There are stunning new details about a 73-year-old librarian who was accidentally shot and killed by a Punta Gorda police officer during a gun demonstration.
New policy documents show that boxes of live ammunition and blanks were comingled where the gun was loaded. It’s one of many mistakes that led to the shooting of Mary Knowlton. An investigation is still underway to determine what else went wrong.
It also turns out there was no policy in place for community demonstrations, something Chief Tom Lewis is now correcting.
“Without question, this was devastating,” Lewis said. “Typically, the police department are the ones who show up and take care of your pain. We’re not typically the cause of it.”
From now on, real ammo and blanks will be stored separately. The chief explained why they were stored together before.
“As you know, we are a small department. The size of our department is probably one of the most common sizes across the country. Typically you have one armory, where you have all weapons, all ammo,” Lewis explained.
In addition, live weapons will now be banned during scenario-based training.
I’m starting to develop some small degree of sympathy for Lee Coel, the officer who shot and killed Mrs. Knowlton (above, as he is about to fire the fatal shot). While he appears to be a serial screw-up, there are deep and wide department-level problems at the Punta Gorda Police Department that contributed to this incident.
For starters, the .38 revolver Coel used as he played the bad guy was not set up for man-marker rounds. It was instead a real, 100% functional revolver set up with blanks, as neither of the major manufacturers of man-marker rounds make .38 Special blanks with the conversion kits that would have prevented a live round from being fired.
What has not been explained is why Coel was using a real revolver and blanks, when the department has these dedicated Simunition training pistols built upon Glock frames that are designed to take 9mm blank rounds designed by Simunitions, and which cannot chamber a real bullet. There was no need to have this revolver as part of the demonstration, at all.
While Punta Gorda Chief Tom Lewis seems to want to play the “but we’re a small department!” card, the fact remains that safety protocols for simunitions training are well-known and heavily documented.
This was not an “accident.” This was indifference, laziness, and incompetence resulting an easily preventable negligent homicide.
Chief Tom Lewis is resisting calls that he resign following Mrs. Knowlton’s death, stating that, “To think that it’s a good idea to create instability at the police department right now, I don’t think is very wise. I made a commitment to this community when I accepted the chief of police job, and I plan on keeping that commitment.”
It’s clear that Lewis wants to keep his job. The question is whether the residents of Punta Gorda will have faith in the leadership of a department who so clearly and obviously failed to follow even the most basic safety protocols.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) investigation into the shooting death is supposed to be completed in mid-September.