[Sanford, FL] Tiny Sanford continues to be in the national spotlight following last month’s shooting of unarmed black teen Trayvon Martin and the subsequent non-arrest of his assailant by the city police. And all of the attention being paid to Sanford – the county seat of Orange County neighbor Seminole County – is bad.
But maybe ultimately it will do some good.
The latest in this ever-developing saga is that not one, but two major local figures have removed themselves to allow others to handle the emotionally charged Trayvon Martin investigation.
And now, Gov. Rick Scott has injected himself into the fray by meeting with Martin’s family, appointing a special prosecutor and forming a task force. Earlier this week, Black lawmakers had called on Scott to appoint a special prosecutor to handle the case.
In a news release, Scott said the Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection will “thoroughly review Florida’s ‘stand your ground’ law and any other laws, rules, regulations or programs that relate to public safety and citizen protection.”
But to the outraged electorate that feels that all of this should have happened before the national outrage, it does little to tamp down on the anger and continued mistrust of the police by the state’s black population, and specifically its black males. Not to mention the historically documented racial tension that continues to simmer in Sanford.
Night after night, hours and hours of television are presented with hosts and “expert” guests talking about the particulars of this case, Florida’s “stand your ground” law and the localized racism obvious to everyone who’s even barely been informed about the handling of this debacle.
Norm Wolfinger shown at right
A Sheep In Wolf’s Clothing
On Thursday, Seminole County State Attorney Norman R. Wolfinger recused himself from the case, sending a letter to Scott requesting that another prosecutor be assigned.
“In the interest of the public safety of the citizens of Seminole County and to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, I would respectfully request the executive assignment of another state attorney for the investigation and any prosecution arising from the circumstances surrounding the death of Trayvon B. Martin,” Wolfinger said in a statement.
“This request is being made in light of the public good with the intent of toning down the rhetoric and preserving the integrity of this investigation.”
During a meeting, Gov. Scott promised Trayvon Martin’s family that the state attorney – who initially declined to press charges against shooter George Zimmerman – would step aside. And now he is.
In an executive order, Scott said Jacksonville-area State Attorney Angela Corey has accepted an assignment to handle the case. Corey, whose office handles prosecutions in Duval, Clay and Nassau counties, was elected state attorney in 2008. A Republican, she was a long-time prosecutor before getting elected state attorney.
Wolfinger said in his statement Thursday that he said he was confident in the ability of his office to “conduct a fair and impartial investigation.”
“I have already committed experienced career prosecutors and investigators to this task who have been working diligently,” said Wolfinger, who has scheduled a grand jury look into the matter on April 10. “We will cooperate fully with the appointed state attorney to assure a smooth transition of the investigation.”
Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee has stepped down during the Trayvon Martin investigation
Sanford Police Chief Steps Down … Temporarily
The Wolfinger announcement followed the morning reveal by Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee that he was “temporarily” stepping down from his post until the Trayvon Martin thing is settled. Lee has been on the job less than a year. It is a good bet that we won’t see him back – at least not in Sanford.
“I am keenly aware of the emotions associated with this tragic death of a child,” said Lee, as reported by WESH. “I am also aware that my role as the leader of this agency has become a distraction from the investigation.”
Lee said that while he stands by the Sanford Police Department, “it is apparent that my involvement is overshadowing the process. Therefore I have come to the decision that I must temporarily remove myself from the position as the police chief of the city of Sanford.”
Now, there’s a new sheriff – I mean police chief – in town. But the appointment – albeit temporarily – of Sanford Police Chief Capt. Scott O’Connor to be the interim chief will probably do little to appease locals, whose confidence in the Sanford Police to play fair is currently in question.
“I do this in hopes of restoring some semblance of calm to the city, which has been in turmoil for several weeks,” added Lee of his chess move right off the board.
Lee has been at the center of most of the criticisms in this case for his department’s failure to arrest Zimmerman after the incident, letting him go simply based on his word that it was self defense. This despite Zimmerman failing to follow the police’s advice to let them handle the situation and to stay in his car.
Then there’s this little gem: Since giving his statement to police, investigation has shown that Zimmerman may have used a racial slur (“coon”) while on the phone with 911, as reported by Sunshine Slate.
Chief Lee no doubt hasn’t relished him time in the media and under the national microscope. On Friday, WESH reported that a Melbourne Beach man was arrested and charged for making death threats against Lee.
FLAG Pam Bondi (right) will help form task force
“Stand Your Ground” Law Gets Task Force
On Thursday, Gov. Scott formed a task force that will review the state’s controversial “stand your ground” law in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting.
The Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection will start meeting after Corey’s investigation into Martin’s death, hold hearings and ultimately make recommendations to Scott and the Legislature.
“As we exercise our right to be free and secure both in public and in the privacy of our own homes, it is important that we have an open and honest discussion on these issues so that we might help avoid such tragedies in the future,” Scott said.
Scott said legislative leaders and Florida Attorney General (FLAG) Pam Bondi will recommend other members.
The stand-your-ground law has drawn heavy criticism since Martin, 17, was killed as he walked to the home of his father’s girlfriend home in a gated community. Lawmakers passed the self-defense law in 2005, allowing people to stand their ground and shoot – instead of retreat – if they think they are in danger.
The Trayvon Martin case has spurred criticism of the law – and its application in this case – across the country.
State Sen. Gary Siplin (D-19/Orlando) had called Wednesday for a special prosecutor and issued a statement Thursday night praising Scott’s decision to appoint Corey and the task force.
“I am pleased Gov. Scott had the wisdom and foresight to listen to the pleas of the thousands of citizens in the city of Sanford who are yearning for justice in the killing of Trayvon Martin,” Siplin said.
By: Mark Christopher/Sunshine Slate. Additional reporting by Jim Saunders/The News Service of Florida
Lead image: Trayvon Martin family