Haitian-American Norton Bonaparte Mixed in Racially Charged Murder Case

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Saturday, 24 March 2012 18:18

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SANFORD, USA (defend.ht) - Haitian-American Norton Bonaparte Jr has found himself in the middle of a racially charged killing of an unarmed Central Florida teenager walking home in a gated neighborhood.

The story of 17-year old Trayvon Martin landed on Bonaparte, the City Manager of Sanford, during the NBA All-Star Weekend, held in Orlando, Florida February 26.

Martin was walking home during halftime after purchasing Skittles and an Arizona Iced Tea from the local 7-Eleven when a neighborhood watchman, 28 year old, George Zimmerman, shot and killed him.

Zimmerman is claiming self-defense but the public is not buying it. Millions of signatures on a petition to the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have expressed that outrage.

In the city of Sanford, Bonaparte is one of the only black public officials. His experience is in New Jersey, as a professor at Rutgers University and city manager positions in Camden, Willington and on the Plainfield City Council.

His former colleagues feel that he is best suited to handled the situation. Plainfield City Council President Adrian Mapp said, "he is a very calm, cool and collected individual who never gets ruffled under pressure." But "still, I can imagine that this is a very difficult time for Mr. Bonaparte."

03/23 Update
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“In respect to him dealing with a crisis, I believe he’ll do the right thing,” said Assemblyman Angel Fuentes, of Camden New Jersey, who was president of city council during Bonaparte’s tenure. “He has a way of trying to bring everybody to the table and really listening to all parties.”

But in Willingboro, NJ where Bonaparte was township manager in the late 1990s, Mayor Eddie Campbell Jr. said he wants to see stronger action.

“I think he’ll handle it fairly, but I don’t agree with the way he’s handled it so far,” said Campbell, who noted Bonaparte has the authority to fire Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee. “He may yet take the proper action that he should take.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he recommended for the police chief to remove himself,” said Fuentes, who noted Bonaparte worked him toward formation of Camden’s Human Relations Committee.

Bonaparte’s role in the saga received national attention this week, when he posted a letter to the community on Sanford’s municipal website Monday, traveled to Washington, D.C. to speak with federal elected officials, and participated in a Thursday news conference during which Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee announced he was stepping down temporarily.

“On behalf of the employees of the City of Sanford, our deepest sympathy and prayers go out to the family and friends of Trayvon Martin,” he wrote in a public letter. “As a father, I can only (imagine) the pain Trayvon’s family must be going through.”

A few hours before the announcement, Bonaparte told USA Today that he would await the results of state and federal investigations before deciding Lee’s ultimate fate.

“I want to know if there were things they (Sanford police) should have done that they didn’t do, or things they did that they shouldn’t have done,” Bonaparte said during the news conference.

Bonaparte became Sanford’s city manager in September of last year, after holding the same position in Topeka, Kan. Among other posts, he also served as township manager of Willingboro in the late 1990s.
Bonaparte became the state-appointed overseer for municipal operations in Camden in November 2000, but only after a legal fight over his authority to hold the job. Gov. Christine Whitman initially named him to the post in September 2000, at a time when the state was overseeing Camden’s finances.
Then-Mayor Milton Milan balked at accepting Bonaparte, and city council gave the post to its own choice, Heriberto `Eddie' Colon. Both men claimed the business administrator's title, but a state court eventually ruled in Bonaparte’s favor.
Bonaparte was fired in October 2002 at the onset of a state-funded turnaround program in Camden.
However, he remained in office on an interim basis until April 2003 before becoming city administrator in Plainfield, Union County.
Bonaparte graduated from Cornell University with a Masters in Public Administration and attended the Worcester Polytechnic Institute for Civil Engineering. He graduated in 1971 from the Brooklyn County Technical High School.