Source: Sanford police chief, state attorney made Zimmerman 'no charge' call in person

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A source with knowledge of the investigation into the shooting of Trayvon Martin tells theGrio that it was then Sanford police chief Bill Lee, along with Capt. Robert O’Connor, the investigations supervisor, who made the decision to release George Zimmerman on the night of February 26th, after consulting with State Attorney Norman Wolfinger — in person.

Wolfinger’s presence at the scene or at the police department in the night of a shooting would be unusual, according to the source. On a typical case, police contact the state attorney’s office and speak with an on duty assistant state attorney; they either discuss the matter by phone or the on duty assistant state attorney comes to the crime scene – but rarely the state attorney him or herself.

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A spokesman for the Sanford police department confirmed that Lee and O’Connor went to the shooting scene that night. Sgt. Dave Morgenstern said that is typical for a homicide case, particularly in for someone like O’Connor, who was hired by Lee last year to oversee all criminal investigations for the department.

TheGrio reached out to all of the parties involved for comment. A recording at the telephone number for State Attorney Wolfinger’s media representative states that the Trayvon Martin case has been reassigned to the Jacksonville state attorney’s office and that Wolfinger’s office would have no comment. And a spokesperson for the state attorney’s office replied to theGrio by email saying, “by law, we are unable to discuss the facts involving this investigation.”

TheGrio could not reach former chief Lee for comment.

ABC News reported Tuesday that, after questioning Zimmerman at the Sanford police station, homicide investigator Chris Serino filed an affidavit February 26th stating that he did not believe Zimmerman’s account of the shooting. He recommended charging the 28-year-old with manslaughter, but was advised by Wolfinger’s office that there wasn’t enough evidence to secure a conviction. Zimmerman was subsequently released.

What was not stated was that, on the night of the killing, Wolfinger may have traveled to either the scene of the shooting or the police station to discuss the case with Lee and O’Connor, who was briefly named interim “co-chief” with the current acting chief, Darren Scott, when Lee announced he would step down temporarily last week.

In this case, the source says investigators spoke to the on-duty assistant state attorney — an unidentified woman — who did not come to the scene, but that Wolfinger did.

And according to the source, after a conversation between Lee, O’Connor and Wolfinger, the decision was made to “cut Zimmerman loose.”

If true, the account may explain why Wolfinger recused himself from the case last week, on the same day Lee announced he was stepping aside. Also in question is whether Lee himself or O’Connor overruled Serino that night.

Wolfinger represents Brevard and Seminole Counties. His main Seminole County office is located in Sanford. The state attorney is an elected position, which Wolfinger has held since 1984; he is up for re-election this year.

Sanford police initially turned the case over to Wolfinger’s office more than a week ago, and at no time did Wolfinger indicate he had already reviewed it. Lee has stood by the investigation, saying that officers lacked sufficient evidence to arrest Zimmerman.

Wolfinger recused himself from the case last week, stating in a letter to Florida Governor Rick Scott that he was requesting the case be reassigned “to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.” Florida Gov. Rick Scott and state attorney general Pam Bondi appointed Duval County state attorney Angela Corey to act as a special prosecutor in the case.

It was unknown Wednesday if city manager Norton Bonaparte Jr, the only person with the authority to remove the chief permanently, was aware of Wolfinger’s involvement on the night of the shooting. Bonaparte is currently deciding whether to make Lee’s ‘step aside’ permanent.

Follow Joy Reid on Twitter at @thereidreport