Punta Gorda Police Chief found not guilty in culpable negligence trial

Posted at 3:50 PM, Jun 29, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-30 06:44:39-04

CHARLOTTE COUNTY, Fla. -- Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis has been found not guilty of culpable negligence by a jury in the shooting death of Mary Knowlton last year.

Prosecutors argued he was ultimately responsible when live rounds, not blanks, were loaded in a gun officers used for a citizen’s police academy class.

Officer Lee Coel shot and killed Knowlton in that class during a shoot/don’t shoot exercise.  He'll go to trial next year.

The four-day trial ended Thursday with both sides making closing arguments.

“Tom Lewis doesn't have puppet strings on Lee Coel. Tom Lewis doesn't have mind power to control Lee Coel," argued the defense.

"Tom Lewis is the person that authorized the ‘shoot/don't shoot’ scenario. He was involved when it first came into the Punta Gorda Police Department. This was his scenario," argued prosecutors.

Halfway through the three-hour deliberations, the jury requested to take another look at the video showing Officer Coel waving his weapon before killing Knowlton.

Lewis' attorney praised the jury.  However, Knowlton's son Steve hoped for a different result.

"I wish something could have been said about the fact that Lee Coel shouldn't have even had a job there, let alone be the one picked to play the role," he said.  "No checks on the gun, that's just makes no sense at all, no sense."

Mary Knowlton's son also says he will keep fighting to get justice for her.