Florida Cop and Police Chief Both Charged in Shooting Death of Elderly Woman Mary Knowlton During Training Exercise.
On Thursday, Florida State Attorney Steve Russell announced charges against a police chief and officer in connection to the Aug. 9 shooting at a police department in Florida that killed a retired Rosemount, Minnesota librarian.
The fatal shooting occurred during a “shoot/don’t shoot” role-play scenario.
Police said at the time that a live round somehow ended up inside a gun fired by an officer at the Punta Gorda Police Department’s Citizen Police Academy. The bullet fatally injured 73-year-old Minnesota native Mary Knowlton, who was taking part in the class.
“Officer Lee Coel, during a role play scenario, shot and killed citizen Mary Knowlton. I want to first again send my condolences to the family of Mary Knowlton,” Russell said at the Thursday news conference.
Russell announced his office is charging Punta Gorda Police Officer Lee Coel with one count of manslaughter with a firearm, which is a first degree felony.
The office is also charging Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis with one count of culpable negligence, Russell said. Culpable negligence is a second degree misdemeanor.
Knowlton had enrolled in the two-hour class along with dozens of other area residents. Two participants were randomly chosen to take part in the role-play session that simulates the decision-making process involved in determining when to use lethal force.
During the first run of the scenario, Knowlton was struck by a live round, the department said. Knowlton was taken to Lee Memorial Hospital but was pronounced dead.
According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, before retiring, Knowlton was the librarian at Parkview Elementary School in Rosemount from 1988 to 2004. Knowlton was originally from Austin, Minnesota.
“Mary Knowlton was the center of our school at Parkview, and she made the library the heart of the building,” Parkview Principal Nicole Frovik told the Star Tribune. “Her mission was to get books in students’ hands and to connect them with stories that would help them develop a love of reading.”
Despite the fatal shooting, Russell said that Florida’s Charlotte County “continues to be well served by its law enforcement community.”