Interviews show confusion, lack of protocol among officers in citizen’s academy shooting

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. Interviews of Punta Gorda police officers following the shooting death of a retired librarian by a then-police officer during a citizen’s police academy demonstration showed that protocols were missed before the fatal shots were fired.


The officers did not know who the designated safety officer was, who was in charge of the demonstration, why Lee Coel used his personal handgun instead of his department-issued weapon, or why there wasn’t a safety check prior to the August 2016 “shoot, don’t shoot” exercise, according to interviews by Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents obtained by WINK News.

Most of the questions focused on ammunition and how live rounds ended up in Coel’s gun.

A FDLE report noted the bullets were given to Coel by Punta Gorda police Lt. Katie Heck, but in a recently released interview, Heck said she didn’t know exactly what she gave him.

One officer admitted he didn’t know what a blank round looked like.

Not knowing the difference between a blank and a live round contributed to Mary Knowlton’s death, according to the report.

Coel, who has appealed his firing, is charged with first-degree felony manslaughter.

FDLE determined Coel didn’t intend to kill Knowlton, 73.

Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis is on paid administrative leave after being charged with culpable negligence, a second-degree misdemeanor.

Reporter:Britni McDonald