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Punta Gorda Officer and Chief Charged in Death of Librarian
Thu Feb 23, 2017 03:48
2604:2d80:4019:83b8:7d31:c8b:766a:464

Punta Gorda officer and chief charged in death of librarian

Mary Knowlton is shown in family photos during an interview with her son Steve Knowlton Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016, in Punta Gorda, Fla.
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Police say an officer accidentally shot Mary to death during a citizen's academy "shoot/don't shoot" exercise Tuesday evening. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Photographer Sue Paquin captured this image of Punta Gorda police officer Lee Coel
http://i.imgur.com/8WGdpGB.png
as he fired a round that struck 73-year-old Mary Knowlton, who was standing on the opposite side of the police car. Knowlton later died as a result of the injury. Photo by Sue Paquin

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Mary Knowlton. Herald-Tribune archive / 2006

Mary Knowlton of Punta Gorda was killed when she was "mistakenly struck with a live round" during a live role play of a "shoot/don't shoot" scenario" during a Punta Gorda Citizens Academy session at police headquarters on Tuesday, August 9, 2016.

A Punta Gorda police officers is on administrative leave as the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigates the incident.

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Police Chief Thomas P. Lewis said the incident was "absolutely devastating" at a press conference late Tuesday night. (8-9-2016 -- STAFF PHOTO / CARLOS R. MUNOZ)

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Posted Feb 22, 2017 at 4:03 PM
Updated at 8:47 AM

Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Sarasota, FL
Manslaughter charges for Lee Coel, culpable negligence for Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis.

By Carlos R. Munoz
Staff Writer

CHARLOTTE COUNTY — The Punta Gorda police officer involved in the fatal shooting of a retired librarian during an August community police academy has been arrested and will face manslaughter charges, state prosecutors said.

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Lee Coel, 28, was arrested Wednesday, accused of felony manslaughter.

Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis was charged with culpable negligence, a misdemeanor, but was not arrested. Lewis received a summons to appear in court.

For manslaughter, Coel could be sentenced to 30 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The chief could face 60 days in jail.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents completed their criminal investigation into the Aug. 9 shooting and submitted their report to prosecutors in the 20th Judicial Circuit, who found probable cause to charge Coel and Lewis.

"There is a very voluminous amount of information we reviewed,"
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State Attorney Stephen B. Russell said during a press conference on Wednesday.

"We looked at the crime scene, photographs and videos of the incident.

We went through a large volume of investigative material from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Many people were interviewed for what happened at the scene.

"Looking at the totality of the facts and evidence brought our office to this decision."

Russell said the FDLE report would not be available until discovery is requested by the defense. The report would then be made public to those who request it. That may not happen for several weeks, he said.

"To the citizens of Charlotte County, I want to say that while my office is endeavoring to responsibly address this difficult, somewhat unique, tragic event, Charlotte County continues to be well served by its law enforcement community," Russell said.

In what was billed as a training demonstration as part of a special "Chamber Police Night" for local business leaders and others at the Police Department, Coel pointed a revolver — which he believed was loaded with blanks — at 73-year-old Mary Knowlton and pulled the trigger several times, according to accounts.

Knowlton fell dead. Her husband watched from just feet away.

Lewis placed Coel, hired by the agency in 2014, on paid administrative leave, a common response to officer-involved shootings.

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Punta Gorda City Manager Howard Kunik said in November that a "fair" and "mutual" deal was reached between the family of the retired librarian and the city of Punta Gorda.

The Knowlton family was paid $2,060,234.23 from the city's insurance and damage recovery funds.

The settlement agreement signed by Gary Knowlton and his attorney was approved unanimously by the Punta Gorda City Council as a consent agenda item.
http://i.imgur.com/XAfUupi.png

Kunik said the agreement did not affect the FDLE investigation, and that the settlement was not an admission of guilt. He said it was meant to avoid the cost of a lawsuit.

Coel, a K-9 officer, also was involved in a $70,000 settlement between Punta Gorda and Richard Schumacher. The settlement stemmed from an October 2015 incident where Coel attempted to stop Schumacher from riding his bike, which had a broken taillight, by using his trained police dog.
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In Coel's dashcam video he is heard saying, "Stop now or I'll send the dog."
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Schumacher did not obey and the 28-year-old officer parked his car and released his dog, "Spirit," which chased Schumacher who was on foot.
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Schumacher' had bite injuries that were so severe he required surgery and an 11-day hospital stay. He pled guilty to DUI on a bicycle and obstructing a police officer without violence.

