Punta Gorda chief on trial for librarian's citizens academy death

- Police Chief Tom Lewis didn't pull the trigger. But he was the one in charge the night Mary Knowlton was shot to death by one of his officers.

"Lots of errors were made on August 9," said Assistant State Attorney Stephanie Russell. “Tom Lewis showed a reckless disregard for Mary Knowlton.”

Monday, prosecutors told a jury Lewis didn't mean for it to happen, but he's culpably negligent for not having a set of checks and balances to prevent the tragedy.

"There were no policies and procedures in place for this event or situation. You will also hear no one was designated as a safety officer," continued Russell.

Knowlton was part of a group attending a citizens police academy last August. The 73-year old retired librarian was chosen at random to participate in a "shoot-don't-shoot" exercise.

Officer Lee Coel portrayed a bad guy, while Knowlton was to portray a police officer.   As the scenario unfolded, Coel fired a gun that was supposed to be loaded with blanks.  Instead it was loaded with wadcutters, a form of ammunition that can be mistaken for blanks.

"What will be overwhelmingly obvious to you is no one knew what was going on -- with who, with what, with anything. It was almost chaos that night," said Russell.

Chief Lewis's defense attorney, Stephen Romine, told the jury the blame falls on Officer Coel.

"One person did two things that violated his training, the policies of the Punta Gorda Police Department, and the law according to the state," he said.

Romine said Coel disregarded procedures and used the ammunition before having it properly cleared.

"What Lee Coel did, the evidence will show you, is he defeated he defeated the entire safety process," said Russell.

And because of that Mary Knowlton died. She was shot to death in front of her friends and even her husband.

Gary Knowlton took the stand briefly Monday and told the jury she never knew what she was facing.

"Before that night, did your wife Mary have any experience handling firearms?" asked the state.

"None," responded Gary Knowlton.

The trial will resume Tuesday morning in Charlotte County.  If found guilty of the misdemeanor charge, Chief Lewis could face up to 60 days in jail.

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