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Embattled police chief stands aside

The US police chief who has been bitterly criticised for not arresting a neighbourhood watch volunteer in the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager and the Florida county prosecutor have both left the case, with the chief saying that he is temporarily stepping down to let passions cool.

Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee's decision came less than a day after city commissioners gave him a "no confidence" vote, and after a couple of weeks of protests and uproar on social media websites.

Mr Lee has said evidence in the case supported George Zimmerman's assertion that the February 26 shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was in self-defence.

"I do this in the hopes of restoring some semblance of calm to a city which has been in turmoil for several weeks," Mr Lee said.

About three hours later, Governor Rick Scott announced that the local state lawyer, Norman Wolfinger, had recused himself from the case.

In a letter to Mr Scott, Mr Wolfinger said that while he thought he could fairly oversee any prosecution that develops in the case, his recusal was aimed at "toning down the rhetoric and preserving the integrity of the investigation".

Mr Scott appointed a task force led by Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll to conduct hearings on the case and to make recommendations for any changes to state law or procedures. Ms Carroll is African-American.

Mr Martin was returning from a trip to a convenience store when Mr Zimmerman started following him, telling police dispatchers he looked suspicious. At some point, the two got into a fight and Mr Zimmerman pulled out his gun. Mr Zimmerman told police Mr Martin attacked him after he had given up on chasing the teenager and was returning to his sport utility vehicle. Police said 28-year-old Mr Zimmerman is white; his family says he is Hispanic.

The shooting ignited resentment toward the police department in this Orlando suburb for not making an arrest. Civil rights groups have held rallies in Florida and New York, saying the shooting was unjustified.

The Justice Department and FBI have opened a civil rights investigation, and the prosecutor before he quit the case convened a grand jury on April 10 to determine whether to charge Mr Zimmerman.


From Belfast Telegraph