Ex-Punta Gorda officer charged in shooting fights to move trial

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A former Punta Gorda police officer accused of fatally shooting a 73-year-old woman during a training exercise appeared in court Thursday.

Lee Coel faces charges of first-degree manslaughter in the shooting death of retired librarian Mary Knowlton during a “shoot, don’t shoot” scenario in August 2016.

While the state wants to keep the trial in Charlotte County, the defense argued jurors would have a bias due to too much pre-trial publicity of the case.

The judge did not make an immediate decision to move the trial, but mentioned Lee or Collier counties could be an option.

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The judge granted the defense’s request to dismiss any mention of a 2015 incident that involved Coel releasing his K9 on a man riding his bicycle with no lights.

The man, who later faced charges of attempting to elude an officer, violation of probation, DUI on a bicycle and obstructing an officer without violence, was rushed to the hospital where he stayed for 11 days undergoing surgery.

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The police department hired an outside expert to review the incident. He determined the use of force was justified due to the man’s repeated non-compliance and possible threatening gestures.

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