Punta Gorda Police Chief & Officer Charged In Accidental Death During Academy Exercise

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PUNTA GORDA (CBSMiami) – Punta Gorda’s police chief and an officer are being charged in the accidental death of a woman during a citizen’s police academy demonstration.

Mary Knowlton, 73, was taking part in the “shoot/don’t shoot” scenario in August of 2016 when Officer Lee Coel shot and killed her with a weapon that was meant for training.

Chief Tom Lewis is being charged with culpable negligence, which is a misdemeanor.

Officer Coel faces a charge of felony manslaughter.

“In line of this development, Chief Lewis has been placed on an administrative leave with pay, pending further review. In the interim, Captain Jason Caccini will assume the role of acting Chief of Police while we sort this out.”

Punta Gorda city council members approved a $2-million settlement with the Knowlton family in November, nearly three months after the shooting.

Gary Knowlton, Mary’s husband, says he’s following her example of faith to forgive instead of focusing on blame and anger.

“I think it’s a whole series of errors.  I can’t control that stuff and I know there was no ill intent, just mistakes,” he said.

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