Chief Lewis placed on Administrative Leave during investigation

Officer Coel to get hearing
Posted at 10:35 AM, Feb 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-23 19:21:23-05

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. -- The fallout from a tragic fatal shooting in Punta Gorda last year continued Thursday with the announcement that Police Chief Tom Lewis has been placed on Administrative Leave while under investigation.

City Manager Howard Kunik made the announcement at a press conference Thursday morning.

Kunik says a full Internal Affairs investigation will take place, and during that time, Capt. Jason Ciaschini will act as interim chief.

Officer Lee Coel has also been given a notice of pre-disciplinary hearing for his role in the tragic shooting, to determine the future of his employment with the force.

The State Attorney office announced Wednesday that Officer Coel is being charged with a 1st degree felony manslaughter with a firearm in the shooting and killing of Mary Knowlton. Chief Lewis is being charged with 2nd degree misdemeanor culpable negligence.

On August 9th, 2016, 73-year-old Mary Knowlton was shot and killed by Officer Coel during a "shoot/don't shoot" drill conducted as part of a Citizen Police Academy attended by 35 civilians.  Chief Lewis was supervising the event when the tragic shooting occurred.

During Thursday's press conference, Kunik took time to offer his personal support for the police department and Chief Lewis. "I know our police department is a high quality police department," he said, citing "constant positive feedback" from community members and quality assurance reviews with the public.

"I also know Tom Lewis is a fine man.  I know he is committed to excellence in his profession, and has the best interest of the community at heart. If you believe otherwise," he stressed.  "You just don't know him."