As first reported on FOX 35, the City of Sanford has officially announced the firing of Police Chief Bill Lee on Wednesday.
"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," said City Manager Norton Bonaparte in a written statement released Wednesday evening. "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."
In April, Lee submitted his resignation letter stating the he was stepping down from his position to help the city heal over divisions created in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting and subsequent investigation.
George Zimmerman shot Martin on Feb. 26 in the gated community where Zimmerman served as a volunteer neighborhood watchman. Zimmerman claims the 17-year-old Martin punched him in the face and was bashing his head against the pavement when he fired his registered handgun in self-defense, striking Martin in the chest.
The incident sparked a national debate as to whether the shooting was an act of racial profiling by Zimmerman.
Lee made it clear that his departure was contingent upon the approval of his resignation by the city commission, but he also stated, "I am willing, ready and able to continue to perform the duties of the chief of police for the City of Sanford." City leaders rejected his resignation by a vote of 3-2, keeping Lee in his post on administrative leave.
According to Lee's employment agreement, he will receive a severance pay of three months and one week's salary plus earned time off.
In May, the city of Sanford hired Richard Myers as interim police chief but are still searching for a permanent replacement.
"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. "I expect the search for a new chief to take several months."
Statement from former Chief Bill Lee
It is disappointing that, in spite of his steadfast commitment to fairness and waiting for the results of a review of the Sanford Police Department and its investigation of the Trayvon Martin case, City Manager Bonaparte has chosen to exercise his rights under the employment contract to terminate my employment without cause.
I continue to stand by the work performed by the Sanford Police Department in this tragic shooting, which has been plagued by misrepresentations and false statements for interests other than justice. As the case progresses through the justice system, the evidence will show that our investigation was a proper effort to find the truth and follow the law. This has already been validated by evidence that has since become public as well as by comments from the special prosecutor.
I appreciate the opportunity I have had to serve all the people of the City of Sanford, the City Employees and especially the men and women of the Sanford Police Department.