The Conversation

Former Sanford Police Chief: City Wanted an Arrest, Mishandled Evidence

Former Sanford police chief Bill Lee says he was pressured to arrest George Zimmerman despite a lack of sufficient evidence to prove he was guilty of a crime.

In an exclusive interview with CNN, Lee recounts how a city manager asked him several times "Well, can an arrest be made now?" Lee also says a city commissioner came to him twice to deliver the same urgent message "It was related to me that all they wanted was an arrest. They didn't care if it got dismissed later."

CNN also asked Lee about the decision by the mayor of Sanford to play a 911 call with someone screaming for help for the Martin family without police present. The mayor invited the Martin family to city hall and played the 911 calls for them as a group. Lee told CNN "It should be done individually so there's no influence on the other people in the room."

The identity of the person screaming for help has been one of the most contentious issues in the case. Voice ID by experts became a major pre-trial battle and, after the judge ruled those experts inadmissible, both sides have presented multiple witnesses claiming they recognize the voice as either Martin or Zimmerman. Testimony at trial by two police officers indicated that Martin's father did not recognize the voice when he first heard the recording, though he later denied this on the stand.

The pressure placed on Lee because of the Zimmerman case led to him being fired in May of 2012. He had been on the job just 10 months. Asked if he has any regrets, Lee told CNN "I'm happy that at the end of the day I can walk away with my integrity."


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