Former Sanford police chief talks about how he handled the Zimmerman case

Thursday, July 11, 2013 - 11:01am

Former Sanford police chief talks about how he handled the Zimmerman case

There were protests and heated rallies.

Anger echoed throughout the nation, because the man who shot and killed 17 year old Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, wasn't immediately behind bars.

The criticism built. The pressure increased to make an arrest.

And it all came down to this man. Former Sanford police chief Bill Lee.

Howell: When you look back at what happened, was there a lot of pressure on you to make an arrest?

Lee: "There was pressure applied. The city manager asked several times during the process, can an arrest be made now? And I think that was from just not understanding the process. The criminal justice process. I had one of the city commissioners come to me on two different occasions and say, all we want is an arrest. And I explained to him, you can't just do that. You have to have probable cause to arrest somebody. And as it was related to me, they just wanted an arrest even if it got dismissed later. And you don't do that.

On the night of the shooting, February 26th, 2012 police took Zimmerman into custody for questioning.

But later let him go.

Howell: Your lead investigator, Chris Serino, suggested manslaughter on that initial police report. Why is it, for 40 plus days, George Zimmerman walked a free man?

Lee: The laws of the state of Florida and the Constitution require that you have probable cause to arrest someone. The evidence and the testimony that we had didn't get us to probable cause.

Police passed the case on to the state attorney's office.

The governor then assigned the case to special prosecutor Angela Corey who charged Zimmerman with second degree murder.

But it was too late for Bill Lee pushed aside after only 10 months on the job, then fired.

Howell: There was political pressure on hand, would you agree?

Lee: Sure.

Howell: There were outside influences on the other?

Lee: Yes.

Howell: Did you get a fair shake?

Lee: Um, I don't think so. I upheld my oath, and my oath to abide by the laws of the state of Florida and the Constitution and I'm happy that at the end of the day I can walk away with my integrity...I am at peace with it on most days...i am a man of faith...but it stings.


Zimmerman decided to not take the stand during the trial.

He claims he shot martin in self-defense.

The jury is now deciding his fate.

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