Punta Gorda police chief says he’s been fired

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. Police Chief Tom Lewis says he’s been fired.

City Manager Howard Kunik delivered the termination notice Monday, according to Lewis. The firing had to do with the August 2016 citizens academy shooting, Lewis said.

Lewis was acquitted of culpable negligence in the death of retired librarian Mary Knowlton, who was gunned down by former officer Lee Coel during a “shoot-don’t shoot” academy training exercise.

A city spokeswoman insisted earlier Tuesday that no decision had been made regarding the chief’s job.

“The city has not taken any action to change Chief Lewis’ employment status,” spokeswoman Sandi Poreda said. “As far as the city’s concerned, he is still on administrative leave with pay. The city manager has not made any final decisions or taken any final action.”

The city placed Lewis on paid administrative leave in February, the day after he was charged. He never returned to work, even after his trial ended, as the city continued to conduct an internal investigation.

Kunik praised Lewis in a press conference the day he announced he was placed on leave, calling him a “fine” and “honorable” man. Those remarks caught the ire of Gary Knowlton, Mary’s widower, who thought the city trivialized his wife’s death.

The firing of Lewis would be a step in the right direction, Gary Knowlton said.

“Kunik, as a city manager, can probably see the division of the town,” he said. “What would bring unity is to have a new police chief that doesn’t have a record.”

WINK News anchor Britni McDonald heard more from Knowlton about his thoughts on Lewis’ trial, his plans for the future and more: