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Sanford picks interim police chief amid Martin controversy

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 3:48 PM EDT, Wed May 2, 2012
Richard Myers has been selected as interim chief of police in Sanford, Florida.
Richard Myers has been selected as interim chief of police in Sanford, Florida.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Colorado Springs veteran Richard Myers steps in as Sanford's interim chief
  • Myers, a 35-year veteran, is expected to serve for three to five months
  • Sanford chief Bill Lee stays on administrative leave, the city says
  • Sanford police have been under a microscope since the killing of Trayvon Martin

(CNN) -- Sanford, Florida, city officials have chosen a former Colorado police chief as an interim replacement for the top cop who stepped aside during the furor over February's killing of an unarmed teen.

Richard Myers, the former police chief in Colorado Springs, will take office in Sanford at the end of the week, the city government announced Tuesday. A news conference to introduce Myers is slated for Friday. He will take over a department that has been under the microscope since the February 26 killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch volunteer.

Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee, who attempted to resign last week, will remain on paid administrative leave, according to a statement from city hall. Lee stepped aside as chief after a vote of no-confidence by city commissioners, but the commission voted against accepting his resignation while investigations into Martin's killing are pending.

The case drew nationwide protests when police decided against arresting neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, who told investigators he killed Martin in self-defense. A special prosecutor assigned to look into Martin's death ultimately brought second-degree murder charges against 28-year-old Zimmerman, who has pleaded not guilty and been released on $150,000 bail.

Prosecutors asked for that bail to be increased after learning that contributors had donated more than $200,000 to a legal defense fund he set up. About $5,000 of that went toward the $15,000 cash Zimmerman put up to post bond, defense lawyer Mark O'Mara said last week.

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Zimmerman has been in hiding since the case drew national attention, and he has solicited the money not only for legal fees but also for living expenses. O'Mara said the money has been put into a trust he controls, and his team announced Tuesday that a former IRS agent has been hired as a third-party administrator to handle the funds.

"The fund's administrator will have sole discretion regarding the dispersal of funds, and guidelines will be put in place to define reasonable living expenses for Mr. Zimmerman and his family and to fund necessary legal expenses," the defense team reported on its website. "Neither Mr. Zimmerman nor The O'Mara Law Group will have direct access to the funds."

Donors' names are not being disclosed.

For the next three to five months, Myers "will be responsible for reviewing Sanford Police Department's performance as it relates to the Trayvon Martin case as well as provide overall leadership," according to Colorado Springs police department spokeswoman Barbara Miller.

Myers, a 35-year law enforcement veteran, began his career in the suburbs of Detroit and Chicago before becoming chief of the Appleton, Wisconsin, police department. After that, he took the reins of the Colorado Springs police department in 2007.

Myers resigned that post in 2011 after Stephen Bach was elected as the city's new mayor. It was widely reported that the new mayor forced Myers out, and a press release from Myers upon his retirement in October seemed to bear that out.

"When Mayor Bach was elected, I told him I was here to serve, and would do so loyally and do my best to lead the department in the direction he wanted to take the city, until such time that he felt he needed to bring in his own chief," the release from Myers stated. "Consequently, I have agreed to make room for this to happen by retiring from the CSPD."

Attempts to contact Myers for this report were unsuccessful. A month ago, he was asked to consider the role of interim police chief in Sanford, according to Miller.

She said she believes Myers is well-suited to what is bound to be a challenging, high-pressure assignment in Sanford.

"Chief Richard Myers is a highly intelligent leader with a great law enforcement background who is skilled at analyzing problems and articulating sound recommendations for positive change," she said. "He will bring a unique understanding and clarity to the situation -- as he has always done. We are excited to hear about his new role."

Earlier this year, Myers served a three-month term as interim chief of police in Manitou Springs, a small community outside Colorado Springs.

"I'm a big fan of Richard Myers. He really did a fabulous job here," said Manitou Springs Mayor Marc Snyder.

"He's really going to be able to focus in on the existing situation and build a consensus on the right way to go. I think Richard will be uniquely qualified to find the commonalities in this community and rally them around a common thread."

Myers' time in Colorado Springs ended with a controversy surrounding an undercover sting operation at a Hooters restaurant.

In June 2011, a pair of undercover detectives and an underage informant entered a Hooters restaurant to check to see if the employees there were properly checking for identification when serving alcohol. That Hooters had previously been cited for serving minors.

The restaurant refused to serve the underage informant but the detectives said they witnessed a waitress continue to serve a pair of intoxicated patrons. The detectives left and the restaurant and the waitress later were cited for serving intoxicated patrons.

It later emerged that the detectives had ordered beer and drank at least part of the beer while at the restaurant, and surveillance camera footage of the patrons who were reported to be intoxicated was inconclusive. The charges against Hooters and the waitress were dropped.

Chief Myers and the newly elected mayor, Stephen Bach, asked the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to launch an investigation. Their report cleared the Colorado Springs Police Department of any wrongdoing, finding that the officers followed all appropriate procedures.

The Colorado Springs Gazette and other media reported that Myers dismissed any notion that the Hooter's controversy played a part in his retirement in a Facebook post.

"For those who have assumed that the controversy about a case at a local Hooter's restaurant was responsible for my retirement, I can easily dismiss that one," Myers reportedly wrote. "Day in and day out, the Office of the Chief deals with so many sensitive issues, whether personnel related, crimes, public policy, fiscal ... this one doesn't even register on the Richter scale."

CNN's Jim Spellman in Denver contributed to this report

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