Sanford Police Department Chief Bill Lee stepped down temporarily in the wake of the Trayvon Martin killing.
The embattled police chief of Sanford, Fla. stepped aside Thursday amid international condemnation of his handling of the shooting of Trayvon Martin.
Police Chief Bill Lee’s temporary resignation came hours before a mass rally scheduled for the Orlando suburb.
Sanford city commissioners voted 3-2 Wednesday that they had lost confidence in Lee amid uproar over his refusal to arrest the man who killed the unarmed black 17-year-old on Feb 26.
“I am aware my role as leader of this department has become a distraction from the investigation,” Lee said in a brief afternoon statement.
He said “temporarily removing” himself would restore a “semblance of calm to the city.”
Lee, formerly of the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office, took the job only ten months ago — after the previous chief quit amid an outcry over his refusal to arrest a cop’s son who brutally battered a black homeless man.
Lee had insisted for weeks that there was no probable cause to arrest George Zimmerman, the overzealous Hispanic neighborhood watchman who shot Trayvon as he went out to buy a bag of Skittles.
Zimmerman said Trayvon jumped him and claimed self defense. Cops never took him into custody or tested him for drugs or alcohol — though they tested the teen’s corpse.
Lee continued to say cops did the right thing even after it emerged that calls to 911 from worried neighbors captured the teen’s desperate cries for help and a single gunshot.
Zimmerman can also be heard on tape telling a police dispatcher he was following the boy.
Even though cops had the dead boy’s cell phone, it was Trayvon’s father who sorted through the phone records to discover that his son was talking to his girlfriend moments before he died.
The girlfriend confirmed that Trayvon said he was being followed.
Though he lost his mother late Wednesday, the Rev. Al Sharpton was set to lead the rally in Sanford, along with the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Sanford city manager Norton Bonaparte put out a letter Wednesday saying the cops could not arrest Zimmerman because of Florida’s controversial 2005 Stand Your Ground law, which allows people to shoot anyone they believe is threatening them.
“Law enforcement was PROHIBITED from making an arrest based on the facts and circumstances they had at the time,” Bonaparte wrote.
“The Sanford Police Department has conducted a complete and fair investigation of this incident.”
Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton had a different take. “They decided on the scene to be the judge and jury,” she said. “I just want this guy arrested so he could be brought to justice.”
Trayvon, who was staying at his dad’s house within the gated community, went to 7-Eleven to buy Skittles and iced tea wearing a hoodie on a drizzly Sunday night.
Zimmerman spotted Trayvon and called 911 — one of dozens of calls over the years about suspicious black males.
“This guy looks like he’s up to no good...These a**holes always get away,” Zimmerman told the police dispatcher.
When cops arrived, Trayvon was dead, shot in the chest by Zimmerman.
The Justice Department has opened a federal investigation into the incident.
Zimmerman has fled his home and is in hiding after receiving death threats.