Punta Gorda police create new guidelines after citizens academy shooting death

Policy changes have been made

Mary and Gary Knowlton. Family photo
Mary and Gary Knowlton. Family photo

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. (WFLA) — It’s been nearly three months since a Punta Gorda woman was tragically shot and killed during a Citizens Academy. As the investigation continues, the department has made changes to its policy.

One night in August, Officer Lee Coel accidentally fired shots at 73-year-old Mary Knowlton during a training exercise. He thought they were blanks but they turned out to be live bullets. Knowlton later died. Now, the department has changed its policies.

“We still have a police department to run,” said City Manager Howard Kunik.

From now on, Citizens Academies will no longer use guns capable of firing live ammunition.

Also, all guns and ammo will be stored in an armory. They can only be accessed by specialized officers. And, a safety officer must be present with a first aid kit during future citizen academies. The department has also made changes to its hiring practices.

“We still have day to day operations out there so he took a look at what he felt needed to be done based on what happened. Those are just interim measures, there may be more to come, we’ll see,” said Kunik.

The department learned other state agencies have not instituted these sorts of guidelines, so officers are hopeful this can be adopted across Florida.

In the meantime, on Wednesday the city and the Knowlton family agreed to a settlement of more than $2 million.

“We felt it was the right thing to do so we both mutually agreed to this settlement and it puts closure,” said Kunik.

One taxpayer is worried about how the city could afford that.

“It’s a concern to me just in terms of the cost to the city, what it means going forward,” said Punta Gorda resident Julie McGillivray.

The case has now been turned over to the State Attorney’s Office. It’s unclear if or when the office will file charges in this case.

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