Kunik said an outside consultant who specializes in cases involving police dogs said in October that Coel should not be fired.
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Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents completed their criminal investigation into the Aug. 9 shooting and submitted their report to prosecutors in the 20th Judicial Circuit, who found probable cause to charge Coel and Lewis.

"There is a very voluminous amount of information we reviewed," State Attorney Stephen B. Russell said during a press conference on Wednesday.

"We looked at the crime scene, photographs and videos of the incident. We went through a large volume of investigative material from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Many people were interviewed for what happened at the scene.

"Looking at the totality of the facts and evidence brought our office to this decision."

Russell said the FDLE report would not be available until discovery is requested by the defense. The report would then be made public to those who request it. That may not happen for several weeks, he said.

"To the citizens of Charlotte County, I want to say that while my office is endeavoring to responsibly address this difficult, somewhat unique, tragic event, Charlotte County continues to be well served by its law enforcement community," Russell said.

In what was billed as a training demonstration as part of a special "Chamber Police Night" for local business leaders and others at the Police Department, Coel pointed a revolver — which he believed was loaded with blanks — at 73-year-old Mary Knowlton and pulled the trigger several times, according to accounts.

Knowlton fell dead. Her husband watched from just feet away.

Lewis placed Coel, hired by the agency in 2014, on paid administrative leave, a common response to officer-involved shootings.

Punta Gorda City Manager Howard Kunik said in November that a "fair" and "mutual" deal was reached between the family of the retired librarian and the city of Punta Gorda. The Knowlton family was paid $2,060,234.23 from the city's insurance and damage recovery funds.

The settlement agreement signed by Gary Knowlton and his attorney was approved unanimously by the Punta Gorda City Council as a consent agenda item.

Kunik said the agreement did not affect the FDLE investigation, and that the settlement was not an admission of guilt. He said it was meant to avoid the cost of a lawsuit.

Coel, a K-9 officer, also was involved in a $70,000 settlement between Punta Gorda and Richard Schumacher. The settlement stemmed from an October 2015 incident where Coel attempted to stop Schumacher from riding his bike, which had a broken taillight, by using his trained police dog.

In Coel's dashcam video he is heard saying, "Stop now or I'll send the dog."
http://i.imgur.com/nklb12f.png
Schumacher did not obey and the 28-year-old officer parked his car and released his dog, "Spirit," which chased Schumacher who was on foot.

Schumacher' had bite injuries that were so severe he required surgery and an 11-day hospital stay. He pled guilty to DUI on a bicycle and obstructing a police officer without violence.

Kunik said an outside consultant who specializes in cases involving police dogs said in October that Coel should not be fired.

That was two months after the death of Knowlton.

Officer who accidentally shot 73-year-old woman 'was going to kill somebody,' lawyer claims
Published August 11, 2016 FoxNews.com

The lawyer for a man who lodged an excessive force complaint against the Florida cop who mistakenly shot and killed a 73-year-old woman Tuesday said he'd warned people the officer “was going to kill somebody.”
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Attorney Scott Weinberg represented Richard Schumacher in an excessive force complaint against Punta Gorda Police Officer Lee Coel, 28. The grievance stemmed from an incident that occurred just nine months before Coel shot Mary Knowlton during a public “shoot/don’t shoot” demonstration.

Chief Tom Lewis said Thursday he was taking “full responsibility” for the shooting. He expected the state agency to finish its investigation in about two to four weeks.

“I was demanding that he be fired months ago, and I was warning people he was going to kill somebody,” Weinberg told The News-Press.

Weinberg, who termed Coel a “cowboy,” said his client was severely injured when he was mauled by Coel’s K-9 for several minutes on Oct. 30, 2015. Coel allegedly unleashed the dog after he claimed Schumacher resisted arrest. Coel had initially pulled Schumacher over for riding a bike without a headlight or taillight. The case is still pending.

“I don’t think he [shot Knowlton] intentionally at all,” Weinberg said. “I’m not saying that – but he does not have proper skills to be a police officer. If he would have been fired, this wouldn’t have happened.”

After an internal review of the Schumacher incident, Coel received additional training and Punta Gorda changed its rules on when police dogs could be used to apprehend a suspect, The Florida Record reported. Coel was not disciplined, according to The News-Press.

