Police chief in Florida accepts 'full responsibility' for shooting of MN retiree


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."

Next Up

moose minnesota usfws - flickr

MN homeowner mistakes large tent for dead moose

They spotted two people on a security camera dragging the "moose" across a driveway.

Flickr - minneapolis police officer close-up belt camera - Tony Webster

What happens if Mpls. public safety question passes? City memo provides answers

The memo was sent to the mayor and council members Tuesday morning.


COVID-19 hits Minnesota Wild coaching staff

The Wild will be shorthanded for Tuesday night's game in Vancouver.

Anthony Edwards

Ant takes alpha role after bad loss: 'We need to lock the f*** in'

The Timberwolves' rising star was not happy after Monday's loss to the Pelicans.

parker eisinger

Lakeville football player diagnosed with cancer week before playoffs

The tenth-grader was diagnosed with a form of cancer most commonly found in people aged 65 and older.

University of Minnesota peeping tom suspect

Someone keeps trying to film showering women at U of M

The university has received three reports in the past two weeks.

john Fluevog shoes 1

John Fluevog Shoes closes its Uptown Minneapolis store

The brand could return to the Twin Cities one day.

sidecar drink

Sidecar — Town Hall's new cocktail lounge — is officially open in Minneapolis

It's the fifth Town Hall location, but the first to focus on cocktails.

Screen Shot 2019-07-18 at 9.10.30 AM

Here's where DFLers stand on Minneapolis' public safety ballot question

The question would create a Department of Public Safety and remove some requirements.

Arthur Kollie

Man pleads guilty to brutal murder of 14-year-old girl in Fargo

The 14-year-old girl was the victim of a random attack outside a Fargo strip mall.

Minneapolis Mayoral Candidates 2021 - jacob frey sheila nezhad kate knuth

Here's who has endorsed the frontrunners for Minneapolis mayor

Politicians and community groups are voicing their opinions.


Florida officer charged in shooting death of MN native during citizen police academy

Mary Knowlton was killed during a "shoot/don't shoot" scenario.