Ex-Punta Gorda officer charged in shooting fights to move trial
A former Punta Gorda police officer accused of fatally shooting a 73-year-old woman during a training exercise appeared in court Thursday.
Lee Coel faces charges of first-degree manslaughter in the shooting death of retired librarian Mary Knowlton during a “shoot, don’t shoot” scenario in August 2016.
While the state wants to keep the trial in Charlotte County, the defense argued jurors would have a bias due to too much pre-trial publicity of the case.
The judge did not make an immediate decision to move the trial, but mentioned Lee or Collier counties could be an option.
The judge granted the defense’s request to dismiss any mention of a 2015 incident that involved Coel releasing his K9 on a man riding his bicycle with no lights.
The man, who later faced charges of attempting to elude an officer, violation of probation, DUI on a bicycle and obstructing an officer without violence, was rushed to the hospital where he stayed for 11 days undergoing surgery.
The police department hired an outside expert to review the incident. He determined the use of force was justified due to the man’s repeated non-compliance and possible threatening gestures.