SANFORD (CBS4/AP) — The City of Sanford fired their embattled police chief, a spokesman said Wednesday night.
Sanford City Manager Norton Bonaparte said Chief Bill Lee has been relieved of duty effective immediately.
“After much thoughtful discussion and deep consideration for the issues facing the City of Sanford, I have determined the Police Chief needs to have the trust and respect of the elected officials and the confidence of the entire community. We need to move forward with a police chief that all the citizens of Sanford can support. I have come to this decision in light of the escalating divisiveness that has taken hold of the city”, said Bonaparte.
Bonaparte said the search for a new chief is already underway and is expected to take several months.
“I believe that there are many law enforcement officials who will find accepting the opportunity to serve as Sanford’s Police Chief a welcome challenge for their careers”, said Bonaparte.
Also Wednesday, CBS4 News obtained a 9-1-1 call made by Trayvon Martin’s father Tracy the night the unarmed teenager was killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.
Tracy Martin called police after his son failed to come home.
“I need to file a missing person’s report, ’cause it hasn’t really been 24 hours, but I’m from Miami and my son is up here with me and he left. He don’t know anybody up here,” Martin told the 9-1-1 operator.
Lee was strongly criticized for his agency’s initial investigation of Martin’s February slaying.
The initial lack of an arrest following the fatal shooting of Martin led to protests across the nation and spurred a debate about race and the laws of self-defense. Zimmerman’s father is white and his mother is from Peru.
The local prosecutor recused himself from the case, prompting Gov. Rick Scott to appoint special prosecutor Angela Corey, who charged Zimmerman in April with second-degree murder. The 17-year-old Martin was fatally shot following a Feb. 26 altercation with Zimmerman, who claims self-defense and has pleaded not guilty.
Lee took a leave of absence in March and offered his resignation in April. The city council rejected Lee’s resignation by a 3-2 vote. Several council members indicated they wanted to let a Department of Justice review of the police investigation play out before making a final decision.
In May, Rick Myers took over as Sanford’s interim police chief, saying he wanted to heal the emotional wounds caused by Martin’s death. He has said he would reach out to people in Sanford who feel they’ve been ignored by the police. If Lee’s employment with the city is terminated, it’s unclear whether Myers will take over permanently for Lee or a new chief will be hired.
(©2012 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)