Bill Lee Jr.: Police chief in Trayvon Martin case steps down

What happens when you end up on the wrong side of a grassroots movement?

The police chief of a Florida town where an unarmed black teenager was killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer said on Thursday he would temporarily step down from his job, saying his role in the investigation had become too much of a distraction.

 

Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee had been heading up the investigation into the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by watch captain George Zimmerman, 28. The incident has sparked a nationwide public outcry over Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, which Zimmerman says makes the killing self defense.

 

Police have declined to arrest Zimmerman.

 

Lee called himself a distraction and said it had become "apparent that my involvement in the matter is overshadowing the process." He has been on the job less than one year.

 

Sanford City Manager Norton Bonaparte, speaking at a press conference at City Hall, said he was starting a search for an interim police chief. In the interim, he said, two current captains will head the police force, which has 140 officers.

"What the city of Sanford wants more than anything else for the Trayvon Martin family is justice," Bonaparte said.

Lee's decision to step down comes a day after Sanford's city commissioners passed a motion of "no confidence" in him and follows calls for his resignation by civil rights groups angered over the police department's handling of the case.

Lee previously said he had no choice under Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law but to let Zimmerman go free. The 2005 law allows someone in fear of "great bodily harm" to respond with deadly force, and removes any duty to retreat if possible to avoid confrontation.

On February 26, Martin was returning to a gated community from a candy run at a convenience store when Zimmerman, carrying a licensed handgun in his role as a neighborhood watch captain, saw him. He called police to report a "suspicious guy" and followed him despite the dispatcher's advice not to do so.

Neighbors said they heard a scuffle, cries for help and then a gunshot.