He did not fire the fatal shots, but the chief of police in Punta Gorda, Florida, says he is “100 percent accountable” for the death of Mary Knowlton.
Knowlton was accidentally killed by an officer this week in a “shoot/don’t shoot” role playing exercise during a Citizen Police Night in Punta Gorda.
The 73-year-old had retired to Florida with her husband after a career as a teacher and school librarian in Minnesota.
Police Chief Thomas Lewis said in a statement Thursday the role play exercise is meant to foster conversation about how quickly officers have to make decisions during a use of force incident. No live rounds are supposed to be fired, though.
“Obviously in this circumstance, something went terribly wrong, ” Lewis said. “I accept full responsibility for the actions of my department and my officers.”
An investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is expected to take a few weeks.
“She’d be mad if I didn’t forgive”
Mary’s husband of 55 years, Gary Knowlton, told NBC 2 he was standing about 10 feet away when she was shot Tuesday night.
He told the station he was in shock at the time and didn’t know what to do. But one thing he will not do is hold onto any anger at the police officer who shot her. “People make big mistakes, and they shouldn’t have to live with it the rest of their life,” he said.
The Free-Press of Fort Myers, Florida, says one of the Knowltons’ sons, 53-year-old Bill, still lives in Minnesota. His younger brother Steve, 51, is in Punta Gorda and told the newspaper: “I know the officer didn’t mean for this to happen. I know he’s in his own hell. My mom taught me you can’t harbor resentment. She’d be mad if I didn’t forgive.”
Officer has been investigated in Punta Gorda, asked to resign from previous job
The officer who fired at Mary Knowlton, Lee Coel, has been placed on administrative leave during the investigation.
As NBC News reports, Coel has been investigated over an incident last fall in which his police dog mauled a man. According to the network police chief Lewis said the case is in civil court. Lewis noted in his statement that an independent canine expert found Coel did not violate department procedures or Florida law.
NBC says Coel was asked to resign from his previous police job in Miramar, Florida, in 2013 for “failure to satisfactorily complete agency field training program.”