Police chief found not guilty of negligence for fatal training demo
By Brian Seay
Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis during the trial.
A jury Thursday found Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis not guilty of a misdemeanor charge in the shooting death of a spectator at a community demonstration last summer in Florida.
The jury deliberated for about three hours before finding Lewis not guilty of culpable negligence in the death of Mary Knowlton, a 73-year-old librarian, according to WINK-TV.
Knowlton was one of about 30 community members watching a “shoot/don’t shoot” training exercise on Aug. 9, 2016. She was selected at random to participate in the exercise. While she held a blue simulated weapon, Officer Lee Coel used a Smith & Wesson revolver loading with wadcutters — bullets that have flat ends similar to blanks. Knowlton was struck twice by gunfire and died.
Several current and former officers testified this week that they didn’t do a safety check on Coel’s gun before the exercise. Knowlton’s son, Steve, was upset when the judge in the case ruled Thursday in favor of a defense motion requiring the state to prove that Lewis knew, or should have known, that great bodily harm would come to Mary Knowlton.
“They threw a curveball at us at the last minute and added another