Surveillance footage shows horror, chaos of Citizens Academy shooting

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. Shots fired, confusion and a grim realization.

Newly released surveillance footage shows the moment former Punta Gorda Police Officer Lee Coel shot and killed 73-year-old retired librarian Mary Knowlton in August during a “shoot-don’t shoot” training exercise at a citizens police academy.

Knowlton is seen striding to the front of a group of dozens of academy classmates who appear in the video. She takes her position for the training exercise, and Coel opens fire with his personal weapon, which was loaded with real bullets.

Knowlton falls to the ground, but for a few moments, no one else moves. A Florida Department of Law Enforcement report revealed most of those present, including husband Gary Knowlton, thought her fall was simply an act and all a part of the training scenario.

“I was maybe 10 feet away from her and watched this patrolman who was the bad guy aim right at her and shoot,” Gary Knowlton said. “She went down and we thought that was part of the show.”

The video next shows Coel running toward her, and other officers jumping into action and calling paramedics.

“He turned her over and she looked horrible, blood all over the place, and I thought, ‘Oh my God,'” Knowlton said. “There was maybe five people who were trying to help her, pushing her stomach and stuff like that.”

Coel has pleaded not guilty to a felony first-degree manslaughter charge. The FDLE found no evidence he intended to kill Knowlton.

He’s appealing his termination from the police department. His appeal hearing is set for Thursday.

Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis, who’s charged with second-degree misdemeanor culpable negligence, is on paid administrative leave.

Reporter:Britni McDonald
Writer:Chuck Myron
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