Punta Gorda (FL) Police Department officer playing a “bad guy” in a role-playing scenario became a killer in real life when he pumped real bullets from a real handgun into a 73-year-old retired librarian.

A Punta Gorda police officer accidentally shot and killed a woman during a Citizens Academy on Tuesday evening.

Mary Knowlton, 73, was shot during a roleplay scenario in which the officer was playing a “bad guy” and fired several times at the woman who was supposed to be playing the victim, according to Sue Paquin, a photographer who was covering the event for the Sun and witnessed the incident.

Knowlton was transported to Lee Memorial Hospital where she was pronounced dead.

The Punta Gorda Police Department hosted approximately 35 civilians from the community for a two-hour Citizen Police Academy, during which time two participants were randomly selected to be put through a “shoot/don’t shoot” scenario in which they make decisions on using simulated lethal force in a live role play, according to a press release from the department.

Ladies and gentlemen, this was not an “accident.” An accident is when you stub your toe or pick up someone else’s drink off the table.

This was gross incompetence and a violation of every force-on-force safety protocol that I’ve ever been exposed in a training environment, and likely rises to the level of a criminally negligent homicide.

I’ve participated in force-on-force role-playing with three different training systems.

  • realistic airsoft guns
  • Simunitions
  • Ultimate Training Munitions (UTM)

The realistic airsoft guns we used were gas-powered and fired 6mm soft plastic BBs that bounce off the person shot. Simunitions and UTM are very similar, and fire what are essentially wax bullets that leave a splash of color where they impact.

Safety Protocols

Scenario-based role-playing has been around for decades and the safety basics are well established. An area for the role-playing exercise is defined, and all potential weapons are removed from that area. The role-players are then searched (often by two people), and anything than can hurt another person is removed. This goes beyond firearms and pocket knives to watches, pens, and jewelry. In many facilities, role-players are then wanded with a metal detector to make sure that nothing has been missed.IMG_8101

It is only after the training area has been secured and the role-players have been cleared that the role-players suit up in personal protective equipment, which always includes eye protection, but can (and arguably should in a force-on-force environment) include helmets with facemasks and throat protectors, protective gloves, and chest protectors. Simunitions requires groin protection as well.

It is only after role-players have been searched and put on their personal protective equipment (PPE) that they are brought to an area where an instructor will issue training weapons that he or she has personally inspected. This includes examining every single training cartridge loaded into every single clearly-marked training magazine for every single training gun. It’s important to note that training guns cannot chamber or fire real ammunition.


The role-players are given a final safety brief, the scenario is explained, and the role-player is then “armed” and the scenario begins.

Somehow, the Punta Gorda Police Department short-circuited all of these well-known role-playing safety protocols.

The officer’s live weapon and ammunition were not removed from the training area. He was not (competently) searched. No one inspected his weapon to make sure it had a conversion kit that can’t use real bullets, and they didn’t inspect his ammunition to ensure that each and every round on his body and in his gun was a marking round.

I’d be willing to bet that safety protocols were ignored because they viewed this as “only” a citizens academy, and not “real” force-on-force training.

This failure to follow protocols lead to a woman’s death, and there should be criminal charges for the officer who fired the shots and whoever was in charge of this scenario.