Firearms instructor: Gun safety rules violated in killing of Punta Gorda libarian

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. It’s the number one rule in gun safety, says one firearms expert: Never point a gun, loaded or not, at another human being.

“It’s so fundamental that someone who’s never touched a gun in their life would learn in the first 15 minutes of the first firearm class that they ever took,” said Alecs Dean, a certified firearm instructor.

A Florida Department of Law Enforcement report released by Punta Gorda city officials on Wednesday – against the wishes of the state attorney’s office – detailed the moments before and after the August 2016 shooting death of 73-year-old Mary Knowlton.

FDLE determined the shooting was accidental due to a lack of evidence proving former Punta Gorda police officer Lee Cole, who is charged with  felony first-degree manslaughter in relation to the case, intended on using real ammunition instead of blanks.

Dean believes the killing “was a deliberate act.”

Knowlton and others participating in a “shoot, don’t shoot” scenario received simulation guns with “soap bullets,” but Coel used his personal .38-caliber Smith and Wesson revolver instead of his department-issued handgun, the report said.

“Why did they give the students the simulation guns that are not real firearms? They’re only able to accept a specific type of cartridge that has a paint bullet in it,” Dean said. “Why? Why would they do that? Because they knew that that’s correct procedure.”

Dean is certain Coel knew the correct procedure as well.

“He had on eye protection,” he said. “He had his entire face covered in case the little paint cartridge struck him anywhere on his skin. He even had long sleeves on. Now, he made sure that he was okay and all geared up. Why?”

Punta Gorda police Lt. Katie Heck said she “probably” gave Coel a box of live ammunition, thinking they were blanks, according to the report. While the blanks and lethal bullets were “similar in shape and size,” neither resembled the bullets used in Coel’s service weapon, the report said.

However, there is a significant difference in weight between a gun containing real bullets and another with blanks, as well as the manner in which the gun shoots, Dean said.

“For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction,” he said. “So from the force of the bullet going forward, the entire gun comes rearward. If there’s a significantly reduced force going forward, then the gun doesn’t come rearward. So, the recoil is significantly different and anybody would notice that.”

WINK News investigative reporter Dave Culbreth has more from his interview with Dean:

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