Fired Punta Gorda officer used personal gun in deadly citizen's academy shooting

Posted at 11:09 PM, Mar 15, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-15 23:09:43-04

A former Punta Gorda police officer who shot and killed a woman during a citizen's academy training used his personal gun during the incident, according to newly released documents from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE).

Hundreds of investigative documents related to the death investigation of Mary Knowlton, 73, were released Wednesday.

The documents included photos of the shooting scene, along with interviews with the 31 attendees and all officers present the night Knowlton was shot and killed.

According to investigators, Coel used a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver during the demonstration. Coel reportedly loaded it with bullets given to him by another officer. That officer told investigators they were moving and "had some old ammunition they wanted to get rid of." The officer believed the two boxes of ammunition given to Coel were filled with blank rounds.

Coel reportedly tested the .38 revolver with the ammunition he was given during a demonstration at the CCSO shooting range sometime in July 2016, weeks before Knowlton's death.

Investigators determined Coel did not realize he was shooting live rounds at the range.

Coel reportedly used the same ammunition on August 9th when Knowlton was shot. Investigators say he stored the ammunition in the back of his K-9 squad car; in a separate place from the ammunition for his duty weapon.

Images from the scene show spent shell casings on the ground, and a bullet hole on the driver side door of a vehicle. 

Two of the four shots Coel fired hit Knowlton.

A witness told detectives "he was bothered by the sound of the shots because they were too loud for blanks."

A captain and lieutenant responsible for performing a safety check on Coel's gun, both told investigators they didn't check Coel or his weapon before the demonstration.

When shown pictures of the blank and live rounds, investigators say Coel and other officer's that were interviewed couldn't tell the difference between the two.

FLDE concluded there wasn't any evidence indicating Coel intentionally used live rounds. Coel was fired from the Punta Gorda police department after being charged with felony manslaughter.

Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis has been charged with culpable negligence; he is on paid administrative leave.