The Punta Gorda police officer who shot and killed a 73-year-old woman during a citizen academy role playing session Tuesday has been identified as Lee Coel – the same cop who allowed his police dog to maul a man for riding his bicycle at night without lights in a video that went viral two months ago.
A cop that should have been fired long ago, according to a Florida attorney who is suing the Punta Gorda Police Department over the dog mauling incident.
“I’ve been saying for months that this guy was going to kill somebody and now he has killed somebody,” attorney Scott Weinberg said during a telephone interview with Photography is Not a Crime Wednesday.
“Everybody had been put on notice that he was a loose cannon, that he should not have had a badge and a gun. The city, the state attorney and the police department knew he was not mentally fit to serve the public.”
But as police departments across the United States are known to do, the Punta Gorda Police Department defended Lee Coel, saying he was a good officer, an award-winning officer even.
“We are extremely proud of Lee and Spirit,” Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis said on Facebook last year in regards to Coel winning an award at a police dog tournament.
“Their dedication to our Department has been an asset to our City, and we are excited to cheer them on through all of their future success.”
Weinberg sent PINAC a document showing that 37 percent of Coel’s cases have been dismissed, which he calls an “astronomical number.”
Most cops have between five to seven percent of their cases dismissed, he explained.
“The state attorney dismissed those cases because he either violated procedure or somebody’s Constitutional rights,” Weinberg said.
Coel was hired by the Punta Gorda Police Department in 2014 after he was allowed to resign from the Miramar Police Department in South Florida for excessive force.
Weinberg said Chief Lewis knew about his history and hired him anyway, so he needs to be fired as well, not that Mary Knowlton was killed as a result of both the chief’s and officer’s negligence.
“Two months ago, I was yelling like Chicken Little that the sky was falling but nobody did anything about it,” Weinberg said.
“Nobody in government had the stones to do what was right.
“If they had fired him back then, this woman would still be alive.”
Below is the video of Lee Coel allowing his dog to attack the man on the bike along with the video of Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis speaking about the shooting during a press conference today.
The chief refused to confirm the shooter was Lee Coel but multiple witnesses told NBC he was the shooter and multiple sources also said the same to Weinberg.
UPDATE: The chief confirmed the officer was Lee Coel. He also assured the public that real guns will no longer be used during “shoot, don’t shoot” exercises.
UPDATE II: August 27, 7:50 p.m. Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis said he has not made a decision to whether or not to fire Lee Coel, the cop who killed Mary Knowlton.
However, he did reassure the citizens of Punta Gorda that they are welcome to return to the citizen’s academy because he has “banned the use of live firearms from all scenario-based training.”
According to ABC 7, it was a regular practice to mix live ammo with blanks, which led to the cop shooting and killing the woman during the training exercise.
New policy documents show that boxes of live ammunition and blanks were comingled where the gun was loaded. It’s one of many mistakes that led to the shooting of Mary Knowlton. An investigation is still underway to determine what else went wrong.
It also turns out there was no policy in place for community demonstrations, something Chief Tom Lewis is now correcting.
“Without question, this was devastating,” Lewis said. “Typically, the police department are the ones who show up and take care of your pain. We’re not typically the cause of it.”
From now on, real ammo and blanks will be stored separately. The chief explained why they were stored together before.
The chief did not go as far as introducing new training to teach officers how to tell the difference between blanks and live ammunition, which obviously was a factor in this incident.