Bill Lee, Sanford Police Chief, who temporarily stepped aside in the wake of the public furor over the failure of the police to arrest Trayvon Martin's killer, was fired Wednesday night.
It was just last week, that Martin's parents – Tracy Martin and Sabrina Fulton – appealed to a crowd of about 100 people to press for Lee's firing and an investigation into the Sanford Police Department, the Orlando Sentinel reports.
"You can't heal with the same people in place," said Tracy Martin, Trayvon's father at a Sanford forum put on by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "If Chief Bill Lee is hired back, the same things are going to happen."
Now, a week later, City Manager Norton N. Bonaparte Jr. made a surprising announcement.
"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 Bonaparte in a written statement released Wednesday evening FOX 35 reported.
"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."
According to the Orlando Sentinel, Lee, 52, stepped aside temporarily March 22, saying he had become a distraction, and he has been on paid administrative leave since. The night before he relinquished his duties, the Sanford City Commission had voted 3-2 that it had "no confidence" in Lee.
Protesters holding signs at the Trayvon Martin Protest Student Rally at the Criminal Justice Building in Sanford at 9am on Monday, March 19, 2012
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, but city commissioners voted not to accept it.
But under the city charter, the Sentinel says, Bonaparte oversees the Police Department and can hire or fire the chief without City Commission approval.
When George Zimmerman fatally shot Martin on Feb. 26 in the gated community where Zimmerman served as a volunteer neighborhood watchman, Lee said Zimmerman was not charged in the shooting because there were no grounds to disprove his account of the events -- that Martin had attacked him.
Zimmerman, 28, claims unarmed 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. Since then, Zimmerman has been arrested and charged with second-degree murder.
CNN reports that the incident sparked a national debate as to whether the shooting was an act of racial profiling by Zimmerman and about the state's "stand-your-ground" law.
Statement from former Chief Bill Lee
Late Wednesday, Lee characterized his firing as "without cause." In a statement, he said:
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. First Mother's Day and Father's Day without son
Late Wednesday night, representatives of the Martin family said they "respected" the city manager's decision, according to CNN.
Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, appearing in a Mother's Day video
"It's important that we really believe that, as all of this has unfolded, we've continued to move closer to justice," said family attorney Daryl Parks.
Family attorney Natalie Jackson also commented saying the firing will allow the Police Department to begin rebuilding trust, the Sentinel writes.
"A child died, and there was an investigation that we don't believe was done thoroughly," Jackson said. "None of this is going to be happy."
Especially for Trayvon Martin's parents, who spent their first Mother's and Father's day without their son.
"Yes, we still are hurting. We just had to go through a Mother's Day and a Father's Day and it hurts. It just hurts."
But Martin's parents say they are thankful for the support of the public which helped them through this loss.
"It's just nice to see so many people that support us, so many people that walk up to us just to give us a hug. Just to tell us that they support us," she said, CNN reports. "It does the heart good."