The city commissioners of Sanford, Fla., voted Monday afternoon to reject the resignation of Police Chief Bill Lee Jr. because of criticism about his department's handling of the Trayvon Martin shooting case.
The surprise vote came hours after the city manager and the mayor had announced that Lee, who stepped aside last month after a no-confidence vote, would be leaving permanently, USA Today reported.
Two commissioners said it appeared from Lee's separation agreement that he was being forced out, and that he had violated no law or policy. He will remain on administrative leave pending the results of an outside review of the department's investigation. That could take three to four months, city officials said.
A severance agreement for Lee, worked out with City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr., seemed all but certain to go through on Monday afternoon, until it came under discussion at the meeting, the New York Times reported. The vote was 3 to 2 against the plan, with Mayor Jeff Triplett voting no. In a no-confidence vote at the time Lee stepped aside in March, the commission also voted 3 to 2, with Triplett voting in the majority.
Bonaparte and Lee had been scheduled to discuss a permanent departure on Monday morning. Under the terms of Lee's separation agreement, his resignation was to become effective at midnight Monday, according to a statement released by the city.
Lee stepped down temporarily in March from his position after being criticized for the department's handling of the investigation into Martin's death. Specifically, Lee had been under fire for not detaining or arresting George Zimmerman in the Feb. 26 shooting death of the unarmed 17-year-old in a gated community.
I'm aware that my role as the leader of this agency has become a distraction, Lee said at a news conference last month, adding that he hoped his temporary removal would restore some semblance of calm to the city, which has been in turmoil for several weeks.
Lee's attempted resignation comes the same day Zimmerman was released from a Sanford jail on $150,000 bail. The 28-year-old former neighborhood watch volunteer is facing second-degree murder charges for shooting Martin, which he insists was done in self-defense.