Fault Lines
21 June 2017

Librarian Mary Knowlton Killed By Cop During Training Exercise

August 11, 2016 (Fault Lines) — A 73-year-old woman was fatally shot with live ammunition by a police officer in Punta Gorda, Florida when a citizen training academy “shoot/don’t shoot” exercise went terribly wrong. Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis said that Mary Knowlton was one of the two participants randomly selected to take part in the hypothetical scenario in which they make decisions on using simulated lethal force. She was taken to a hospital in nearby Fort Myers, where she was pronounced dead.

“During the first scenario, in a horrible accident participant Mary Knowlton was mistakenly struck by a live round,” Lewis said in a press conference.

The Punta Gorda police department realizes that our community will have many questions about this incident. However, we are taking care not to jeopardize the investigation. We were unaware that any live ammunition existed for this kind of weapon. We thought only blanks were available.

The officer whose killed Knowlton, Lee Coel, has been on the force since March, 2014. He has been placed on administrative leave, pending the outcome of an independent investigation by the Florida department of law enforcement.

Lt. Katie Heck, a police spokeswoman, said that in the previous sessions she has been in, they use “simunition guns” for the session. Simunition products are real-looking weapons that fire blanks with reduced force. “Exactly what happened last night is still under investigation,” Heck added. In this exercise, real guns were used rather than training weapons.

After the shooting, residents of Punta Gorda expressed their bewilderment about how this “accident” could have happened. A debate about the culpability of the officer that shot Mary Knowlton erupted on the Police Department’s page.

“An accident, really, so that makes it OK?” one observer noted.

But it was no accident, despite the effort of Chief Lewis and the well-intended but misguided concerns of local residents. An accident implies that a bad outcome just happened, even though wrong occurred. That cannot happen with guns, where the basic rules of safety preclude a shooter from uttering the word “oopsie” after he kills someone. There can be no accident.

It was a negligent death, something that could have easily been avoided.

If the Punta Gorda Police Department followed even the most basic rules of firearms safety, the death would never have occurred.

Negligent at minimum. Reckless is far more likely. There is no excuse for using real guns in a simulation, and Lewis’ “there were only blanks” is belied by one indisputable fact: live rounds killed Mary Knowlton.

But what was she doing there, allowing herself to be used as a target for a police exercise?

According to her son, Steve Knowlton, his mother had been speaking with her family Sunday about the negative press police had received after a series of officer-involved shootings across the nation and had decided to attend the civilian police academy to show her support for local law enforcement. “Our society needs them and people are human and they make mistakes, but that’s why she went there,” he told CNN.

If Knowlton’s purpose was to show that cops make mistakes, she certainly proved the point. With her life.

4 Comments on this post.

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  • DaveL
    11 August 2016 at 9:11 am - Reply

    Let me help translate from Police-Press-Release to English.

    During the first scenario, in a horrible accident participant Mary Knowlton was mistakenly struck by a live round fired by one of our officers, then another live round, then another.

  • Keith
    11 August 2016 at 11:03 am - Reply

    There is never a scenario in civilian life where live weapons should be aimed at other civilians. As much as cops get the tools of war from the 1033 program, they are still civilians.

    Basic firearms safety rules that everyone learned in an into to firearms class say:
    Treat every gun as loaded
    Never put your finger on the trigger until you’re ready to fire
    Never point a gun at anything you don’t intend to kill / destroy
    Know what your target is and what lays beyond it.

    All 4 rules were violated by this cop. This is basic, basic stuff. And that takes it way out of accident land and puts it squarely into the negligence / recklessness category. Thanks for getting that right!

  • Rick
    11 August 2016 at 7:58 pm - Reply

    Just unreal. The Punta Gorda police department should be cleaned out from the top down and the cop who shot her should be charged just like any of the rest of us would be. The stupidity is mind numbing.

  • Nutjob Cop Lee Coel Shoots Librarian? It’s a Gun Safety Issue
    13 August 2016 at 9:04 am - Reply

    […] On August 9, this officer, Lee Coel of the Punta Gorda Police Department, shot and killed an elderly librarian during a role-playing exercise. […]