Play the Victim

Officer Lee Coel had a gun full of bullets.

Officer Lee Coel would play the bad guy, Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis explained to the crowd of 35.

From the crowd, a retired librarian named Mary Knowlton was chosen to play the victim. The role-playing scenario was called “shoot-or-don’t-shoot.”

At the Citizen’s Police Academy, a free event sponsored by the Punta Gorda Chamber of Commerce, local residents could learn from the expertise of the Punta Gorda Police Department. “Shoot-or-don’t-shoot” was a demonstration of how police officers make quick decisions about when to use lethal force.

Chief Lewis would later tell the investigators that the gun was supposed to be loaded with blanks. In a separate room, Officer Coel would tell investigators that the gun was supposed to be loaded with blanks.

Officer Coel shot Mary several times in front of her husband, Gary, an 87-year-old retired CPA. She was pronounced dead at a hospital in Fort Myers.

“If you pray, please pray for Mary’s family, and for the officers who were involved,” Chief Lewis said in a statement. “Everyone involved in this accident is in a state of overwhelming shock and grief.”

Chief Lewis was later charged with culpable negligence. Officer Coel was charged with felony manslaughter.

Punta Gorda resident C.J. Matcalfe sat outside the hearing in a lawn chair with a homemade protest sign. “I’m so sorry for Mary Knowlton and her family,” she told NBC Channel 2, “but it was an accident.”


ACCIDENT is a project by Jessie Singer. Get the TinyLetter here.

Sourced from USA Today and The Sarasota Herald Tribune. Icon by Abeldb for The Noun Project.