Officer charged in fatal Punta Gorda citizen’s academy shooting to be fired

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. Lee Coel, the police officer charged with shooting and killing Mary Knowlton during a citizen’s academy class in August 2016, will be fired by the city.

“After considering all of the information before me, including the information your attorney presented on March 1, 2017, please be advised that I have decided to discharge you from your employment with the city, effective Friday, March 10, 2017, for the reasons set forth in my February 22 letter to you,” said the letter from Philip Wickstrom, the city’s human resources manager, to Coel and his attorney.

The Feb. 22 letter stated that the city is considering disciplinary action against Coel for his involvement in the incident.

“Your conduct during that exercise in failing to take appropriate and reasonable steps to ensure the safety of Mary Knowlton and in failing to ensure that no live ammunition was used during the exercise would, if true, constitute sufficient cause for disciplinary action up to and including potential discharge,” the letter said.

Coel, who was previously on paid administrative leave, pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to a first-degree manslaughter charge in the death of the 73-year-old during a “shoot, don’t shoot” training exercise.

Based on his annual salary of $44,262, Coel collected $26,046.36 in pay plus benefits while on leave.

Wickstrom made the decision to fire Coel because Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis was charged with culpable negligence, a second-degree misdemeanor, in relation to the incident.

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