Aftermath of citizens academy shooting lingers one year later

Published: Updated:
Lee Coel, Mary Knowlton and Tom Lewis

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. The shooting death of a 73-year-old retired librarian that made national headlines took place one year ago Wednesday.

Some city officials were present as a small, private moment of remembrance took place Wednesday morning by the public safety complex on U.S. 41. That’s where Mary Knowlton was shot and killed Aug. 9, 2016 by former Punta Gorda police officer Lee Coel during a citizens police academy.

“Mary was such a vibrant part of our community and will always be remembered fondly,” city spokeswoman Sandi Poreda said as part of a statement.

Knowlton’s son criticized the way police and the city handled the events surrounding his mother’s death, calling the shooting an “accident waiting to happen.”

Coel shot and killed Knowlton using his personal revolver loaded with live rounds instead of blanks. He’s since been fired and lost an appeal of his termination as he faces a first-degree felony manslaughter charge.

Police Chief Tom Lewis was acquitted of culpable negligence, a second-degree misdemeanor, but he remains on paid administrative leave as the department conducts an internal investigation. Knowlton’s widower, who testified in the Lewis trial, pointed to the “incompetence” of Coel and said Lewis should be held accountable for what took place on his watch.

The city will release the findings of the investigation “in a clear and transparent manner” once it’s finished, Poreda said.

“We don’t expect it to take much longer, but we owe it to our community to make sure it is thorough,” she said.

An Florida Department of Law Enforcement report the city released in March found no evidence Coel intended to kill Knowlton. The state attorney’s office, which brought the charge against him, expressed displeasure with the city for making the findings public.

Two other officers involved in the academy resigned in March but have not been not charged.

Copyright ©2024 Fort Myers Broadcasting. All rights reserved.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent.