Sanford Florida Police Chief's Resignation Rejected

By: CNN (posted by Justin Surrency) Email
By: CNN (posted by Justin Surrency) Email

CNN--City commissioners in Sanford, Florida, voted Monday to reject the proposed resignation of its embattled police chief, who has been under fire for the handling of the probe into Trayvon Martin's death in February.

Chief Bill Lee has been on leave since March 22, a day after the commission expressed a lack of confidence in him because of the case.

George Zimmerman, who has said he killed the 17-year-old Martin in self-defense, was not arrested after being questioned by police the night of the shooting. He was charged weeks later with second-degree murder, afrer a special prosecutor was assigned to the case.

Earlier Monday, the city announced in a statement that a separation agreement had been reached with Lee to resign. If it was approved by the City Commission, it would have taken effect at midnight.

But by a 3-2 vote, the commission opted not to accept the proposed deal, which would have permanently dismissed Lee from the job and given him a severance package. Two commissioners had questioned the fairness of Lee losing his job, while Mayor Jeff Triplett said he preferred to wait possibly several months for the results of an investigation into Lee and his department.

"I'm not ready to have him come back and run the Police Department, but I don't know if I'm ready for this either," Triplett said, who sided with the majority to reject the resignation.

Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for Martin's family, criticized the commission for not letting Lee step down.

"Sanford residents deserve quality leadership in law enforcement who will handle investigations fairly for all people," he said. "If Chief Bill Lee recognized that his resignation would help start the healing process in Sanford, city leadership should have accepted it in an effort to move the city forward."

City Manager Norton N. Bonaparte explained during Monday's meeting he and Lee had "agreed to" the resignation, after Lee "decided that he can no longer serve as police chief."

But Randy Jones, a commissioner, pointed to other parts of the agreement stating Lee was "willing, ready and able" to remain on as chief, hadn't been found to have done anything wrong and was resigning on Bonaparte's "recommendation."

Added Patty Mahany, another commissioner supportive of Lee, "What did the chief do wrong? I mean, tell us."

Since Lee went on leave, Capt. Darren Scott has served as acting chief, a position in which he'll remain for the time being. Bonaparte said an interim chief could be in place early next week.

The case has drawn intense media attention, with Sanford residents and many civil rights leaders from outside central Florida criticizing the Police Department for not immediately arresting Zimmerman, 28, after he shot the unarmed teenager.

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