Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee announced Thursday that he will be stepping down temporarily from his post during a press conference at Sanford City Hall, a move instigated by growing criticism of his handling of the Trayvon Martin shooting case in Florida last month.
Lee has been harshly criticized for his department's failure to arrest George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot 17-year-old Martin to death on Feb. 26.
Lee had claimed that he could not make an arrest based on the facts and circumstances of the case available at the time of the shooting, and that there had been nothing to suggest that Zimmerman's excuse, that he had been acting in self-defense, was untrue.
At a news conference to discuss the status of the events surrounding the investigation of the Trayvon Martin shooting, Lee noted that the international media attention surrounding the case, and the recent involvement of the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice, had cast his role in the tragedy in a new light.
He also acknowledged that the case had ratcheted up tensions in the quiet Florida town as evidence including Zimmerman's 911 tapes was released.
Black leaders in Sanford as well as NAACP national president Benjamin Todd Jealous have demanded that Lee step down for his failure to act.
My role as the leader of this agency has become a distraction from the investigation, Lee said in a brief statement. It is apparent that my involvement in this matter is overshadowing the process.
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 concluded. I do this in the hopes of restoring some semblance of calm to a city, which has been in turmoil for several weeks.
City Manager Norton Bonaparte, Jr., took the podium next, saying the city was taking the proper steps to ensure the investigation ran as smoothly and a thoroughly as possible.
What the city wants most for the family of Trayvon Martin is justice, he said, adding that city officials would hold regular news briefings to update the press on developments in the Trayvon Martin case.
Watch Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee's full statement below: