Punta Gorda chief accepts responsibility for tragic shooting

Posted at 12:41 PM, Aug 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-12 10:16:02-04

Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis says he is accepting full responsibility for the tragic shooting the claimed the life of a resident attending a citizens academy workshop.

Lewis held what he called his final briefing on the Tuesday accidental shooting of Mary Knowlton.  Knowlton was shot to death by officer Lee Coel during a "Shoot, Don't Shoot" simulation at the police department Tuesday evening.

Lewis urged the public and media to avoid speculating while the Florida Department of Law Enforcement continues its investigation into the accidental shooting when Coel mistakenly used a revolver with live rounds to shoot Knowlton during a simulation.

Lewis said it would likely be 2-5 more weeks before FDLE finishes its investigation into the shooting and he would be transparent when the findings were released.

Reporters attempted to ask Lewis questions following his prepared remarks, but he quickly walked away from the podium.  Lewis did not indicate if he or Coel would resign.  Coel remains on administrative leave as the investigation continues.

Coel came under fire a few months ago, after dash cam showed him allowing a K-9 to maul a man during a traffic stop.  That person is now suing the department claiming excessive force.

Coel was hired by the Punta Gorda Police Department after having been let go by the Miramar Police Department, because of another incident involving excessive force.

Punta Gorda Attorney Scott Weinberg said Chief Lewis saying he's taking responsibility isn't enough.

"If he doesn't resign, the City Coucil should fire him," Weinberg said.

Weinberg said he's worked several cases against Coel.

When he saw a dashcam video off Coel allowing his K-9 to mail a man during a traffic stop, Weinberg said he thought it might be enough evidence to get Coel fired.

"I've been wanting to get him fired just based on his over-aggressive actions," Weinberg said.

Chief Lewis referenced the controversy during Thursday's news conference, saying he immediately ordered an internal affairs investigation.

"We hired a courtroom certified expert in the field to examine the details. We were as transparent as possible with the public during that incident," Chief Lewis said.

Weinberg said he met with Chief Lewis after the incident, asking him to fire Coel.

"I told everybody that would listen to me that this man was going to kill somebody, and nobody listened, and here we are today," Weinberg said.

Knowlton's son said he knows this was an accident and forgives Officer Coel.

Chief Lewis said they plan to be completely transparent once FDLE's investigation is done.