Recently released surveillance video shows the fatal shooting of a civilian by a Punta Gorda, Florida, police officer during a role-playing exercise in the police department’s parking lot.
Retired librarian Mary Knowlton, 73, was among a group taking a Citizens Police Academy course on Aug. 9, 2016, and was taking part in a “shoot/don’t shoot” scenario when Officer Lee Coel, playing the part of an armed suspect, raised his weapon and fired several times at Knowlton. The edited video released to the media does not show the actual shooting.
No one immediately reacts as Knowlton falls to the ground. A report from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement states that members of the class thought it was part of the exercise.
Coel and other officers run to Knowlton as they realize she had been shot with real bullets, and call 911 for medical aid.
“I was maybe 10 feet away from her and watched this patrolman who was the ‘bad guy,’ aimed right at her and shoot,” said Knowlton’s husband Gary during a CNN interview. “He turned her over and she looked horrible. Blood all over the place, and I thought, ‘Oh, my God.’”
Gary Knowlton said after the shooting police would not allow him to travel with Mary in the ambulance, sent him to the wrong hospital and no one would immediately tell him her condition. He found out later that his wife died in the ambulance.
The FDLE investigation found no evidence Coel intended to shoot Knowlton. He was terminated from the police department, and will appeal his termination at a hearing scheduled for this week. He has pleaded not guilty to a felony manslaughter charge.
Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis is charged with second-degree misdemeanor culpable negligence. He is on paid administrative leave.