Manslaughter Charge for Cop Who Mistakenly Killed Librarian

Mary Knowlton was shot during Punta Gorda role-playing drill
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 27, 2017 1:23 PM CST
In this Aug. 10, 2016, file photo, Steve Knowlton talks about his mother, Mary Knowlton, shown in family photos, during an interview in Punta Gorda, Fla.   (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

(Newser) – An elderly Florida woman taking part last August in a citizen's role-playing drill with police was accidentally killed during the exercise. Now, per WINK News, Lee Coel, the cop who pulled the trigger has been arrested and charged with felony manslaughter—and Tom Lewis, the chief of the Punta Gorda PD, has been charged with a misdemeanor of culpable negligence, the state attorney's office announced Wednesday. Coel, who ended up fatally shooting 73-year-old Mary Knowlton with real bullets instead of the fake ones meant to be used during the community exercise, showed "a pattern of complacency, questionable decisions, and insubordination" even before Knowlton's shooting, WINK uncovered in December. He's been on administrative leave since the incident and posted a $5,000 bond to get out of Charlotte County Jail Wednesday afternoon.

Knowlton—whose family accepted a $2 million-plus settlement in November with the police and city—was one of a few dozen citizens taking part in the role-playing activity, meant to show participants how quickly cops have to act in dangerous situations. There are conflicting reports from Fox 13 and WFTS whether Coel, then 28, or Knowlton was playing the cop. Coel's lawyer said last week Coel thought his gun contained blanks, adding cryptically they now know who loaded the gun (without offering additional details). Lewis will answer his summons in court on April 5 for his role—allegedly failing to keep the event safe, per NBC 2. "Why did [Coel] aim the gun at her and not off to the side?" a local asks, per the Naples Daily News. The family of Knowlton, meanwhile, says the librarian who'd been married for 54 years would have preached forgiveness. "That's what my mom was about," her son said. (Read more police shooting stories.)

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