Punta Gorda chief on paid leave following charge in librarian’s killing

PUNTA GORDA, Fla.  Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis has been placed on paid administrative leave, City Manager Howard Kunik said Thursday.

Lewis was charged Wednesday with culpable negligence, a second-degree misdemeanor, in the death of Mary Knowlton, who was shot and killed in August during a citizen’s police academy training exercise.

Captain Jason Ciaschini

Captain Jason Ciaschini will serve as interim chief, Kunik said.

Ciaschini has been with the department since May 1997. He earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in public administration at Florida Gulf Coast University.

Kunik maintains admiration for Lewis despite Thursday’s move, calling him “an honorable man.”

“Tom Lewis is a fine man and has the best interests of the community at heart,” Kunik said in a press conference Thursday.

Lewis put Knowlton in danger by failing to implement sufficient safety protocols, the state attorney’s office said in findings released Wednesday. Lewis said shortly after the shooting that he had no intention of resigning but vowed to make changes to department procedures.

Officer Lee Coel, who allegedly shot Knowlton, is charged with first-degree manslaugther and remains on paid administrative leave.

Coel will participate in a disciplinary hearing scheduled for next week to determine his future with the department, Kunik said.

Kunik will review the state attorney’s findings before deciding whether to retain Lewis.

Some community members stood outside City Hall protesting Lewis’ administrative leave.

WINK News reporter Kristi Gross spoke with protesters who were against the decision to put Lewis on leave and as well as those who think Lewis should be out of a job:

Watch Thursday’s press conference:

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