K-9 involved in Punta Gorda controversy faces dismissal

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PUNTA GORDA, Fla. – The K-9 involved in a controversial police takedown could be dismissed if the Punta Gorda Police Department rebrands its canine unit.

K-9 Spirit is the only dog in PGPD’s current unit. But the department said it can save money by using the canine unit at the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office instead.

If retired, K-9 Spirit will be adopted by his partner, Officer Lee Coel.

PGPD was sued in June when a video from 2015 surfaced showing Coel unleashing K-9 Spirit onto Richard Shumacher, who was riding a bicycle without a light. For two minutes, Coel wrestled with Shumacher while K-9 Spirit ripped into the flesh under his arm.

Schumaker nearly died, his attorney said, and was awarded $700,000 in a settlement in October. He was accused of not following an officer’s orders.

The proposed canine unit would include new dog breeds that could help improve PGPD’s image. The police department said Friday that the German Shepherd wouldn’t be a good fit.

“Acquiring canine breeds that will add a public relations component to our existing program, such as a retriever or Labrador, is a priority and benefit to the community,” PGPD said, adding that K-9 Spirit’s patrol training would be unsuitable in schools.

The person who donated K-9 Spirit told police that the dog should stay with Coel, who agreed to keep the dog for the rest of its life.

Coel wrote of his dream of becoming a K-9 handler in 2012 when he began his career at the Miramar Police Department. His involvement in an excessive force arrest forced him to resign the next year.

He joined PGPD in 2014 and on Aug. 9, he shot and killed 73-year-old Mary Knowlton in a Citizen Academy training. Her family was awarded $2 million in November.

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