SANFORD (CBSMiami/AP) – Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee, who was criticized for not charging George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin shooting investigation, remains on paid leave and under the microscope.
On Monday, in a surprise move, the Sanford city commission rejected the resignation agreement Lee had worked out with City Manager Norton Bonaparte and opted to wait for the results of a federal investigation.
The U.S. Department of Justice is expected to make a thorough analysis of how Lee and the city’s police department handled the investigation into the Feb. 26 killing of the 17-year-old Martin, including studying when officers arrived to the scene of the shooting to the actions that Lee and other officials took in their ultimate decision not to arrest Zimmerman. The investigation could take months.
“The city commission spoke,” city manager Norton Bonaparte said. “They were not ready to have the resignation. So we’ll move forward.”
Meanwhile, the city needs someone to lead its police department. Mayor Jeff Triplett, one of the three city officials who voted 3-2 Monday not to accept Lee’s resignation, said he’d like to see an interim police chief serve before the commission makes a final decision on Lee’s proposed resignation.
An interim chief could be hired as early as next week, Bonaparte said. He hedged, however, when he was asked if he thought an interim chief could be effective.
“That’ll be up to the community,” he said. “It’s a challenge. We’ll move forward to see if we can get a speedy investigation from the United States Department of Justice or some other entities. That’s what I heard from the city commission.”
Bonaparte presented commissioners with a signed resignation agreement that he prepared with Lee prior to Monday’s meeting. Lee stepped down temporarily in March because he said he wanted to let emotions cool in the aftermath of Martin’s slaying.
It seemed likely commissioners would sign off on Lee’s resignation since they had previously given him “no confidence vote.” Yet the panel decided not to accept the resignation agreement before hearing the conclusion of the outside investigation.
The lack of an arrest in the Martin case led to protests across the nation and spurred a debate about race and the laws of self-defense. The shooting also led the local prosecutor to recuse himself from the case, which prompted the governor to appoint special prosecutor Angela Corey, who eventually charged Zimmerman.
The majority of commissioners Monday blamed the polarization over the Martin case and its handling by the police department on outside groups. Lee’s supporters wore “Bring Back Billy” T-shirts to the meeting, though there were detractors as well.
“I’m disappointed but not surprised,” said Velma Williams, the lone black representative on the commission who voted to accept the resignation.
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