After weeks of ferocious public outcry over the racially charged vigilante slaying of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., Police Chief Bill Lee Jr. has stepped down from his post “temporarily.” The action was taken Thursday afternoon after Sanford City Commissioners voted 3-2 Wednesday that they had no confidence in the chief.
“My role as the leader of this agency has become a distraction from the investigation,” Lee said in a brief statement. “It is apparent that my involvement in this matter is overshadowing the process.
“Therefore, I have come to the decision that I must temporarily relieve myself from the position as police chief for the city of Sanford,” Lee said.
“I do this in the hopes of restoring some semblance of calm to a city which has been in turmoil for several weeks.”
The eruption of opposition came about because of the shoddy investigation of the case in which, George Zimmerman, a self-identified “captain” of an unregistered neighborhood watch organization, violated its rules by carrying a pistol when he followed the unarmed Martin, eventually confronting and shooting him. Zimmerman made several bigoted comments during a phone call to police while he was following Martin. Police failed to take his weapon for ballistics tests, apparently interrogated him only cursorily and let him go without arrest after he claimed he only fired in self-defense after being attacked by Martin.
A county grand jury is scheduled to convene in the case on April 10. The U.S. Department of Justice is also investigating.