Prosecution rests in trial of Punta Gorda chief

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. Prosecutors rested their case Wednesday against Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis.

Jurors heard audio from statements Lewis made to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement about his involvement in the shooting that left 73-year-old Mary Knowlton dead in August 2016. Lewis is charged with culpable negligence, a second-degree misdemeanor.

Lewis said he was involved in several aspects of organizing the “shoot-don’t shoot” exercise at a citizens police academy in which Knowlton was killed. But he also said former Lt. Katie Heck, who left the department earlier this year, oversaw the event.

Former police academy instructor Gene Sims testified that since Lewis was chief, he was in charge of the demonstration.

“You can delegate authority, but you cannot delegate responsibility,” Sims said.

Defense attorney Stephen Romine argues that the responsibility for the shooting falls on former officer Lee Coel, who pulled the trigger. Coel is charged with first-degree felony manslaughter.

The defense sought Wednesday to have judge Devin George rule to acquit Lewis, but George ruled that decision belongs in the hands of the six-person jury. Two motions were filed on Lewis’ behalf prior to the trial in an attempt to have his charge dropped, but neither was successful.

The trial will continue Thursday, when testimony is expected on the kind of ammunition Coel used.

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