For the price of $70,000, Punta Gorda police officer Lee Coel can claim he did nothing wrong by allowing his dog to attack and maul a man for riding his bicycle at night without lights.
Not that he will pay a dime of that settlement. And not that it will absolve him of shooting and killing a 73-year-old woman during a citizens academy training exercise in which he was supposed to be using blanks.
That second incident would never have occurred if he had been fired for the dog mauling incident, but Coel is an award-winning officer, which apparently gives him protective status.
Attorney Scott Weinberg, who represented the victim in the dog mauling case, had tried his best to warn the police chief and city council that they had a loose cannon on their hands, but they failed to heed his advice.
The dog mauling incident took place on October 30, 2015 when Coel spotted Richard Schumacher riding his bicycle through the sleepy Southwestern Florida town without lights.
Sensing Schumacher was placing himself in danger, Coel ordered him to stop or he would send his attack dog.
But Schumacher kept peddling, so Coel sped up behind him and pulled him over on a quiet residential street.
Coel ordered Schumacher to get on his knees, then on his face, to ensure officer safety because you never know about those guys riding their bikes without lights.
“Get on your knees, do it now,” Coel orders as his dog, Spirit, can be heard barking from the backseat.
But Schumacher was being stubborn, remaining standing for more than a minute with his hands in the air, at times flipping the cop off, before he eventually got down on one knee.
“Get down on your face,” Coel then orders. “Get down on your chest.”
But Schumacher did not get down on his chest and face, which evidently made Coel fear for his life, leaving him no choice but to release the dog.
Spirit mauled on Schumacher for nearly two minutes before Coel called him off, finally obtaining that ever-evasive officer safety.
Coel later wrote in his report that Schumacher kept hiding his hands, which struck fear in his heart.
Schumacher spent 11 days in the hospital where he had to undergo surgery to repair his latissimus dorsi muscle that had been ripped apart by the dog.
And then he spent almost three months in the county jail on charges of fleeing and eluding, resisting arrest without violence and DUI, but ended up pleading to the two latter charges in exchange for having the first charge dropped.
And now that settled, he will be able to afford a new bike with lights, not that he will ever be the same physically.
Coel, for his part, remains on paid administrative leave for shooting and killing Mary Knowlton, a 73-year-old librarian attending the citizens academy to show her support towards police, whom she believed were being treated unfairly.
However, Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis said he issued a new policy, forbidding real bullets to be mixed with blanks during training exercises.
But this is the same chief who congratulated Coel last year after he led Spirit through an obstacle course, earning him an award.
“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.”
However, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement just concluded its investigation on the shooting, so now the case will be reviewed by the state attorney’s office.