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Intro: "The Florida police chief in charge of the investigation into the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin has stepped down from his post 'temporarily.'"

Sanford Police Department Chief Bill Lee (L) speaks while announcing he will temporarily step down in the wake of the Trayvon Martin killing in Sanford, Florida. (photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Sanford Police Department Chief Bill Lee (L) speaks while announcing he will temporarily step down in the wake of the Trayvon Martin killing in Sanford, Florida. (photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Trayvon Martin Death: Sanford Police Chief Steps Down Temporarily

By Karen McVeigh, Guardian UK

23 March 12


Trayvon Martin's parents respond to the news that Sanford police chief Bill Lee is stepping aside temporarily. "It's Not Enough," they say. - CW/RSN


he Florida police chief in charge of the investigation into the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin has stepped down from his post "temporarily".

Martin's father, Tracy, described Bill Lee's decision to step aside as Sanford police chief as "nothing" and said: "We want an arrest, we want a conviction, we want justice for our son."

Lee's announcement came after a vote of no confidence in the Sanford police department by the city commission, and follows demands from civil rights leaders that he resign over the handling of Martin's killing. Nearly a month after Martin's death, no arrests have been made, despite George Zimmerman admitting to the killing.

At a brief press conference in Sanford on Thursday afternoon, Lee said that his presence had become a "distraction from the investigation".

"Therefore, I have come to the decision that I must temporarily relieve myself from the position as police chief for the city of Sanford," he said.

His announcement was greeted with applause.

Norton Bonaparte, Sanford's city manager, said steps were being taken to ensure justice will prevail. "What the city wants more than anything for the family of Trayvon Martin is justice."

Lee's announcement came as new details emerged about the shooting and the scene which confronted officers when they arrived.

The initial police report, published along with other documents by the Sanford city council, records that Zimmerman, Martin's killer, was bleeding from the back of the head and nose. Police noted at the time Zimmerman's back was wet and covered in grass, as if he had been lying on his back.

The self-styled neighbourhood watch volunteer shot and killed the unarmed 17-year-old on February 26 as he returned to the home of his father's girlfriend after a trip to the local convenience store.

Zimmerman, 28, cited Florida's controversial "stand your ground" law, which authorises the use of lethal force in certain situations.

According to the police report, one of the first police officers who was on the scene handcuffed Zimmerman and removed his gun, a Kel Tek 9mm PF9 semi-automatic handgun and holster. The officer noted: "While I was in such close contact with Zimmerman, I could observe that his back appeared to be wet and was covered with grass, as if he had been laying on his back on the ground. Zimmerman was also bleeding from the nose and the back of his head."

Among the critics of the police investigation are two witnesses who say they saw Zimmerman straddle Martin the night he was shot. Mary Cutcher and her roommate, Selma Mora Lamilla, told CNN that despite repeated calls to police, they have not been interviewed.

The key to any prosecution of Zimmerman, according to lawyers, will be forensic evidence. However, although the police report says police tape was put up and a crime scene contamination log taken after the shooting, doubts remain over the extent of forensic evidence secured from the scene.

Questions have already been raised by the family about the failure to carry out drug and alcohol tests on Zimmerman, although they were done on Martin after his death.

Benjamin Crump, lawyer for the Martin family, told the Guardian: "We're not aware of any forensics that were done at the scene.

"We know first-hand that this was not a thorough investigation from the beginning. They didn't even do a background check on the shooter – but they did a background check on Trayvon Martin, the dead black kid on the ground."

Crump did not know whether a post-mortem had been done on Martin. He was not aware of any drugs or alcohol found in Martin's body.

"We haven't seen any evidence of that other than hearsay," Crump said. "However, I would say this: if there was an altercation we know that Zimmerman started it because he ignored the police instructions and pursued him [Martin] even though they told him not to."

He said that he had three independent witnesses who contradicted Zimmerman's account of crying out for help.

"It was the kid crying for help, and, furthermore, you can hear with your own ears – it doesn't sound like Zimmerman at all. And everyone says that was Trayvon's voice calling out for help."

