Punta Gorda Police Chief stands trial

Posted at 9:34 PM, Jun 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-27 07:08:21-04

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. -- Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis appeared before a judge on his first day of trial, Monday, as he faces Culpable Negligence charges in the shooting death of local librarian Mary Knowlton.

Last August, Mary Knowlton was taking part in a citizen's police academy when she was accidentally shot with live rounds instead of blanks during a shoot-don't-shoot scenario.

The officer who shot her, Lee Coel, has since been fired and will stand trial next year a manslaughter charge. 

The State argues Chief Lewis was in charge of the event, and did not do enough to protect those at the citizen's academy because there was no one assigned to check a real gun used by Coel. "No one was designated as a safety officer, whose responsibility would be to check all firearms to make sure the ammunition used were actually blanks, said Assistant State Attorney Stephanie Rusell.

The State also questioned why Coel used a real gun while Knowlton used a simulation gun. Coel was wearing safety gear that night, but participants were not. "Chief Lewis said the soap bullets could hurt you," said a witness to the shooting who took part in the academy. 

The State also called a firearms trainer to the stand who heard the shots from elsewhere in the building. "There should be checks, yes, there should be double checks, and the officer should make sure not to point the firearm at someone."

Instead of blanks, Coel's revolver was loaded with wadcutter bullets. Although no one checked the gun, the defense said they look very similar. 

The defense also argued if Coel never would have broken the cardinal rule of gun safety, the shooting never would have happened. "That policy is don't bring in ammo that's not ours, and don't point your gun at anyone," said Defense Attorney Stephen Romine. 

The trial continues Tuesday, at 9 A.M.