(CBS/AP) SANFORD, Fla. - Bill Lee, 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.
Sanford City Manager Norton Bonaparte said in a Wednesday statement that he relieved Chief Bill Lee of duty because he "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," Bonaparte said. "I have come to this decision in light of the escalating divisiveness that has taken hold of the city."
Sanford Police Department faced criticism after the initial lack of an arrest following the Feb. 26 shooting death of Martin, an unarmed black teenager, by neighborhood watch volunteer Zimmerman, who claims self-defense and pleaded not guilty. 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.
Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Martin's parents, said in a statement that the parents respected the city manager's decision.
Lee took a leave of absence in March and offered his resignation in April. The city council rejected Lee's resignation by a 3-2 vote. 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.
Bonaparte said he had been in contact with the Police Executive Research Forum about the search for Lee's successor.
"I believe that there are many law enforcement officials who will find accepting the opportunity to serve as Sanford's Police Chief a welcome challenge for their careers," the city manager said. "I expect the search for a new chief to take several months."
Lee will get three months of severance and one week's salary, in addition to any earned time off, under his contract.
"I wish Chief Lee all the best in his future endeavors," Bonaparte said.