ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - The city commission in Sanford, Florida, rejected the resignation of the police chief who had stepped aside amid withering criticism over his department’s investigation into the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin.
Sanford Police Bill Lee, on leave since his temporary resignation announced March 22, had been set to resign permanently as of midnight under a separation agreement submitted to him by Sanford City Manager Norton Bonaparte.
But the five-member city commission governing the city voted 3-2 against the agreement in a special meeting on Monday, adding further disarray to the central Florida city of 50,000 that has been the center of national attention over the racially charged case.
“In light of the vote, Chief Lee will remain on paid administrative leave while an investigation continues into the handling of the Trayvon Martin case by the Sanford Police Department,” Bonaparte said in a statement.
Captain Darren Scott will remain as acting police chief.
Sanford police declined to arrest shooter George Zimmerman based on his story of self-defense, leading to a wave of civil rights protests around the country and a media firestorm.
Although the city manager - not the commission - normally has the power to fire the police chief, this particular separation agreement required commission approval, the city said.
The commission had voted “no confidence” in Lee by a 3-2 margin on March 21, leading to his temporary resignation the next day. But Mayor Jeff Triplett, who voted against the chief back then, voted against his resignation on Monday.
“Obviously my questions will be the effectiveness that will be still out there, if he can be effective,” Triplett, who had said he was not ready to seal the chief’s departure, said after the vote.
Citizens packed the city commission chamber with many people showing support for Lee. One man carried a sign saying “Bring back Billy.”
City Commissioner Patty Mahany opposed forcing Lee out, saying the city manager was influenced by the public demonstrations, which drew thousands activists from outside of Sanford to the city.
The regularly assigned prosecutor removed himself from the case the same day Lee stepped aside, and a special prosecutor later charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder on April 11.
Zimmerman was released on $150,000 bail early Monday.
Reporting by Barbara Liston; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Cynthia Osterman