Sergeant David Morgenstern, a spokesman for Sanford Police, said that an autopsy was carried out on Trayvon Martin by a Volusia county medical examiner. He said Martin was checked for drugs and alcohol, which was a "routine part of the autopsy".

He said the investigation recovered Zimmerman's clothes from the night of the shooting and that they had custody of the gun. He confirmed that one shot had been fired.

He said he did not believe that Zimmerman had been tested for drugs or alcohol.

Morgenstern said he was unable to discuss the details of an ongoing investigation, but said, "I know they are going to do a complete and thorough check of the weapon."

When asked the whereabout of Zimmerman, he said that he was co-operating with the investigation. He added: "Investigators know how to get in touch with him in case they need to contact him."

He said the police stood by their investigation.

"The wheels of justice turn slowly unfortunately. This is the system we have in place in this country. We have to wait for the results of the grand jury."

Reports have also emerged that the patrol sergeant, Anthony Raimondo, in charge of the scene the night of Martin's shooting, was involved in another controversial case.

Justin Collinson, the son of a police officer, attacked a homeless man in 2010, but was not immediately arrested, even when a video emerged, according to WFTV. The station reported that Raimondo was the officer in charge the night of the attack.

When contacted by the Guardian about this report, the Sanford police department were unavailable for comment.

As public confidence in the local police approached rock bottom, the focus is shifting towards the investigations by the US justice department's civil rights department and the state attorney in Seminole.

Lawyers at the justice department have said that it would be a difficult case to prosecute under federal law. Civil rights law protects against "hate crimes" or actions by police officers, but officials speaking anonymously to the Washington Post said Martin's shooting may not have either of those elements.

The grand jury, however, called by the state attorney, has the power to indict Zimmerman and lawyers expect that to happen.

The architects of Florida's "stand your ground" law have said Martin's killer should probably be arrested and does not deserve immunity under the statute. your social media marketing partner


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+17 # Caballero69 2012-03-23 09:17
The chief and the many in the police department should be fired and the Sanford PD should be restaffed with people who have [1] credible experience and [2] personal history that indicates they are not racists in uniform.

This is an unmitigated tragedy for the family, the boy, the state and the nation.
+4 # firefly 2012-03-23 10:49
per Tracy and Sybrina have vowed to fight as long as it takes to get justice for their son -- so this Monday they are leading a march in Sanford, Florida to deliver more than one million petition signatures demanding justice for Trayvon. Will you join them?
Here are the details for the event:
• WHEN: Monday, March 26 at 4pm
• WHERE: Centennial Park, 400 S Park Avenue (between W 4th St and W 5th St), Sanford, FL 32771 -- we’ll march to the Civic Center from there.
+10 # dick 2012-03-23 11:51
The chief is NOT a "distraction" from the case. He is dead center in the middle of the mess. He encouraged a culture of cover-ups of CRIMINAL acts. He ALLOWED current cover-up to succeed until TWITTER came for him (People are now mailing Skittles to him.) Gubna' was reluctant/late to seek law & order also. Florida black man is being PROSECUTED in SYG case with white guy down. ALL Sanford cops involved or aware should NOT be fired or fined. They should be criminally prosecuted & sent to join the Florida prison general population. Conspiracy to abet MURDER is SERIOUS business. Bring on Law & Order!
+8 # Richard Raznikov 2012-03-23 11:58
The guy is 'stepping aside temporarily'? You mean, 'temporary' as in how dead Trayvon Martin is? How much misery has been inflicted on his family? How much disgrace has been inflicted on our system of justice? How much we no longer trust the cops in that town and many others?

This has been going on a long time.
+6 # tomo 2012-03-23 17:36
How could this NOT be a major story, what could Sanford chief of police Bill Lee have been thinking of, and why do we need the UK's Guardian in order to find thoughtful reporting on this kind of murder of a young black kid in America?
+3 # Majikman 2012-03-23 19:44
He said he's stepping aside temporarily. What he didn't say was that under his leadership things had been so badly mismanaged as to be a dereliction of duty, at best, and criminal at worst, so won't somebody please come and clean up the mess while he takes a vacation and then he'll come back to business as usual.
+8 # carioca 2012-03-23 19:54
Steps down "temporarily?" He should spend 30 years in jail.

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