SANFORD, Fla. - Before the charges that police botched the investigation of the shooting of an unarmed black teen, there were complaints that police went easy on an officer's son who beat a black homeless man, or that police pull over black kids for wearing the wrong color hat because they suspect gang associations.
The furor over the failure to charge a neighborhood watch captain for shooting Trayvon Martin to death is the latest episode to inflame racial tensions that have simmered between police and blacks in this Orlando suburb for years. And on Thursday, the department's chief temporarily stepped aside.
Stanford City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr. acknowledged the problems on Friday.
"The issues that have been brought to my attention regarding the black community and the Sanford police department go back 10 years," he said. "There's a lot of work that needs to be done there."
Bonaparte noted Police Chief Bill Lee Jr. took over the department less than a year ago and said he had made improvements in the agency but added: "Certainly that has changed as of right now in terms of the relationship between the black community and the Sanford police department."
Turner Clayton Jr., president of Seminole County's NAACP, had a similar assessment.
"There is no trust," he said. "There is no confidence."
Clayton spoke before Lee and a local prosecutor stepped aside Thursday. The chief was accused by critics of mishandling the investigation of 17-year-old Martin's death.
"I do this in the hopes of restoring some semblance of calm to a city which has been in turmoil for several weeks," Lee said.
The U.S. Department of Justice has launched a civil rights probe and a special prosecutor appointed by the governor is examining the February shooting by watch captain George Zimmerman, 28. Police questioned but never charged Zimmerman after the Feb. 26 shooting of the teen who had gone to a convenience store for Skittles and an iced tea.
The failure to arrest Zimmerman - who said he shot in self-defense after Martin attacked him - and a delay in releasing 911 calls related to the shooting outraged Sanford residents who called it the latest example of bias against blacks.
"They're as crooked as a barrel of fishhooks," said black resident Lula King. She told a town hall meeting this week that her teenage grandson is regularly pulled over by police officers who think he is in a gang because of the red-and-black hats he wears.
"There are two sides to every story, but they don't get but one side," said King, 75.
Lee said he would step aside temporarily to let passions cool, saying he had become a "distraction" in the investigation. Hours later, the prosecutor recused himself from the case. Norman Wolfinger said in a letter to Gov. Rick Scott that his departure was aimed at "toning down the rhetoric" in the case.
Residents had demanded that Lee be fired before he stepped down; afterward, protesters gathering early for a rally chanted "The chief is gone. Zimmerman is next." Others sold T-shirts that read, "Arrest Zimmerman." Lee has said police officers didn't arrest Zimmerman immediately after the Feb. 26 shooting because he claimed self-defense and there was no evidence to contradict his claims.
Florida's self-defense law gives people wide latitude to use deadly force rather than retreat during a fight.