Decision to dismiss police chief’s charges in fatal shooting expected next week

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PUNTA GORDA, Fla. A judge will decide next week whether to dismiss Police Chief Tom Lewis’ charges related to a fatal shooting by a former police officer in front of a citizens police academy class.

Lewis, charged with culpable negligence, remains on paid administrative leave.

Lewis placed Mary Knowlton in danger by failing to implement sufficient safety protocols, state prosecutors said. Officers at the training exercise did not check whether the gun used had blanks or real bullets.

Lewis’ attorney, Stephen Romine, argued on Friday that the state hasn’t provided any evidence to support their claim and that he can’t prepare a defense if “I don’t know what I’m defending.”

“What sufficient safety protocol are you alleging that you think proves that he went into that thinking death is likely and he doesn’t care,” he asked prosecutors.

Romine’s statements were made during a heated debate in court, which lasted for over an hour.

“We should not be required to tell this defendant exactly how we are going to prove all of the elements of the offense, we’ve alleged all of the elements,” replied John Dommerich Jr., an assistant state attorney.

Knowlton, 73, was shot and killed by Lee Coel during an August 2016 “shoot, don’t shoot exercise.” Coel, who is charged with manslaughter, has appealed his firing from the department.

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