SANFORD (CBSMiami) – In an odd turn of events, the city commission which gave a no-confidence vote to police chief Bill Lee following the investigation into the death of Trayvon Martin refused to accept his resignation Monday afternoon at a sp0ecial commission meeting, with come commissioners saying they felt the chief was being railroaded out of office.
Bill Lee left the department temporarily last month in the wake of criticism over handling of the investigation in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
Earloier Monday, the city said the commission would meet to authorize “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.”
But things didn’t go exactly as the city manager had planned. During the meeting several of the commissioners spoke up in favor of keeping Chief Lee and said the decision to fire him was a rushed decision. Bonaparte said he originally wanted an independent investigation into the police department’s actions on the night of the shooting. He added that he changed his mind after he found out that it would take months before such an investigation could be conducted. Bonaparte said the decision to replace Lee was one made to move the city forward.
“I just think this is wrong,” said commissioner Patty Mahany. “It goes to character. Where is the character. Where is the character of commissioners who won’t stand up for one of the finest police officers in Florida.
Debating the issue before a packed and vocal city commission chamber, some commissioners said they were uncertain they could accept Lee back as chief, and Mayor Jeff Triplett said the big question was whether the community could accept him.
Judging from the reaction to the final vote, at least some believe Lee deserves a chance.
Following more than an hour of debate, commissioners voted to reject the resignation memo, leaving things as they now are.The city police department will be run by an interim chief, and Lee will continue on leave with pay.
The decision caused the spectators to burst into applause.
Lee announced on March 22 that he was temporarily stepping down from his position, after city commissioners affirmed a “no confidence” vote, following weeks of protests.
Captain Darren Scott a 23-year veteran of the police department was appointed Acting Chief and has been managing the department since that time.
Lee and the city prosecutor had been bitterly criticized for not making an arrest in the February 26th shooting death of 17-year-old Martin, after a neighborhood watch volunteer confessed to the killing, in self-defense. Zimmerman said Martin, who was unarmed, attacked him.
Lee had said evidence in the case supported George Zimmerman’s self-defense claim.
Shortly after Lee announced his departure, Gov. Rick Scott announced that the local state attorney, Norman Wolfinger, had recused himself from the case. Scott appointed Angela Corey, the state attorney for the Jacksonville area, to take over the investigation.
On April 11th, Zimmerman was arrested and charged with second degree murder.
Zimmerman, meantime, was released from jail early Monday morning on $150,000 bail. Zimmerman did not speak as he left the suburban Orlando jail. His ultimate destination is being kept secret for his safety. He could leave Florida and was fitted with an electronic device that would allow law enforcement to monitor him.