Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Officer Charged in Fatal Shooting | Police Chief Faces Negligence Charge in Mary Knowlton's Death

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Officer Charged in Fatal Shooting | Police Chief Faces Negligence Charge in Mary Knowlton's Death

Article excerpt

POLICE ACADEMY DEATH

CHARLOTTE COUNTY -- The Punta Gorda police officer involved in the fatal shooting of a retired librarian during an August community police academy has been arrested and will face manslaughter charges, state prosecutors said.

Lee Coel, 28, was arrested Wednesday, accused of felony manslaughter.

Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis was charged with culpable negligence, a misdemeanor, but was not arrested. Lewis received a summons to appear in court.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents completed their criminal investigation into the Aug. 9 shooting and submitted their report to prosecutors in the 20th Judicial Circuit, who found probable cause to charge Coel and Lewis.

"There is a very voluminous amount of information we reviewed," State Attorney Stephen B. Russell said during a press conference on Wednesday. "We looked at the crime scene, photographs and videos of the incident. We went through a large volume of investigative material from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Many people were interviewed for what happened at the scene.

"Looking at the totality of the facts and evidence brought our office to this decision."

Russell said the FDLE report would not be available until discovery is requested by the defense. The report would then be made public to those who request it. That may not happen for several weeks, he said.

"To the citizens of Charlotte County, I want to say that while my office is endeavoring to responsibly address this difficult, somewhat unique, tragic event, Charlotte County continues to be well served by its law enforcement community," Russell said.

In what was billed as a training demonstration as part of a special "Chamber Police Night" for local business leaders and others at the Police Department, Coel pointed a revolver -- which he believed was loaded with blanks -- at 73-year-old Mary Knowlton and pulled the trigger several times, according to accounts. …

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