Ammunition mix-up led to citizens police academy shooting

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FILE Photo of former Punta Gorda Police Officer Lee Coel and Librarian Mary Knowlton from December 2016. Credit: WINK News.

FORT MYERS, Fla. Several mishaps led to the shooting death of Mary Knowlton at an August 2016 citizens police academy shooting.

Many of the police officers involved admitted to not knowing the difference between a wadcutter bullet and a blank one until the shooting, court documents revealed.

Certain steps need to be taken to ensure a safe zone for exercises and training, said Cliff Morine and Gene Gullickson, the owners of Foxhole Firearms off U.S. 41.

“You gotta double check, make sure you’re in a sterile training environment, there’s absolutely no live ammunition around there,” Morine said. “Several people have to check, maintain that safety zone there, so no one can come in with live ammo.”

Lee Coel, who shot Knowlton and was fired from the police department earlier this year, loaded his revolver with the wadcutter bullets, according to court documents, which are typically used for target shooting.

While a blank round looks very similar, there is a noticeable difference in weight.

“If you’re going to be training with those things, you definitely should know what you’re training with,” Morine said. “You should be able to identify the non-lethal rounds compared to lethal rounds, blanks, wadcutters — whatever you’re going to be using — you should be very familiar with it.”

A fully functional revolver should’ve never been used, Gullickson said. The gun should’ve been checked by all participants and high-ranking officers.

“There’s no accident like that,” he said. “It’s just oversight.”

Police Chief Tom Lewis is facing a culpable negligence charge. Jury selection for his trial is scheduled to begin Friday.

Coel’s trial for felony first-degree manslaughter is several months away.

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