Officer, police chief charged in accidental shooting of Punta Gorda woman

Posted at 12:46 PM, Feb 22, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-23 10:52:16-05

CHARLOTTE COUNTY, Fla. -- Charges have been filed against both the Punta Gorda Police officer involved in an accidental shooting last August and the Police 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.

RELATED: Mary Knowlton"was a great person"

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The Punta Gorda city council has since approved a settlement for over $2 million to the family of Knowlton.

The city has also settled out of court with a man who filed a lawsuit over another incident with Officer Coel.

In that incident, Officer Coel's K-9 mauled a bicyclist during a traffic stop. 

Scott Weinberg represented the victim.  "From that point on, I did some research into Officer Coel and I had been sounding the alarm that he was not fit to be a police officer at that time," Weinberg said.

Since Mary Knowlton's death in August, Coel has been on paid administrative leave.

Now that Chief Lewis has been charged with culpable negligence, will he be able to keep his job as Chief? Four in Your Corner asked Walt Zalisko, a former police chief from up north.

"Definitely creates a credibility issue with him. It would be in the best interest of the entire city, community, that he step up to the plate and resign," Zalisko said.

The City of Punta Gorda is having a press conference to discuss the charges on Thursday morning.