The Sanford City Commission refused to accept the resignation of its embattled police chief Monday, saying the law enforcement leader has a spotless record and deserves more time for the city to determine whether he bungled the Trayvon Martin probe.
A month after handing down a no-confidence vote against Chief Bill Lee, the same commission voted 3-2 to keep him on. Lee took a paid leave of absence last month after coming under fire for his handling of the investigation into Trayvons killing.
Im physically sick about whats happening to Chief Lee, said City Commissioner Patty Mahany. Im physically sick about the attack on this community. Im absolutely disgusted. This city was invaded by people who have their own personal agenda.
Lees 10-month tenure as Sanford police chief came into question after he did not arrest the neighborhood watch volunteer who killed Trayvon, an unarmed Miami Gardens teenager. The shooter, George Zimmerman, ultimately charged with second degree murder by a special prosecutor, was released on $150,000 bond early Monday.
While Zimmerman, strapped to a GPS tracking device, was ushered off to an undisclosed location, Lee offered his resignation. Lee made clear in a letter to the City Commission that he was stepping down under pressure.
That pressure came from City Manager Norton Bonaparte, Jr., who felt Lee needed to go for the city to move forward. Bonaparte had repeatedly said he was not going to make any personnel decisions regarding the chief until an outside agency evaluated the departments handling of the investigation.
But Monday, the city manager said he decided such an assessment would take too long, since most federal agencies wont even touch the case until after a criminal trial is concluded. He told the commission that if it wanted to keep Lee on, members needed to reverse their vote of no confidence.
We need to keep going, Bonaparte said.
Mayor Jeff Triplett, who had initially voted no confidence, switched sides. The mayor decided to wait for the outside review, although he expressed doubt whether the polarizing chief could be an effective leader.
The mayor, city manager and two other commissioners who voted against the chief last month remained mostly silent when Commissioner Randy Jones asked: Did Chief Lee make a mistake? Where did Chief Lee theoretically step in it?
Trayvon was on a 10-day suspension from high school while visiting his fathers girlfriends Central Florida gated community when he was killed Feb. 26 while walking back from the store. He was shot once in the chest by Zimmerman, who had followed the teenager through the townhouse development because he found him suspicious and then wound up in a physical altercation with him.
Zimmerman claimed self defense, and the Sanford Police publicly said there was no evidence to contradict his story. After a nationwide outcry, the governor named a special prosecutor from Jacksonville who later charged him with a first-degree felony and acknowledged that the lead investigator had requested an arrest all along.
The relationship between Lee and Trayvons parents was rocky from the start. The family felt the police glossed over Zimmermans criminal history and conducted a lackluster investigation to bolster the neighborhood volunteers self defense claim.