More change likely for Punta Gorda Police Department

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. Punta Gorda’s police department should expect to see more changes after the citizen’s academy shooting, a law enforcement expert says.

The city released documents Wednesday that show that former Officer Lee Coel used lethal ammunition instead of blanks in a “Shoot, Don’t Shoot” demonstration that resulted in the death of Mary Knowlton last August.

Walter Zalisko, a retired police officer, believes the incident should act as a nationwide wake-up call.

“The leadership has to take a strong role in examining their existing policies to ensure that in cases like this, that safety issues are being addressed and corrected.” Zalisko said.

The department has already put several changes into place since the shooting, including a ban on real guns from being used during training or community presentations. It also stiffened background checks for employment applicants and altered its testing process for officers.

Knowlton’s death could have easily been prevented, her son, Steve, said. Someone should have checked Coel’s personal gun before it was used during the demonstration, Steve Knowlton contends.

Punta Gorda’s police chief Tom Lewis is dealing with the repercussions as well. He’s facing a misdemeanor second degree culpable negligence charge and is on paid leave. Coel was charged with first-degree felony manslaughter.

“Besides the fact that he was the one that pulled the trigger and he was the one that screwed up, the protocol was the one that screwed up in the first place as far as using a real gun.” Knowlton said. “There shouldn’t have been a chance of anybody getting hurt.”

Reporter:Channing Frampton
Do you see a typo or an error? Let us know.