The firing of Chief Tom Lewis is the latest development in a bizarre case that has roiled the drowsy retirement town of Punta Gorda. An officer, believing he was firing blanks, shot and killed a retired librarian in August 2016 during a shoot/don’t shoot training exercise for citizens.
Punta Gorda, Fla., Police Chief Tom Lewis has been fired for his role in the 2016 death of retired librarian Mary Knowlton, who was shot and killed by a police officer during a role-playing training exercise for citizens, reports the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. City Manager Howard Kunik said Lewis was fired because the killing of Knowlton, 73, cast a “dark cloud” over the city of 17,000 on Florida’s west coast. He said a police captain will serve as interim chief but that a new chief will come from outside the department.
Lewis had refused to resign. An internal investigation found that he had a “casual approach” to safety during citizen training. Knowlton was fatally shot in August 2016 by Officer Lee Coel during role-playing. Knowlton, who had never held a gun in her life, was randomly selected to participate and was given an inert training gun. Coel, playing the “bad guy,” used a real firearm he brought from home. Coel’s gun was supposed to be loaded with blanks. Instead, he loaded live rounds into the revolver. He fired four rounds at Knowlton, who was killed when two bullets bounced off a nearby car and struck her. She fell dead in front of her husband, who was also attending the event. Chief Lewis, who was suspended with pay, was acquitted this summer of a misdemeanor charge of culpable negligence. Coel was fired and charged with negligent manslaughter. He is expected to face trial in 2018.