Trayvon Martin: Police chief steps aside over controversy

Tracy Martin (left in orange shirt), and Sybrina Fulton,(R), parents of slain teenager Trayvon Martin, pray at a Million Hoodies March on March 21, 2012 in New York City. The family members joined hundreds of protesters calling for justice in the killing of Trayvon Martin, 17, who was was pursued and shot on February 26 in Sanford, Florida by "neighborhood watch" member George Zimmerman, reportedly because the teenager's hoodie made him look suspicious. Under Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, Zimmerman has not been charged with a crime in the shooting.
John Moore

The police chief in the center of the national controversy over the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager in Florida agreed Thursday to step aside temporarily, CNN reported.

Sanford, Florida, Police Chief Bill Lee said he must "temporarily remove" himself from duty.

"My role as the leader of this agency has become a distraction from the investigation," he said.

Lee has been under attack for how his agency handled the death of Trayvon Martin, 17, who was killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer.

The move comes a day after the Florida city's 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 volunteer George Zimmerman shot and killed Martin as he was on his way home.  

Zimmerman claimed he acted in self-defense, and has not yet been charged for the murder. 

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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 his or her life is 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."

However, the validity of the "Stand Your Ground" law in Zimmerman's case has since been challenged by the lawmakers who drafted it, the New York Daily News reported

“They got the goods on him. They need to prosecute whoever shot the kid,” Senator Durell Peaden, a Republican who sponsored the deadly force law in 2005, told the Miami Herald. “He has no protection under my law.”

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

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"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 that proves that Zimmerman attacked Martin first, according to the Post.  

Many believe that the Sanford police department fumbled the case from the beginning, ABC News reported.

"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. 

"If there were mistakes made, we are going to act accordingly," Triplett said, ABC News reported. 

Martin's parents have also stared a petition asking for George Zimmerman's arrest. It now has close to 1 million signatures. 

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View all of our Trayvon Martin coverage.