Ex-Florida officer who fatally shot retired librarian during drill gets no jail time

The 73-year-old woman who had volunteered to participate in a police demonstration was shot and killed in front of about three dozen people, including her husband.


A former Florida police officer who fatally shot a 73-year-old retired librarian during a demonstration for the public in 2016 will not serve jail time.

Then-officer Lee Coel was performing in a "shoot/don't shoot" exercise with the Punta Gorda Police Department in the summer of 2016 when he shot Mary Knowlton, who had volunteered to participate.

She was struck by the fatal bullet in front of about three dozen people, including Knowlton's husband of 55 years, who were at the citizen police academy watching the drill about police use of firearms.

Then-police chief Tom Lewis said at the time that the revolver Coel fired had been used in previous exercises. The gun was loaded with bullets instead of blanks.

Lee Coel and K-9 Spirit.via WBBH / PGPD

Coel, who was charged the following year with felony manslaughter with a firearm, accepted a plea deal this week, sparing him from serving jail time, according to NBC affiliate WBBH. The deal stipulates that he spend 10 years on probation. He had faced up to 30 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Coel, who joined the Punta Gorda Police Department in 2014, was fired shortly after he was charged.

He was investigated by internal affairs and retrained after an October 2015 arrest during which a man was mauled by his police dog for at least two minutes. The incident was caught on dashcam video and went viral.

He had also been asked to resign in 2013 from a previous job with the Miramar Police Department in Florida for "failure to satisfactorily complete agency field training program."

Mary Knowlton and her husband Gary KnowltonProvided by family

He wrote in his Punta Gorda application that he had been “found to have committed two simple policy violations" after he was hit with two “excessive use of force complaints” that were later deemed unfounded.

The family of Knowlton, a retired librarian and mother of two grown sons, received a more than $2 million settlement, approved by the Punta Gorda City Council.

Lewis, who had said he held himself "100 percent accountable” for the shooting, was charged with culpable negligence and found not guilty in 2017.