More witnesses testify at Punta Gorda Police Chief trial

Posted at 8:38 PM, Jun 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-28 06:41:07-04

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. -- Trial continued Tuesday, as Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis battles culpable negligence charges in the shooting death of 73-year-old librarian Mary Knowlton.

Knowlton was at a citizen's police academy when she was shot and killed by officer Lee Coel during a shoot-don't-shoot role play scenario with wadcutter bullets instead of blanks. Lewis made this statement after the incident: "As your chief of police, I accept full responsibility for the actions of my department, my officers, and the bottom line is I am 100% accountable."

The jury saw that statement on video, Tuesday. The state argued Chief Lewis did not check the gun Lee Coel used when he shot Knowlton nor did he assign a safety officer to do so. The claim a safety officer is always present during other police training sessions that involve gun, and believe one should have been at the citizens academy as well.

However, Lewis' attorney said there is plenty of blame to go around. The defense claims Lt. Katie Heck, communications person at the time of the incident, made the itinerary of the event and was responsible for staffing all necessary roles, including a safety officer. They also pointed out Heck gave Coel the bullets a month prior, thinking they were blanks.

The defense also argues Captain Jeffery Woodard should have done more. He was seen that night carrying out other safety duties, so the defense said it was reasonable for Chief Lewis to believe he would check Coel's revolver as well.

Finally, the defense argued Coel himself should have checked the box the ammunition belonged to, and should have never pointed the gun directly at Knowlton in the first place. They also said if Coel knew his gun had not been checked, he had the responsibility to speak up about it.