Sanford Police Chief Fired Over Handling of Trayvon Martin Case

City officials are searching nationwide for a replacement who can restore unity to the Florida town.

Posted: 06/21/2012 08:23 AM EDT

Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee was fired from his post Wednesday after months of harsh criticism stemming from his failure to arrest George Zimmerman following the shooting of Trayvon Martin.

"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," city manager Norton Bonaparte said in a statement. "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."

Trayvon's family welcomed the news.

"The parents of Trayvon Martin respect the decision of the city manager," family lawyer Benjamin Crump said in a statement released by the National Association of Black Journalists. "They remain vigilant in getting justice for their son and the tragedy that claimed his life.

"[Tracy] Martin always thought that the killer of his son should have been arrested and he had to go, with Sabrina and a lot of people, to great lengths to have the killer of his son arrested. So, it is one of those things — he has always believed that [Zimmerman] should have been arrested when he killed his son."

Lee came under both local and national scrutiny after news broke that unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon was shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, but that police did not arrest Zimmerman following the shooting.

In March, the Sanford City Commission issued a vote of no confidence against Lee and Bonaparte suggested that terminating Lee was necessary for the city to “move forward.”

Lee attempted to resign from his position in April, but city commissioners voted not to accept it. City officials say that there is now a nationwide search to find a replacement.

“It’s our understanding that Sanford’s elected leadership felt that it was in the best interest to discharge Chief Lee in order to move on and rebuild community trust. We agree and stand by that decision and will do whatever we can to cooperate with any pending internal investigations of the PD and in helping the city of Sanford through this purging and healing process,’’ Crump told the Miami Herald.

Also Wednesday, the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office released the recording of Trayvon’s father Tracy’s call to police to report his son missing the morning after the shooting.

"I need to file a missing persons report. It hasn’t really been 24 hours," Martin says on the recording obtained by NBC News. Martin speaks calmly, giving information about Trayvon and answering questions about where he may have gone.

Thursday, Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, posted several pieces of evidence on Zimmerman’s defense website, including a written statement Zimmerman gave to police which chronicles his version of what happened on the night of the shooting.

Zimmerman claims he was attacked by Trayvon and shot the teen in self-defense. According to the statement, Zimmerman says Trayvon’s last words were, “You got me.”

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(Photo: AP Photo/Julie Fletcher, File)

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