Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee is temporarily stepping aside from the Trayvon Martin shooting case. The controversial death of a 17-year old black teenager in Sanford, Florida on February 26 has become a national story in the past week. The shooter, George Zimmerman made 911 calls as he followed Martin through his gated community as a neighborhood watch ′captain′. The details of this case are still sketchy and has many holes, but what we do know has caused a firestorm over police procedures and the ′Stand Your Ground′ law which Florida, and some twenty other states, have on their books.

sanford police chief

Here is what we do, or at least ′think′ we know. In the early evening of February 26, Trayvon Martin went to a convenience store and bought an iced tea drink and a bag of Skittles candy. He was returning home to watch the NBA All-Star game when he was spotted by George Zimmerman, who was apparently ′on patrol′ in his neighborhood. There had been eight burglaries recently, including one possible attempt that Zimmerman may have prevented just weeks before by scaring off a young black male wearing a ′hoodie′ sweater jacket that was seen prowling about a neighbor′s home.

Zimmerman called 911 and reported seeing another youth, Martin, acting suspiciously in his neighborhood. The 911 operator instructed Zimmerman not to follow the suspect and assured him that police were on the way. During the call, Zimmerman reported that Martin was running away. So, instead of letting the police handle the situation, Zimmerman continued his pursuit. At some point, he caught up with Martin and there was a confrontation. Another neighbor was on the phone with 911 reporting the disturbance when cries for help could be heard in the background, followed by a single gunshot. But nobody apparently saw exactly what had happened.

When police arrived, Martin was dead, shot by Zimmerman whom legally carried a 9mm Glock handgun. Zimmerman allegedly was also injured in the confrontation, with a bloody nose and signs of grass stains on his clothes. Zimmerman′s account to the police was that Martin confronted him, acted aggressively, they apparently struggled and Zimmerman felt threatened and shot Martin. But from what we are learning, there was apparently some very sloppy police work with very little evidence gathered at the crime scene.

Under the ′Stand Your Ground′ law, you have the right to defend yourself if you feel threatened with bodily harm. But the law only protects an actual victim who is in fear for their life. At least that is the theory. In Zimmerman′s case, however, it seems obvious that he could have avoided any such confrontation had he done as advised by the 911 operator. Even if he still followed Martin and kept him under observation from a ′fair′ distance, say a half a block or more away, Zimmerman would have been able to avoid any direct contact with Martin.

Following the Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee stepping down, the Governor of Florida, Rick Scott, has ordered a special state prosecutor to take over the Trayvon Martin shooting case. The FBI and US Justice Department is also investigating the incident, presumably to see if any federal hate crime laws may be involved. George Zimmerman, whose the 911 call started this all, is Hispanic and there does not appear to be any racial motivation in this situation. The Sanford, Florida Police Department is a small force, about 140 officers, allegedly has had other issues in recent years. Bill Lee is the third chief in the last 3 years, not a good sign. While many want Zimmerman hung out to dry and the ′Stand Your Ground′ laws repealed, the real issue here may wind up being police incompetency. Zimmerman may wind up facing some charges, including 2nd degree homicide or manslaughter at the very least. But police corruption is a whole other matter and it may be years before this case is resolved.