The state attorney’s office announced on Wednesday that a Punta Gorda, Florida, police chief and a police officer are facing manslaughter and other related charges after the officer and killed a 73-year-old woman during a training accident.
USA Today reports that Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis and officer Lee Coel are charged with accidentally shooting and killing Mary Knowlton, 73, while participating in a citizen’s police academy demonstration on August 9, hosted by the Punta Gorda Chamber of Commerce.
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Knowlton, a retired librarian, was attending the demonstration and participating in the event when Coel, 28, shot her with a weapon intended for training only. She was engaging in a “shoot/don’t shoot” incident, where she played the victim and Coel played the villain.
Three months after the ordeal, Knowlton’s family received approval for a $2.06 million settlement from the Punta Gorda city council members, but the Florida Department of Law Enforcement conducted an investigation into the shooting, which led to charges for both Coel and Lewis.
Coel is facing a felony manslaughter charge while Lewis is facing a misdemeanor charge of culpable negligence. Coel was arrested, but Lewis was given a summons to appear in court. If convicted, Coel could face up to 30 years in prison and a $38,000 fine, while Lewis could face up to 60 days in jail.
The gun used during the demonstration was supposed to contain blanks only. It’s still unclear why real bullets were loaded into the gun. Coel’s attorney, Jerry Berry, said that his client had no idea the gun had real bullets. However, experts are questioning why all firearms were not inspected thoroughly before the event.
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