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Punta Gorda police officer charged with manslaughter still getting paid

Posted at 10:12 PM, Mar 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-02 09:27:46-05

PUNTA GORDA, Fla., - The officer charged with killing a librarian during a Citizens Academy Shoot Don't Shoot training simulation is still getting paid.

That officer, Lee Coel, didn't speak to our cameras after a hearing with the City of Punta Gorda's HR Department Wednesday morning.

Coel was placed on paid administrative leave last August after he shot and killed Mary Knowlton. A criminal investigation later charged him with first degree manslaughter. Former Police Chief Tom Lewis will also be suspended with pay while the internal affairs investigation takes place.

"It's unusual that they're suspended with pay given the serious allegations," said Walt Zalisko, a retired police chief from up north. "It's a irresponsible call on the City's part because you have two officers who are facing criminal charges and they can result in their termination."

4 In Your Corner crunched the numbers and found based on Coel's last known pay rate, he's made more than $22,000 in his six months of suspension.

"To keep paying this officer that type of money is totally ludicrous," Zalisko said.

It's money Zalisko says taxpayers may never see again."It'll be impossible for the city to recover that money if the officer is terminated."

Now, Zalisko is raising questions on who is actually conducting the internal affairs investigation.

City manager Howard Kunik praised Lewis the day after he was placed on administrative leave, calling him a, "fine man."

Zalisko says based on that statement, Punta Gorda should look to a third party to conduct the investigation.

"There's no doubt the police chief may be a wonderful person but his leadership capabilities is what's in question," Zalisko said.

4 In Your Corner reached out to the Kunik for a comment on why Coel is being paid during this months-long investigation.  A spokesperson says the city is required to place Officer Coel on paid leave until his disciplinary hearing, which took place Wednesday. We are told the HR manager should be able to make a decision within 10 days. At that point, Coel will have the right to appeal.