Police chief, officer charged in Punta Gorda librarian shooting

Published: February 22, 2017 12:53 PM EST
Updated: February 22, 2017 10:34 PM EST

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis and officer Lee Coel have both been charged in the case of a retired librarian shot and killed in a citizen’s police academy, the state attorney’s office said.

Coel has been charged with manslaughter, a first-degree felony, and Lewis charged with culpable negligence, a second-degree misdemeanor.

State Attorney Steve Russell announced the charges at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

Coel turned himself in and was arrested. He’s posted $5,000 bond and was released from the Charlotte County Jail at around 3 p.m.

Lewis will not be arrested but was given a summons to appear in court April 5. He said after the shooting that he had no intention of resigning but vowed to make changes to department procedures.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement in October turned its criminal investigative report into the August death of Mary Knowlton over to the state attorney for a review and a decision on whether to pursue criminal charges for Lee Coel, the Punta Gorda Police Department officer who pulled the trigger.

Coel has been on paid administrative leave since the shooting. He has a lengthy history of complacency, insubordination and questionable decisions.

Jerry Berry, Coel’s attorney, said Wednesday that Coel didn’t know the gun had live ammunition in it. Berry also said he and Coel know how the gun got loaded, but he didn’t elaborate.

The academy was designed to educate members of the public about police procedures. Knowlton and her classmates were in the midst of a “shoot-don’t shoot” training exercise when the fatal shooting took place.

Since then, several questions have arisen about why Coel was using a real gun loaded with real ammunition. Coel and his officers should have inspected the weapon before it was used, a firearms expert and a former police chief told WINK News reporter Lauren Sweeney.

The city approved a more than $2 million settlement with Knowlton’s family in November. Gary Knowlton, Mary’s husband, declined comment Wednesday.

City leaders will respond to Wednesday’s news in a press conference at 10 a.m. Thursday. WINK News will stream their remarks live on WINKNews.com and the WINK News Facebook page.

City Manager Howard Kunik spoke with WINK News reporter Morgan Frances:

The shooting garnered national attention, and an overflow crowd of hundreds attended a funeral for Knowlton, a beloved community figure. She was active at the Bread of Life Mission, a religion-based homeless shelter. She also served as president and later a board member of the Friends of the Punta Gorda Library.

See live video of the press conference via WINK News reporter Adam Wright:

See a transcript of the state attorney’s remarks from the press conference here:

See a formal summary of the charges for Lewis and Coel: