Fired Punta Gorda officer sues city over disability pension

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. The police officer who pulled the trigger in the deadly citizens academy shooting has filed a lawsuit against the city’s board of trustees.

Lee Coel, who was fired March 10 over his role in the August 2016 shooting, claims the trustees didn’t allow due process regarding his application for disability pension, which the city denied in July.

MORE: Board denies disability pension for former Punta Gorda officer

Coel filed for the pension in February, three weeks before he was given notice that he may face disciplinary action. The trustees never looked at his application before he was fired because they were waiting to receive word on whether he would indeed be terminated, according to the suit.

The disability pension fund stated, at the time, that officers could be eligible for a pension if they were “totally and permanently disabled” in the line of duty.

Coel submitted two notes from doctors stating that he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological problems, according to the suit. Both notes stated he wouldn’t be useful or efficient as a police officer.

In April, the trustees decided to change the wording in the requirements for pension funds, thus making Coel ineligible, the suit says.

It was after the change that the board decided to look at Coel’s application and determined he didn’t meet the requirements because he was fired, according to the suit.

Coel is awaiting trial next year on a first-degree manslaughter charge in the death of 73-year-old Mary Knowlton, who was killed in a “shoot-don’t shoot” exercise during an academy class.

MORE: Aftermath of citizens academy shooting lingers one year later

Reporter:Kim Powell
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