Although Bill Lee, the Sanford, Fla. Police Chief embroiled in the Trayvon Martin shooting case, officially tendered his resignation, city commissioners voted to reject it Monday, compounding the city’s difficulties in responding to what has become a story of nationwide interest.
Lee temporarily stepped down from his duties in March after losing a vote of no confidence in the city commission, and submitted his resignation several weeks later. But the same commission voted 3-2 Monday evening to deny a separation resolution after a heated debate. “The city has experienced great turmoil in the past two months and we are hoping to stabilize the department and continue with this time of healing,” said City Manager Norton Bonaparte, earlier Monday. The vote now places the situation in the hands of Bonaparte and Mayor Jeff Tripplet.
Lee’s department declined to charge 28-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in the Feb. 16 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, despite what the teen’s family says is clear evidence that he should have been jailed the night of the killing. Zimmerman claimed self defense in the shooting, and remained uncharged for 44 days afterward. Special prosecutor Angela Corey has charged him with second-degree murder; on Monday, Zimmerman posted $15o,000 bail and is scheduled to be formally arraigned on May 8. He is expected to plead not guilty.
The Sanford City commission meeting became heated on Monday afternoon, as some commissioners defended Lee — who had been on the job just 10 months — while Tripplett and Bonaparte were forced to sit and listen to criticisms of their performance in the wake of the incident.
“My vote of ‘no confidence’ was because of the way the investigation was handled which brought national shame to our city,” said Commissioner Velma Williams during the debate. Commissioner Randy Jones questioned what exactly Lee did wrong in the initial investigation of Martin’s shooting: “Until you can point to a definitive violation and a definitive misstep of police policy, I don’t know how we go forward with this.”
Commissioner Patty Mahaney, who ardently defended Lee in the meeting, suggested that letting an independent investigation proceed would be best, rather than accepting Lee’s resignation. But Bonaparte warned that investigation could still take months.
“This is not right.” Mahany said. “He’s paying for the sins of past police chiefs.”
Capt. Darren Scott, who assumed Lee’s role when he initially stepped down, will continue to serve as Sanford’s police chief while Lee remains on administrative leave.