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Sanford police chief meets with citizens, but won't discuss Trayvon Martin

SANFORD, Fla. -- In his first town hall meeting since becoming interim chief of police, Richard Myers told a crowd of about 50 people that he has not yet received a briefing on the shooting of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin.

“I’ll be getting that within the next couple of weeks,” Myers said about a series of meetings he expects to hold within the Police Department.

But Myers added later that he would keep his opinions “pretty close to the vest” in deference to the state’s prosecution of neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, accused of second-degree murder in Martin’s Feb. 26 shooting.

The forum ran for nearly two hours Wednesday night inside a chapel in Sanford.

On many of the questions that followed, Myers said he could not answer in depth.

Myers has been on the job since Friday. Chief Bill Lee stepped down in late March over questions about his department’s investigation of the Martin case. Lee remains on paid leave.

Asked Wednesday if his own interpretation of Florida’s controversial self-defense statute – the “Stand Your Ground” law – would have led him to respond differently to Martin’s shooting, Myers demurred.

“Well, first of all, we start with the assumption that I’ve read that law. I haven’t,” Myers said.

Police have said Zimmerman claimed he was acting in self-defense on the night of the shooting, spurring speculation that Zimmerman will request immunity under the law.

Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, has said a decision to make such a request is a "couple to a few months out."

Pressed later Wednesday on why he hadn’t read the law, Myers told reporters he's been busy with the broad task of taking over a department.

“I haven’t read the department budget yet,” he said, adding, “I have yet to read any of the policy and procedure manuals for the Sanford Police Department. I am early in the curve here.”

Time may not be on the police chief’s side. City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr. has said Myers will remain in the job for three to five months, pending completion of a review of the department.

Bonaparte hired Myers out of Colorado, where he served as chief of police in Colorado Springs until 2011.

Some Sanford residents said Wednesday that meaningful change would not come over a period of several months.

“We’re in for another disappointment from the Sanford Police Department,” Toby Wells, Jr., a paralegal, told NBC News.

But Myers is vowing to make an impact city-wide that he thinks can outlast his tenure.

Wednesday he agreed to hold town hall forums on a monthly basis.

And though he avoided touching on the Martin shooting, he spoke in broad terms about healing rifts between Sanford police and the city’s African American community.

“I don’t think that there’s a person in the police department that wouldn’t say we have a problem today,” Myers told a pastor in the audience. 

“When are people most receptive to hearing the message of forgiveness and peace and spirituality?” he added. “It’s often after there’s been some traumatic time.”

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