Bill Lee: Sanford Police Chief Actually Helped Trayvon Martin

In an interview with CNN, Bill Lee, the former police chief of Sanford, Florida, defended his handling of the controversial George Zimmerman investigation. After extreme public outrage over the delay in arresting Zimmerman, Lee was sacked for lack of confidence in May after only serving for 10 months. Lee says that when he was told by a city commissioner that all they wanted was an arrest, he explained "you just can't do that… you have to have probably cause to arrest somebody." Despite public outrage concerning the developments of the investigation, Lee's decision to protect Zimmerman's Fourth Amendment right of ensuring probable cause before arrest was ultimately the right one.


On February 26, 2012, Zimmerman fatally shot unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin as he walked to visit his father and his father's fiancée. Zimmerman claims Martin was slamming his head against the pavement before firing his gun in self-defense. In the 44 days between the shooting and Zimmerman's arrest, protest around the nation held by civil rights activists heavily criticized the police investigation. These activists claimed that the delay in charging Zimmerman was influenced by Martin's race and that Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law, which gives Floridians an expansive right to self-defense, gave Zimmerman too much leeway to call the shooting self-defense.

Regardless of people's personal feelings on Zimmerman's guilt, Lee did no wrong in ensuring probable cause was established before arresting Zimmerman. Taking Zimmerman into custody without properly-established probable cause would have certainly hindered the ability to effectively prosecute Zimmerman. As the evidence presented itself on February 26 to the police, there was no probable cause to arrest, but the Sanford police did take further action. After letting Zimmerman go, the Sanford police presented a "capias request" to the state's attorney, which asks the prosecutor to determine whether the shooting was a "justifiable homicide" and whether to issue a warrant for arrest or present the case to a grand jury. This is what led to the eventual arrest of Zimmerman in the currently-ongoing trial, where Zimmerman is being charged with second degree murder.

If anything, Lee ensured that if Zimmerman is indeed guilty of the murder, he will not get off due to a technicality related to the violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. In fact, the public hindered some aspects of the investigation. On March 16, 911 tapes in which neighbors implored for police as a voice in the background screamed for help, were release to Trayvon's family and the public. The family was asked to identify voices without the presence of police assistance or proper criminal investigation control, tainting any possibly valuable testimony gathered. The public release of the tapes also carried the potential of interested persons to concoct a "story about what they observed when they really didn't observe it," said Lee.

The jury of Zimmerman's trial is expected to start deliberating this Friday and the judge has granted them the power to find Zimmerman guilty of manslaughter, if not second-degree murder. If Zimmerman is found guilty of this tragedy, Lee should be thanked as being instrumental in bringing Trayvon and his family justice.

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Kyle Zhu

I am a student studying International Political Economy at the Georgetown University Walsh School of Foreign Service. I love to play tennis, go chess, and have spent an abnormal amount of time playing Settlers of Catan sharpening my skills in cunning and urban planning.

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