Police chief on trial after librarian killed in training demo
By Brian Seay
Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis at his trial Monday (Photo: Carlos R. Munoz/Herald Tribune)
Five officers testified Tuesday that nobody checked whether a gun had blanks before a community demonstration that ended with a librarian dead.
Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis pleaded not guilty and requested a jury trial for a misdemeanor charge of culpable negligence for the Aug. 9, 2016 shooting that killed 73-year-old Mary Knowlton, according to the Herald Tribune.
The “shoot/don’t shoot” training exercise was meant to show city business leaders how little time officers have to react in a use-of-force incident. But instead of a simulated weapon, officer Lee Coel used a real gun. And instead of blanks, the Smith & Wesson revolver was loaded with live ammo.
Knowlton, who was randomly selected for the exercise, was struck twice and died. Officer Coel faces manslaughter charges and up to 30 years in prison. Lewis faces 60 days behind bars if convicted. Six jurors and one alternate are hearing his case.
In opening statements, prosecutor Stephanie Russell said Coel received three boxes of ammo from former Punta Gorda spokeswoman Lt. Katie Heck. She told Coel she thought they were blanks, but said, “you need to check these.”
Ammo used by officers are