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Police Chief And Officer Arrested After Citizen Police Academy Death

Police Chief And Officer Arrested After Citizen Police Academy Death

Photo:  Officer Lee Coel (left) and Chief Tom Lewis (right) were both arrested following the investigation.

The officer who is believed to have accidentally shot and killed a retired librarian during a citizens academy ‘shoot, don’t shoot‘ exercise has been charged with manslaughter, according to arresting documents.

Officer Lee Coel and Punta Gorda (FL) Chief of Police Tom Lewis were arrested Wednesday. Lewis was charged with culpable negligence, according to the state attorney’s office.

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The charges come after the state attorney’s review of an investigation into the shooting death of Mary Knowlton, which was conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

After the shooting in August, Lewis called the 73-year-old woman’s death a “horrific accident.”

The incident happened during a roll-playing exercise designed to give citizens an idea of the life-and-death situations officers face. Mary Knowlton volunteered to play the role of a police officer during the demonstration, while Coel played the bad guy. His gun should have been loaded with blanks, but Knowlton was hit with a live round. She died shortly afterward at the hospital.

The Citizens Academy is designed to teach local civics to civilians who apply for the eight-week course, according to Punta Gorda’s website.

The day after the incident, Chief Tom Lewis stated, “I am devastated for everyone involved in this unimaginable event. If you pray, please pray for Mary’s family, and for the officers who were involved. Everyone involved in this accident is in a state of overwhelming shock and grief.”

Chief Tom Lewis contacted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the events that surrounded the incident. Today, he was arrested following that same investigation.


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