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Embattled Florida police chief steps down temporarily

By Kyle Hightower

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 12:27 p.m. HST, Mar 22, 2012

SANFORD, Fla. >> The police chief who has been bitterly criticized for not arresting a neighborhood watch volunteer in the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager announced Thursday that he is temporarily stepping down to let passions cool.

Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee's decision came less than a day after city commissioners gave him a "no confidence" vote, and after a couple of weeks of protests and uproar on social media websites. Lee has said evidence in the case supported George Zimmerman's claim that the Feb. 26 shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was self-defense.

"I do this in the hopes of restoring some semblance of calm to a city which has been in turmoil for several weeks," Lee said.

Martin was returning from a trip to a convenience store when Zimmerman started following him, telling police dispatchers he looked suspicious. At some point, the two got into a fight and Zimmerman pulled out his gun.

Zimmerman told police Martin attacked him after he had given up on chasing the teenager and was returning to his sport utility vehicle.

The shooting ignited racial tensions in this Orlando suburb. Civil rights groups have held rallies in Florida and New York, saying the shooting was unjustified.

The police chief continued Thursday to stand behind his agency's investigation.

"As a former homicide investigator, a career law enforcement officer and a father, I am keenly aware of the emotions associated with this tragic death of a child. I'm also aware that my role as a leader of this agency has become a distraction from the investigation," Lee said.

It wasn't immediately how long the police chief would step aside. Martin's parents said that wasn't enough, and that Zimmerman should be taken into custody.

"We want an arrest, we want a conviction and we want him sentenced for the murder of my son," Martin's father, Tracy, said to fiery crowd of about 1,000 supporters in downtown Sanford.

Some people believed the police chief should step down for good.

"If they wanted to defuse a potential powder keg, he needed to resign," said pastor Eugene Walton, 58, who was born and raised in Sanford. "His inaction speaks loudly to the black community."

News of the police chief's decision to step aside spread quickly among the protesters, many of whom showed up more than two hours before the start of the rally. They chanted "The chief is gone. Zimmerman is next."

Some carried signs that said: "100 years of lynching, justifiable homicide. Same thing." Others sold T-shirts that read: "Arrest Zimmerman."

"It's the norm around here, where anything involving black culture, they want to wipe their hands of it," said Shella Moore, who is black and grew up in Sanford.

The Justice Department and FBI have opened a civil rights investigation, and the local prosecutor has convened a grand jury April 10 to determine whether to charge Zimmerman.

Before the rally, Martin's parents met with the local U.S. attorney, the deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights in Washington and the head of the FBI's Tampa office to discuss the investigation.

"We listened carefully to the concerns of the family and their representatives," Special Agent Dave Couvertier, an FBI spokesman, said in a statement. "We continue to extend our deepest condolences to Trayvon's family for their loss."

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Keith_Rollman wrote:
There is sufficient evidence in this case that Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood vigilante, stalked this kid and killed him. Clearly the kid was targeted because he was black. Zimmerman should be arrested, tried and jailed and the police handling of this case should be investigated by the Justice Department. Sign the petition at: http://www.change.org
on March 22,2012 | 05:53AM
Notawannabe wrote:
on March 22,2012 | 05:38PM
Grimbold wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on March 22,2012 | 06:09AM
Notawannabe wrote:
It's little minds like yours that add to this problem. If you think black men are scary, what about Manson, Dahmer, Hitler, Stalin, Gacy, Bundy, the KKK, the Columbine high school murderers, Manson, the man who just killed 16 people in their sleep in Afghanistan, etc. My point being that criminals come in all shapes, sizes and colors. The Martin boy was armed with nothing a bottle of iced tea and a bag of Skittles. Zimmerman had a 9mm pistol and was told to leave the boy alone. Now he is dead and his crime was that he was born black. The local police did not even confiscate Zimmerman's gun, did not arrest or question him. If a black man had done as much to a white teenager he would have been taken in for questioning. To add insult to injury, the local cops let Martin's body lie in the morgue for 3 days before even notifying his family. They did not even try to call the last dialed number on his cell phone to reach someone who could identify them. If anyone thinks that America does not have a race problem they are living in a dream world.
on March 22,2012 | 07:41AM
TigerEye wrote:
"We need that law in Hawaii" because you're afraid of young black men? You have to be a Brady fan because I've never seen a better argument for gun control on these boards. It's comments yours that that will ultimately disarm us all.
on March 22,2012 | 10:06AM
Grimbold wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on March 22,2012 | 06:15AM
Keith_Rollman wrote:
The kid was stalked and threatened by a 200 lb goon, with no legal authority, while he was simply minding his own business. He had every right to defend himself. In fact, under Florida law, he could have used deadly force to do so. Zimmerman was the aggressor from the beginning...he wasn't "attacked." Speaking of background...the only available photo of Zimmerman was his mug shot.
on March 22,2012 | 06:27AM
Notawannabe wrote:
Isn't it convenient though that no pictures were taken and the "bloody shirt" the police report refers to was not confiscated. This is a full on cover up and public scrutiny is not going to end until that poor boy's killer is brought to justice.
on March 22,2012 | 05:44PM
bluebowl wrote:
Martin was being followed he could have stopped talking to his girlfriend and called 911.
on March 22,2012 | 06:26AM
Keith_Rollman wrote:
It wouldn't have saved his life. The 911 dispatcher already told the fake cop (Zimmerman) to stop following him, he ignored it.
on March 22,2012 | 06:37AM
likewise wrote:
I am equally as afraid of 200 lb. men, of whatever color, when they appear to be following me. For all I know he may just be claiming to be on "neighborhood watch." Plus, I was under the impression neighborhood watch volunteers are told to "observe and report," not try and apprehend. Why was he chasing the kid? The article doesn't say Zimmerman actually observed him doing anything. The story has a lot of information holes. No wonder the kid tried to fight him off. He see's a big goon chasing him down. I am very much, anti-crime and pro-crime fighters but this whole thing sounds fishy.
on March 22,2012 | 07:50AM
Keith_Rollman wrote:
Zimmerman is reported to be a "self-appointed neighborhood watch captain" in an area that has no registered neighborhood watch program. You are correct that real neighborhood watch participants are prohibited from carrying weapons and are instructed to observe and report only. He was simply an armed thug. Zimmerman called into 911 to report a "suspicious person," not the observance of any actual criminal act. He was told "not to follow" the individual, but did anyway.
on March 22,2012 | 09:32AM
likewise wrote:
Great. If we had more "concerned citizen's" like Zimmerman it wouldn't be safe to leave the house. Sounds like all this kid was guilty of was "walking while black."
on March 22,2012 | 10:40AM
Keith_Rollman wrote:
Submitted comments now disappear without any indication as to why.
on March 22,2012 | 09:35AM
kainalu wrote:
This after a little bit of heat. Wait until the flame-thrower is busted out. The department is going to be reduced to ashes.
on March 22,2012 | 04:11PM
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