Em­bat­tled po­lice chief takes leave

Pros­e­cu­tor with­draws from teen-killing case

The Washington Times Daily - - Nation - BY KYLE HIGHTOWER

SAN­FORD, FLA. | The po­lice chief and pros­e­cu­tor who have been bit­terly crit­i­cized for not ar­rest­ing a neigh­bor­hood watch vol­un­teer in the shoot­ing death of an un­armed black teenager both left the case Thurs­day, with the chief say­ing that he is tem­po­rar­ily leav­ing his job to let pas­sions cool.

San­ford Po­lice Chief Bill Lee’s decision came less than a day af­ter city com­mis­sion­ers gave him a “no con­fi­dence” vote, and af­ter a cou­ple of weeks of protests and up­roar on so­cial me­dia web­sites.

Chief Lee has said ev­i­dence in the case sup­ports Ge­orge Zim­mer­man’s claim that the Feb. 26 shoot­ing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was self-de­fense.

“I do this in the hopes of restor­ing some sem­blance of calm to a city which has been in tur­moil for sev­eral weeks,” Chief Lee said.

Later on Thurs­day evening, Gov. Rick Scott an­nounced that the lo­cal state at­tor­ney, Nor­man Wolfin­ger, had re­cused him­self from the case. In a let­ter to Mr. Scott, Mr. Wolfin­ger said that while he thought he could fairly over­see any pros­e­cu­tion that de­vel­ops in the case, his re­cusal was aimed at “ton­ing down the rhetoric and pre­serv­ing the in­tegrity of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

The gov­er­nor ap­pointed An­gela B. Corey, the state at­tor­ney for the Jack­sonville area, to take over the case.

Mr. Scott also ap­pointed a task force led by Lt. Gov. Jen­nifer Car­roll, who is black, to con­duct hear­ings on the case and to make rec­om­men­da­tions for any changes to state law or pro­ce­dures.

Trayvon was re­turn­ing from a trip to a con­ve­nience store when Mr. Zim­mer­man started fol­low­ing him, telling po­lice dis­patch­ers he looked sus­pi­cious. At some point, the two got into a fight and Mr. Zim­mer­man pulled out his gun.

Mr. Zim­mer­man told po­lice that Trayvon at­tacked him af­ter he had given up on chas­ing the teenager and was re­turn­ing to his sport util­ity ve­hi­cle.

The shoot­ing ig­nited racial ten­sions in this Or­lando sub­urb. Black and lib­eral groups have held ral­lies in Florida and New York, say­ing the shoot­ing was un­jus­ti­fied.

The po­lice chief con­tin­ued Thurs­day to stand be­hind his agency’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“As a for­mer homi­cide in­ves­ti­ga­tor, a ca­reer law en­force­ment of­fi­cer and a fa­ther, I am keenly aware of the emo­tions as­so­ci­ated with this tragic death of a child. I’m also aware that my role as a leader of this agency has be­come a dis­trac­tion from the in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” Chief Lee said.

Trayvon’s par­ents said tem­po­rar­ily step­ping down wasn’t enough, and that Mr. Zim­mer­man should be taken into cus­tody.

“We want an ar­rest, we want a con­vic­tion and we want him sen­tenced for the mur­der of my son,” Trayvon’s fa­ther, Tracy Martin, said to fiery crowd of about 1,000 sup­port­ers in down­town San­ford also at­tended by the Rev. Al Sharp­ton.

Some peo­ple said the po­lice chief should step down for good.

“If they wanted to defuse a po­ten­tial pow­der keg, he needed to re­sign,” said the Rev. Eu­gene Wal­ton, 58, who was born and raised in San­ford. “His in­ac­tion speaks loudly to the black com­mu­nity.”

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