Punta Gorda police officer Lee Coel was finally charged in the shooting death of Mary Knowlton, the 73-year-old retired librarian who was shot and killed during a citizens academy last year.
Punta Gordo Police Chief Tom Lewis, who has defended Coel throughout his troubled career, was also charged, State Attorney Steve Russell announced during a press conference Wednesday.
Coel, who shot and killed Knowlton during an exercise in which he was supposed to use blanks last August, was charged with manslaughter, which is a first degree felony. He is facing up to 30 years in prison.
Lewis was charged with culpable negligence, which is a misdemeanor. He faces up to 60 days in jail, according to a press release from the state attorney’s office.
Coel turned himself in earlier today but was quickly released after posting a $5,000 bond. Lewis was issued a summons to appear in court, according to WINK News.
Coel, who has been on paid administrative leave since August 9, 2016 incident, has a long history of abuse as we pointed out last year.
He is the same cop who allowed his police dog to maul a man for riding a bicycle at night without lights.
“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 last year.
“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 Chief Lewis continued to defend Coel, even after the cop fired a gun with live ammunition during a “shoot, don’t shoot” exercise, celebrating the fact that Coel was an award-winning officer, even if he did have a history of disciplinary actions against him, including a forced resignation from another law enforcement agency.
Knowlton had signed up for the citizens academy class because she wanted to show her support for police during a time when police were being criticized nationwide for their abusive tactics.
The incident led to a $2 million settlement for her family in November.