Talia Ralph, Global Post, March 22, 2012
Trayvon Martin’s death has shaken the Florida city’s confidence in its police chief Billy Lee, as three Sanford city commissioners asked Lee to step down at a meeting on Wednesday night, ABC News reported.
The meeting was held to address the allegations of police misconduct in relation to the case, in which Hispanic neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman shot and killed 17-year-old Martin as he was on his way home.
Zimmerman claimed he acted in self-defense, and has not yet been charged for the murder.
Sanford’s city manager Norton Bonaparte Jr. has said that under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows the use of deadly force by someone who feels their life is being threatened, the police were legally prohibited from arresting Zimmerman, Yahoo News reported.
“Zimmerman provided a statement claiming he acted in self defense, which at the time was supported by physical evidence and testimony,” Bonaparte wrote in a letter released to the public Wednesday evening. “By Florida Statute, law enforcement was PROHIBITED from making an arrest based on the facts and circumstances they had at the time.”
Trayvon Martin weighed nearly 100 pounds less than Zimmerman, and was found unarmed and carrying only a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea, the Huffington Post reported.
“This law is for innocent, law-abiding citizens who are under attack by a perpetrator,” Dennis Baxley, the co-author of the law, told the Huffington Post.
“Anyone who is out pursuing and confronting people is not protected by this statute. I think they need to go back and read the statute,” Baxley said, referring to the Sanford Police Department.
However, police have said that they do not have grounds to charge Zimmerman with a crime unless they find evidence which proves that Zimmerman attacked Martin first, according to the Post.
“The unknown in a tragedy will make the heart do crazy things, and we haven’t done a good job of getting out in front of that,” said Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett after the vote at Wednesday’s meeting, according to ABC. “I have confidence in [Police Chief Lee] in a lot of ways, and don’t have confidence in him in some ways.”
The city commissioners’ votes of “no confidence” came after some tough questioning by community members about the way the police investigation proceeded. The US Department of Justice and the FBI have opened their own investigations into Martin’s murder.
[Editor’s Note: It appears Chief Lee is temporarily stepping down.]