Sanford Police Department Chief Bill Lee announcing he will temporarily step down on March 22, 2012. / Mario Tama/Getty Images
(CBS/AP) SANFORD, Fla. - The central Florida police chief who was strongly criticized for his agency's initial investigation of Trayvon Martin's shooting in February has been fired.
"After much thoughtful discussion and deep consideration for the issues facing the City of Sanford, I have determined the Police Chief needs to have the trust and respect of the elected officials and the confidence of the entire community. We need to move forward with a police chief that all the citizens of Sanford can support. I have come to this decision in light of the escalating divisiveness that has taken hold of the city", said Sanford City Manager Norton Bonaparte in a statement.
The search for a new chief is expected to take several months, Bonaparte said. In the meantime, interim Chief Richard W. Myers will remain on the job.
Lee had submitted a resignation letter in April that said he was stepping down, but city commissioners voted 3-2 not to accept it, reports CBS affiliate WKMG in Orlando. In March, he had said he was stepping down temporarily.
The initial lack of an arrest following the fatal shooting of Martin, an unarmed black teenager, by a neighborhood watch volunteer led to protests across the nation and spurred a debate about race and the laws of self-defense. Zimmerman's father is white and his mother is from Peru.
The local prosecutor recused himself from the case, prompting Gov. Rick Scott to appoint special prosecutor Angela Corey, who charged Zimmerman in April with second-degree murder. The 17-year-old Martin was fatally shot following a Feb. 26 altercation with Zimmerman, who claims self-defense and has pleaded not guilty.
In May, Rick Myers took over as Sanford's interim police chief, saying he wanted to heal the emotional wounds caused by Martin's death. He has said he would reach out to people in Sanford who feel they've been ignored by the police.
Lee will receive a severance of three months and one week's salary, in addition to any earned time off.