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Sanford Police Chief Steps Down Amid Criticism

By Andrew Chow, Esq. on March 22, 2012 2:39 PM

Sanford, Fla., Police Chief Bill Lee is temporarily stepping down from his post, as the Justice Department and FBI step in to investigate the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

"I am keenly aware of the emotions associated with this tragic death of a child," Lee said at a Thursday afternoon news conference. "I am also aware that my role as the leader of this agency has become a distraction from the investigation."

Some audience members applauded Lee's announcement, which came after Sanford's city commission voted Wednesday night to declare "no confidence" in the chief, The New York Times reports.

The FBI is reviewing 911 recordings in which Trayvon Martin's killer, neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman, allegedly can be heard uttering a possible racial slur, ABC News reports. Martin was black; Zimmerman, 28, is white and Latino, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Trayvon Martin's parents met Thursday with Justice Department officials who launched a federal civil rights investigation this week, The Associated Press reports. The grieving parents want Zimmerman arrested for what they believe was a racially motivated shooting.

But Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee said Thursday he "stands by" his officers, including their decision to allow Zimmerman to remain free without charges. Zimmerman claims the shooting was justified under Florida's "stand your ground" law.

Florida's law allows the use of deadly force if a person "reasonably believes it is necessary" to prevent death, serious bodily harm, or "the commission of a forcible felony." George Zimmerman's use of deadly force against an unarmed teenager was not reasonably necessary under the law, critics contend.

Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee's temporary removal can be made permanent if Sanford's city manager decides to fire him, the AP reports. You can watch Lee's 77-second announcement here, as covered by NBC News:

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