The story behind the shooting death of a 73-year-old retired librarian by a police officer during a citizens academy meeting in Punta Gorda just keeps getting worse.
Lee Coel, the 28-year-old officer who fired the fatal shots, was already the subject of an excessive force complaint for allegedly allowing his K9 to maul a suspect nine months ago.
The lawyer for a man who lodged an excessive force complaint against the Florida cop who mistakenly shot and killed a 73-year-old woman Tuesday said he’d warned people the officer “was going to kill somebody.”
Attorney Scott Weinberg represented Richard Schumacher in an excessive force complaint against Punta Gorda Police Officer Lee Coel, 28. The grievance stemmed from an incident that occurred just nine months before Coel shot Mary Knowlton during a public “shoot/don’t shoot” demonstration.
“I was demanding that he be fired months ago, and I was warning people he was going to kill somebody,” Weinberg told The News-Press.
Weinberg, who termed Coel a “cowboy,” said his client was severely injured when he was mauled by Coel’s K-9 for several minutes on Oct. 30, 2015. Coel allegedly unleashed the dog after he claimed Schumacher resisted arrest. Coel had initially pulled Schumacher over for riding a bike without a headlight or taillight. The case is still pending.
Weinberg’s complaints about Coel could easily be blown off as grandstanding by an attorney looking to profit from Coel’s misfortune, except the fact that the Punta Gorda felt it was necessary to change department rules and retrain Coel on the proper use of his K9 after the incident.
Also hurting his case is the apparent fact that he was dismissed from his prior department for not being able to cut it in the field.
The Punta Gorda gig was Coel’s second stint as a police officer. He had previously resigned from the Miramar Police Department on April 16, 2013 after a 14-month tenure there. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement told The News-Press that Coel left for failing to satisfactorily complete an agency field training program, though Coel, in his resignation letter, said he was leaving for personal reasons.
Coel is starting to sound like he simply was not cut out to be a police officer, somewhat like Timothy Loehmann, the Cleveland Police officer who shot and killed Tamir Rice. Loehmann had been bounced out of a previous department for not being mentally fit for the job.
The obvious difference between Loehmann and Coel is that despite all his screw-ups, Loehmann did exactly what his training taught him to do when he saw Tamir Rice reach for a realistic gun in his waistband, a fact proven beyond the shadow of a doubt by the enhanced security video.
Coel has no such excuse. In a relaxed environment working with the community, he failed to follow basic, well-known procedures to ensure that role-playing scenarios are as safe as possible, and managed to shoot a citizen with his duty weapon and ammunition.
This was not a “mistake.”
This was not “an accident.”
This was a criminally negligent homicide, and deserves to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Update: Charlotte Sun photographer Sue Paquin was covering the “shoot/don’t shoot” scenario and snapped a photo as Officer Coel fired the fatal shot.
Coel was equipped with what appears to be a .38 revolver for the scenario. Simuntions requires the use of “safety rings” to prevent live ammunition from being chambered (PDF) in revolvers intended for Simunitions role-playing scenarios.
These rings were clearly not installed.
Who had the responsibility of ensuring that the safety rings were installed in this revolver, and who had the responsibility of inspecting the ammunition to ensure it was only loaded with marker rounds?