Punta Gorda Police host first 'Coffee with the Chief' event after citizen's academy shooting

Posted at 7:25 PM, Sep 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-06 19:25:57-04
PUNTA GORDA, Fla. -- Punta Gorda Police Chief Thomas Lewis held the first 'Coffee with the Chief' event since the shooting death of a resident during role-play demonstration. 
"We don't hide from criticism," said Chief Tom Lewis, as he addressed the packed room. 
Lewis says he was asked if he would cancel the event but chose not to in order to maintain complete transparency. 
"Just like I wouldn't cancel coffee with the chief I don't plan on bailing out on the community the first time things get tough," said Chief Lewis.
Most of the questions were about the officer who shot and killed Mary Knowlton during a citizens academy 'Shoot/Don't Shoot' demonstration on August 9th. 
Officer Lee Coel, who is on paid-leave, fired live rounds at Knowlton instead of blanks. The department has said the shooting was an accident. Some in the crowd brought up Coel's forced resignation from the Miramar Police Department amid an internal investigation into two excessive force complaints. 
"Yes there were internal affairs investigations without a question and ,yes, they were based on things that could be concerning but we looked at the totality of his application and background prior to any hiring decision," said Chief Tom Lewis. 
During the meeting, one man challenged the chief to recall at least one other complaint from a business owner about Coel's behavior on a call.
"After officer Coel came there in response to a call that she didn't want to see him there again because he had the guy on the floor, and was overly aggressive. You don't recall that?" said the man who was referred to as Mike. 
"Not specifically Mike," said Chief Lewis. "Could that have happened? sure," he added. 
Coel is currently at the center of an excessive force lawsuit against the Punta Gorda Police Department after he sicced is officer K9 on a drunk bicyclist. An investigation conducted by PGPD concluded Coel did not violate any polices; however the department has since changed it's policy in regards to using officer K9's.   
More policy changes are now in the works following the shooting death of Mary Knowlton. The Department's website states it will now store non-lethal weapons and ammunition in completely separate storage rooms. 
There are also plans to create more rigorous hiring practices; however, there was no explanation on what the changes would be.