SANFORD, Fla., (Reuters) – A local police chief and a Florida state prosecutor overseeing the case of an unarmed black teenager shot dead by a neighbourhood watch captain stepped aside yesterday following withering criticism and national outrage that police have declined to arrest the shooter.
Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee’s resignation – which he called “temporary” – failed to appease civil rights and community leaders who are calling for the arrest of watch captain George Zimmerman, 28, who shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and claimed self-defense.
Lee was under mounting pressure for days and suffered a a “no confidence” vote from the city commission on Wednesday. The shakeup at the state level was more surprising as Gov. Rick Scott replaced Tallahassee’s lead investigator and formed a task force to review Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law.
Police have said this law, which allows people to use deadly force when they perceive danger in any public place, prevented them from arresting Zimmerman, a white Hispanic who has disappeared from public view. Zimmerman’s father has said his son has been unfairly vilified. He called him a friend of minorities whose true nature was being distorted by national calls for his arrest and allegations that he pursued Martin just because he was black. Coupled with at least two prior cases that stoked black anger toward the police, the response to the Martin episode had grown so intense Lee said he had no option but to step aside as “my involvement in the matter is overshadowing the process.”
Similarly, State Attorney Norman Wolfinger said he was stepping down “with the intent of toning down the rhetoric.”