Punta Gorda Cop, Chief Charged For Negligent Discharge Death of Retiree

The grossly incompetent Florida police officer who killed a retired librarian last year because he wasn’t bright enough to tell the difference between real bullets and Simunitions, discern that the sound and recoil from a live weapon is vastly different than a Sims shot, and who doesn’t have the common sense to aim away from a civilian during a demo is now facing charges, along with his chief.

The State Attorney office announced Wednesday that Officer Lee Coel is being charged with a 1st degree felony manslaughter with a firearm in the shooting and killing of Mary Knowlton. He has turned himself in at the county jail and has been arrested and processed.

Chief Tom Lewis is being charged with 2nd degree misdemeanor culpable negligence.

On August 9th, 2016, 73-year-old Mary Knowlton was shot and killed during a “shoot/don’t shoot” drill conducted as part of a Citizen Police Academy attended by 35 civilians.

Police Chief Tom Lewis called the incident a horrible accident. “I am devastated for everyone involved in this unimaginable event…Everyone involved in this accident is in a state of overwhelming shock and grief.”

It was later determined that Punta Gorda Police Officer Lee Coel accidentally shot Mary Knowlton with live rounds, instead of blanks.

Let me be very, very clear on this point: this was not an “accident.” This was gross negligence on the parts of both Chief Lewis and Officer Coel.

The revolver used was not set up for sims rounds. Further, there is a huge difference in the weight, look, and feel of Sims rounds when compared to real bullets. Coel fired multiple shots, despite the fact live rounds are much louder and have far more recoil than a sims round, which has very little recoil and is almost silent.

No one sterilized the area of all live weapons and ammunition. No one double-checked the revolver or the loads being used.

This was a crap-show from beginning to end.

Coel probably never should have been hired by Punta Gorda based on incidents at his prior employers, and Lewis has completely failed his community by not following even basic safety protocols himself, or teaching his officers to do so.

Coel is very likely headed to prison on a felony conviction. Lewis, who only faces a misdemeanor, should resign if he had any integrity at all. While Coel pulled the trigger, Lewis figuratively loaded the gun that killed 73-year-old Mary Knowlton by hiring an officer with a questionable record and by not ensuring his department followed even basic safety protocols required when using man-marker systems.

This was an utterly pointless death, in a scenario that would have been less expensive and just as relevant if Officer Coel used a cap gun.

I’m infuriated by this.