SANFORD, Fla. - Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee announced that he has temporarily stepped down as chief, during a press conference outside of Sanford City Hall on Thursday.
The announcement came hours before a rally for slain teen Trayvon Martin was set to begin.
"I must temporarily remove myself from the position of police chief for the city of Sanford," Lee said. "It's apparent my involvement in this matter is overshadowing the process, therefore I must temporarily remove myself as police chief."
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Also on Thursday, Governor Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi worked together to appoint Angela B. Corey (of the 4th Judicial Circuit) as the newly assigned state attorney in the investigation into the death of Martin. Scott and Bondi reached out to State Attorney Norman Wolfinger, and after a conversation, Wolfinger decided to step down from the investigation and turn it over to another state attorney. (Read Scott's statement)
Scott has also announced the formation of a task force, which will convene following the conclusion of the investigation by Corey. Scott and Bondi said they have full faith in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the U.S. Department of Justice and in Corey that a full and thorough investigation will be conducted.
Civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton is leading the rally for 17-year-old Martin, who was shot and killed by vigilante George Zimmerman.
Zimmerman claimed he acted in self-defense, and he hasn't been arrested. The lack of arrest in the case has prompted outrage from civil rights activists, local leaders and people from around the country.
The rally for Martin was moved to Fort Mellon Park from the First Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church on Thursday, due to an overwhelming response.
Sharpton arrived in Sanford and attended a news conference held by Martin's parents late Thursday afternoon.
"Arrest Zimmerman now!" shouted Sharpton.
"The temporary step down of Bill Lee is nothing. We want an arrest. We want a conviction, and we want him charged for the murder of our son," said Trayvon's father, Tracy Martin.
Lee's removal means he will no longer be on the job in any capacity, at least until the investigation by the State Attorney's Office is complete.
WFTV learned that a captain will take his place while the city looks for an interim chief.
"I stand by Sanford Police Department, its personnel and the investigation conducted in regards to Trayvon Martin's case," said Lee.
However, some people told WFTV they don't think that's good enough.
"It would have been better if he just resigned permanently. This is just a temporary move or temporary fix," said rally attendee, Turner Clayton.
Martin's parents met with U.S. Justice Department officials before the rally. His parents, along with Sharpton met with the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida and the deputy assistant attorney general of the Civil Rights Division.
Sharpton told WFTV reporter Daralene Jones that the case is not about being black or white, it's about anyone who has children should realize that Martin could be their child.
"We can not allow for it to be a legal precedent that unarmed young men can be shot down and killed and people walk away from it like they stepped on an insect," Sharpton said. "To leave him in the medical examiner's office and not go through his cell phone, like he wasn't even a human being that died, one has to wonder the mentality of the police department."
Robin Magee drove from South Florida and said that as a mother of two, she understands her children could've been Martin.
"When did you make the decision that you wanted to be here?" Jones asked.
"When I heard the 911 call, I said whatever rally there's going to be, I'm going to be there," Magee said.
Martin's case has hit a nerve with people across the country.
Steve Jernigan is a truck driver from Texas, and he told Jones he rearranged his route to be at the rally.
"It's an injustice," said Jernigan.
The frustration centers about how Sanford police allegedly mishandled the investigation.
They told the family that Zimmerman was "squeaky clean," even though WFTV uncovered he had been arrested in 2005 for battery on a law enforcement officer.
Police never tested Zimmerman for drugs or alcohol, which is routine in shootings, but they did test Martin.
"I am not a drive-by activist. I will be here until we walk Zimmerman into a court of law," said Sharpton.
Sharpton's mother died at 2:00 a.m. on Thursday, but said his mother would have wanted him to be at the rally to fight for justice. Sharpton said his mother took him to his first civil rights march at 13 years old.
Meanwhile, there were other groups out protesting earlier Thursday.
On the steps of Sanford City Hall, members of the New Black Panthers party handed out "wanted dead or alive" fliers that had Zimmerman's picture.
"The Black Panthers didn't come her to divide people. They are already divided. We came today because we are making an appeal: do justice. Our children are tired of being shot dying and murdered," said member Minister Mikhail Muhammad.
In Miami, hundreds of Martin's former classmates walked out of school on Thursday.
The students filled the streets around the Miami-Carol City Senior High School, demanding the arrest of Zimmerman. Martin was a junior at the school.
Also on Thursday, WFTV found out that Seminole State College kicked out Zimmerman, who remains silent and in hiding.
Sanford police reportedly know where he is, and only Zimmerman's father has spoken publicly on his behalf. His father wrote a letter, claiming Zimmerman is Hispanic, with many black family members and friends, and the racist media portrayal is not true.
The pastor of the First Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, H.D. Rucker, who organized the rally, told WFTV he wants Sanford police officers to stay away and let the sheriff handle things if necessary.
"Sanford got so many problems, and people are mad as they can be at the Sanford Police Department right now," Rucker said.
Rucker said he wants the rally to be peaceful, but he wants deputies to stand by on the perimeter of the area because the outer edges of the crowd are harder to control.
- Seminole Boulevard between Mellonville and Sanford Avenue, and First Street between San Juan Avenue and Sanford Avenue downtown, will be closed from 12:00 p.m. until the ending of the rally. The Rally is expected to last two hours. The Florida Highway Patrol, Seminole County Sheriff’s Office, and the Department of Transportation will assist with traffic control. Road signage will be on all major roadways.
- Parking for cars is available at City Hall, the Seminole County Court House, and on-street parking. Parking is limited and persons should carpool. Bus drop off will be at the Sanford Chamber of Commerce, 400 East First Street.
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