The Punta Gorda gig was Coel’s second stint as a police officer. He had previously resigned from the Miramar Police Department on April 16, 2013 after a 14-month tenure there.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement told The News-Press that Coel left for failing to satisfactorily complete an agency field training program, though Coel, in his resignation letter, said he was leaving for personal reasons.

Less than a year later, in March 2014, Coel was hired by Punta Gorda.

Coel was identified Wednesday as the officer who fired the shots that killed Knowlton in front of more than 30 people at a Punta Gorda Chamber Police Night event.

Knowlton was playing the “victim” in the exercise. Coel, dressed in a hooded sweatshirt and black facemask, holding a revolver, was tasked with being the “bad guy.” His revolver was supposed to be loaded with blanks, The News-Press reported.

“Officer Coel is frequently seen throughout our community providing department presentations and tours and specifically role-playing in these shoot/don’t shoot scenarios as well as a police presence at youth and neighborhood events,” a Wednesday statement on the Punta Gorda Police Dept. Facebook page said.

“Like the rest of our community, Officer Coel is devastated by what happened and is receiving assistance from our department and the Police Benevolent Association at this time.”

Knowlton's son, Steven, told The News-Press his mother would have expected him to forgive the officer. “I know the officer didn’t mean for this to happen. I know he’s in his own hell.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2016/08/11/lawyer-cop-who-accidentally-shot-woman-73-was-going-to-kill-somebody.html

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Punta Gorda settles with shooting victim's family for $2M
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Mourners embrace at the funeral service for Mary Knowlton, who was shot and killed during a role-play of a lethal force simulation. HERALD-TRIBUNE

Mary Knowlton was killed during 'Chamber Police Night' in August

By Carlos R. Munoz
Staff Writer

PUNTA GORDA — City Manager Howard Kunik said a deal between the family of a retired librarian who was killed during a police demonstration and the city of Punta Gorda was a "fair" and "mutual" agreement giving both sides closure.

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Gary Knowlton, the husband of Mary Knowlton, 73, who was shot and killed during a "Chamber Police Night" Aug. 9, signed the agreement last week, which releases the City and its police officers from liability for the incident.

In exchange, the Knowlton family is being paid $2,060,234.23 from the city's insurance and damage recovery funds.

The settlement agreement signed by Gary Knowlton and his attorney
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Forrest J. Bass was approved unanimously Wednesday morning by the Punta Gorda City Council as a consent agenda item.

Punta Gorda police chief placed on leave in death of librarian
February 23, 2017
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"Obviously this is a sad tragedy for everyone involved," said Julie McGillivray during citizen's comments.

McGillivray questioned council members about whether the payout would affect the city's insurance policy, future premiums and chances of renewal.

"Some people were curious also why the settlement is being put forth before the FDLE (Florida Department of Law Enforcement) report has been completed, and discussed publicly," McGillivray said. "I've got the utmost of respect for everyone involved, certainly the police officers and the City Council. These are just some of the citizen's questions I believe would be helpful for people to learn about."

McGillivray was the only person to speak, and council members were not required to address concerns before approving the consent budget, which included the settlement.

"It gives closure for the family and the city as well," Kunik told the Herald-Tribune.

The city manager said the agreement does not affect the recently completed FDLE investigation, which is being reviewed by the State Attorney's Office.

The deal is not an admission of guilt, and is meant to avoid the cost of a lawsuit, Kunik said.

"We felt it was the right thing to do," he said.

Several seasoned trial attorneys told the Herald-Tribune that the city potentially dodged much higher claims. Had a suit, for example, been filed in federal court, trial attorneys could have potentially gotten the Knowlton family much more money — perhaps millions more.

Mary Knowlton was one of two volunteers randomly picked for a "shoot, don't shoot" scene, which simulated an officer's decision to use simulated force on a suspect. Police officer Lee Coels acted as the bad guy during the scene.

Knowlton who was supposed to participate in the second demonstration swapped with another volunteer who wasn't ready to go. Coels pointed a real revolver at Knowlton that he believed was loaded with blanks, and pulled the trigger.

Multiple live rounds struck and killed Knowlton, as her husband watched nearby.

The Police Department has changed policies following the incident related to firearms, training and hiring of police personnel. A new policy for storing weapons has been instituted to ensure non-lethal weapons are stored in a secure area separate from the armory.

— Staff writer Lee Williams contributed to this report.

http://wfla.com/2016/11/02/punta-gorda-police-create-new-guidelines-after-citizens-academy-shooting-death/

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