As interest and frustration surrounding the case of murdered teen Trayvon Martin builds, Sanford, Florida’s police chief is stepping down from his position, it has been announced.
Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee heads up what is perhaps the most hated police force in the country right now, and as many campaign for justice for Martin, the Miami Herald reports that Lee will be leaving his position effective immediately. The paper carried remarks from Lee in part addressing his decision to leave due to tensions in the community over the department’s failure to prosecute the man who shot Martin:
“I am aware my role as leader of this department has become a distraction from the investigation,” Lee said, adding that “temporarily removing” himself from the role would restore a “semblance of calm to the city which has been in turmoil for several weeks.”
The paper notes that Lee receives a salary of just over $102,000 annually, and that it is not clear whether he will continue to be paid after stepping down. The department is currently seeking an interim chief, and in the meantime, two captains will share Lee’s duties.
In addition to failure to arrest shooter George Zimmerman after the incident, troubling allegations about the handling of the case- such as the addition of exculpatory statement favoring Zimmerman on police reports when the case began to draw attention- have arisen. Among them, the Herald points out:
“One of the witnesses who heard the crying said she called a detective repeatedly, but said he was not interested because her account differed from Zimmerman’s… For nearly a month, police never noticed a profanity Zimmerman mumbled under his breath when he called police, which some people believe was accompanied by a muffled racial slur… Even though investigators have the dead boy’s cellphone, it was Trayvon’s father who combed through the phone records to discover that his son was talking to a girlfriend in the moments that led to his death.”
A week before Lee stepped down, he did an interview with the paper in which he asserted that the Sanford PD’s actions were “based on facts and circumstances not the color of the individual’s skin.”