SANFORD, Fla -- The many missteps in the Trayvon Martin investigation that may cost this small towns police chief his job started with semantics.
The boys father says police depicted George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot an unarmed Miami Gardens teenager while on his nightly patrol, as squeaky clean. Then Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee told an Orlando TV station that the gunman didnt have a criminal record technically true: Charges in the shooters 2005 felony arrest, which the chief did not mention, had been dropped.
Now Chief Lee, who came on the job just 10 months ago for $102,000 a year to clean up a department tainted by racial scandals, finds himself under fire in what promises to be one of the most explosive law enforcement cases of the year. For weeks, black leaders have called for the firing of Lee, a Sanford native with a three-decade career in law enforcement whose father once ran the nearby black neighborhoods convenience store.
In a 3-2 vote Wednesday night, the Sanford City Commission gave the chief a vote of no confidence, adding to the mounting national pressure to oust him.
What began as misunderstandings, technicalities and poor word choice mushroomed into what critics are calling a deeply flawed investigation, which is now being looked at by state and federal agencies.
Ive never thought the chief was a racist or anything. Its more of a lack of experience and a lack of leadership, said Commissioner Velma Williams, who advocated that the chief resign to quell tensions before a rally next week, timed for Mondays city commission meeting.
Mayor Jeff Triplett told reporters afterward that he voted against the chief over his management and communication. City manager Norton Bonaparte Jr. told reporters that he would not make a decision about the chiefs fate until he learns from an independent law enforcement agency what mistakes police might have made. This week the U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement launched their own investigations.
Phone records have not yet been inspected, witnesses calls were allegedly not returned and the criminal record of the shooter was not checked until the morning after the shooting what experts call examples of sloppy police work that undermined the police departments credibility and could hamper a future prosecution. Together, gaffes big and small helped foster Trayvons familys belief that investigators were out to protect the accused.
Basically, from day one, we didnt feel that the police were doing a thorough investigation, said Trayvons father, Tracy Martin, a Miami-Dade truck driver. They were taking Zimmermans word that he didnt murder our son.
So many legislators, online petitioners, national civil rights leaders and even celebrities have denounced the inquiry that the city manager the only one who can fire Lee made the chief respond to the most frequent criticisms in writing. He posted Lees answers on the citys website.
Among the allegations:
• As evidence that the incident was not a case of racial profiling, Lee told The Miami Herald that when the police dispatch operator asked Zimmerman the race of the suspicious person he saw, the Hispanic neighborhood watch captain did not know. Yet when the recording of that conversation was made public, Zimmerman clearly says, he looks black.