Bill Lee Jr., the Sanford police chief at the time of the Trayvon Martin shooting, will step down permanently.
Lee becomes the first official casualty of the controversy surrounding the handling of the Martin case. Sanford police initially released George Zimmerman, and he was not arrested until he was charged with second degree murder by a special prosecutor assigned to the case, more than a month after the February 26 shooting.
Lee announced March 23rd that he was stepping aside temporarily, in the face of large protests and demands for Zimmerman’s arrest. Lee’s supporters have rallied to his cause, including one of two Sanford commissioners who opposed a no-confidence vote against Lee last month. About 3,000 people signed an online petition calling for Lee’s reinstatement, and wristbands saying “I support Billy Lee” (as Lee is called locally) were also circulated via a Facebook.
WATCH MSNBC’s TAMRON HALL REPORT ON BILL LEE’s RESIGNATION:
[MSNBCMSN video=”http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/45977840″ w=”592″ h=”346″ launch_id=”47146802″ id=”msnbc4d3e01″]
However, calls for the city manager, Norton Bonaparte Jr., to remove him permanently, continued.
Velma Williams, one of three Sanford commissioners, including the mayor, Jeff Triplett, who voted no confidence in Lee in March, greeted the news of Lee’s permanent resignation with relief.
“I don’t think its a time to celebrate,” Williams said, “but I think he should be appreciative of the fact that a decision has been made that will move us in the right direction.”
Williams said Lee’s resignation would help the black community in Sanford to begin to heal.
“I think his decision will ease many of the fears and anxieties of black mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts and friends of the black fathers, black grandfathers, brothers, nephews, etc., in that the symbol of “Stand Your Ground” will no longer be in a leadership role, to continue to perpetuate that philosophy,” Williams said, adding that once Lee’s ousting is completed, the city can put an interim chief in place without having to continue to pay Lee’s salary as well.
“Hopefully, someone can come in who is qualified and objective and who can do a quick analysis” of the Sanford police department’s operations and procedures, Williams said, “and hopefully irradiate the cancer that exists [in the department.] Because even though Billy Lee is gone, as I’ve said for the last seven to eight years, there’s a cancer there and it’s systemic.”
The city will hold a special meeting at 4:00 p.m. Monday to finalize the terms of Lee’s resignation. A city commission meeting is planned for 7 p.m, at which Lee could formally announce his resignation.
The Sanford city manager’s office released the following statement:
At a special City Commission meeting at 4 p.m. this afternoon, the Commission will be asked to approve a resolution authorizing the City Manager Norton Bonaparte to execute the separation agreement tendered by the City Manager to Police Chief Billy R. Lee, Jr. Under the separation agreement, Chief Lee would resign from his post, effective at midnight tonight. The chief’s resignation comes a month after he was allowed to temporarily step down from his position as police chief in an effort to aid in restoring calm to the City in the wake of protests surrounding the Trayvon Martin investigation.
Captain Darren Scott a 23-year veteran of the Sanford Police Department was appointed Acting Chief and has been managing the department since that time. Acting Chief Scott will continue in this role with the department while the City continues its search for an interim police chief.
“I am confident that Acting Chief Scott will continue to provide the leadership necessary to keep this agency functioning at the highest level and protect the citizens of the City of Sanford,” said Mr. Bonaparte. “The City has experienced great turmoil in the past two months and we are hoping to stabilize the department and continue with this time of healing.”
The city is working with consultants from the Police Executive Research Firm (PERF), in seeking an interim police chief. PERF’s Executive Director and Executive Search Consultant visited Sanford at the end of March. The firm is expected to have qualified persons identified for the interim chief’s position by the end of this month.
City Commissioner Patty Mahaney, who represents the district where the shooting took place, and who has been a vocal supporter of Lee’s, said she is awaiting the 4:00 meeting to draw final conclusions. However, she continued to stand by the former chief.
“I just was notified at 1:00 today, and there’s a special meeting at 4:00 at which I’m sure I’ll hear more, but as of now, I don’t know much about the severance package or all of the details. I do feel like it’s a very unfair situation. I think the chief was made a scapegoat and I think it’s a shame that this is the way that city government or government in general has to work.”
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