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Sanford leaders refuse resignation from police chief in Trayvon Martin shooting

Although Chief Bill Lee offered to leave his post, a majority of Sanford's city commissioners rejected his resignation. NBC's Kerry Sanders reports.

The police chief in charge when unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in Sanford, Fla., offered to leave his post on Monday, but a majority of city commissioners rejected the resignation, with some characterizing it as coming from political pressure.

Chief Bill Lee Jr. came under fire for not making an immediate arrest after the shooting death of Martin, 17, by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman on Feb. 26.

Zimmerman was questioned by police, but not arrested or charged with any crime after following Martin, whom he apparently thought looked suspicious walking through the gated Florida community. Zimmerman said he acted in self-defense.


 At a press conference shortly thereafter, Lee told reporters that there was no arrest because they did not have enough evidence at that time.

The case attracted attention beyond Florida and ignited a national debate on race and justice after Martin's parents obtained 911 call recordings from the day their son was killed and which they believe show that Zimmerman was not acting in self-defense.

Lee stepped down "temporarily" in March after a vote of no-confidence by the commission.

Zimmerman later was arrested and is now charged with second-degree murder.

Only City Manager Norton Bonaparte was in a position to fire Lee or ask for his resignation, which he apparently requested after determining that outside assessments by the Department of Justice or other parties would take many months. By resigning, Lee would be eligible for a severance package.

At the commissioners' meeting Monday, the members considered Bonaparte's resolution to accept Lee's resignation.

Some of the commission members said Bonaparte's resolution to accept Lee's resignation was a surprise, and a capitulation to outside pressures on Bonaparte.

"This was resign, or else, folks," said Randy Jones, characterizing the resignation as forced by Bonaparte. "It is not the Sanford residents who created this firestorm. It was brought in from the outside. We all know it."

Lee's supporters on the Sanford City Commission on Monday said they would not accept the resignation of Lee, and characterized it as purely political.

"You are eliminating a man who did nothing wrong," said Commissioner Patty Mahany, who has described Lee as a scapegoat in the furor over the case. "Chief Lee deserves a better than this."

The commission ultimately rejected Bonaparte's resolution to accept the resignation over Lee by 3-2 vote.

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