances during a bond hearing.
Shellie Zimmerman had testified that they had little money, but it was later revealed that a website George Zimmerman set up to receive donations had raised more than $200,000.
She has been charged with perjury and is free on bond. Her husband remains behind bars.
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