K-9 officer’s file reveals prior accusations of excessive force

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PUNTA GORDA, Fla.- An officer at the center of a controversial arrest was stripped of his badge over complaints of excessive force before arriving at the Punta Gorda Police Department.

K-9 Officer Lee Coel was not disciplined after a take-down in October that left a man severely injured. Dash cam video showed Coel’s canine biting and tugging 25-year-old Richard Shumacher, who authorities say did not obey the officer’s orders, for nearly two minutes.

“I think he’s too aggressive for Punta Gorda,” said Scott Weinberg, Shumacher’s attorney, who has filed a lawsuit against the city. “He acts like he’s in Fallujah every time he pulls over a car.”

“From a technical standpoint, Officer Coel did not violate any of our policies,” said Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis. “We did counsel Officer Coel, we talked to him in depth. His new trainer went over this incident in depth, he got some additional training.”

According to Coel’s personnel file, he had a brief stint with the Miramar Police Department before moving to Punta Gorda.

In 2013, Coel received two excessive force complaints, although the exact details of the incidents were not stated. The officer was stripped of his badge and placed on administrative leave.

“It was as if my heart and soul had been ripped out of my chest…,” Coel wrote in a letter included in his personnel file after the incident. “I knew that I had never used any amount of force which was not justified…”

Later that year, Coel states Miramar PD’s Internal Affairs department informed him the allegations were unfounded, but he had committed two policy violations.

The officer left Miramar PD in April 2013 citing failure “to meet probation” as his reason for leaving. He began working at Punta Gorda PD in March 2014.

Until the incident involving Shumacher, Coel received high marks in his performance reviews. A supervisor stated he had “good common sense” and an “excellent attitude.”

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