A Florida police officer who had been on administrative leave since the accidental shooting death last August of a retired Twin Cities school librarian was fired on Friday. Officer Lee Coel, who was ordered to turn in all of his police-issued equipment, can appeal his dismissal from the Punta Gorda police force.
He was charged in February with felony manslaughter for the death of 73-year-old Mary Knowlton during a citizens academy “shoot/don’t shoot” exercise. Police Chief Tom Lewis who was charged with culpable negligence, a misdemeanor, remains on paid administrative leave with pay pending an internal affairs investigation.
Coel’s attorney has maintained that his client did not know there was live ammunition in the gun and is confident that the former officer will be acquitted. An investigation determined that live ammunition had been mistakenly mixed in with blanks.
Mary and Gary Knowlton, formerly of Prior Lake, were among 35 Citizens Academy participants at police headquarters, where Knowlton and another person were chosen for the exercise designed to re-create a lethal-force scenario.
Mary Knowlton assumed the role of a police officer, while Coel was decked out as a “bad guy” in a hoodie and mask with a revolver.
If convicted, Coel could receive 30 years in prison and a $10,000 fine, while the chief could face up to 60 days in jail.
The family agreed to a settlement in October exceeding $2 million with Punta Gorda.
Mary Knowlton was the librarian at Parkview Elementary School in Rosemount from 1988 to 2004, then was a substitute librarian at other schools in the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district through 2013.