In case there’s wasn’t enough evidence that police officers in America are too trigger-happy, this story really says it all. The Punta Gorda Police Department held an exercise to explain to the community how the police uses lethal force, and that’s when Officer Lee Coel shot and killed the elderly Florida woman. Mary Knowlton perished at the age of 73 years when she trusted a still the Punta Gorda police officer with her life and in front of a large crowd of witnesses, she was gunned down by that Coel with live ammunition with multiple live rounds, when the cop was supposed to be firing blanks.
Sadly, we already knew about the Punta Gorda cop’s shamefully awful track record of illegal violence against citizens. Just this past June, Officer Coel’s department was sued for excessive force, after a viral video incident involving his K9 unit mauling a suspect triggered a civil rights lawsuit. That citizen’s only “crime” was riding a bicycle at night without lights. Evidence later turned up that Officer Coel resigned from South Florida’s Miramar Police Department in lieu of termination for a different excessive force incident, and that Punta Gorda’s brass knew about that incident before hiring the troubled officer.
“I’ve been saying for months that this guy was going to kill somebody and now he has killed somebody,” said attorney Scott Weinberg who’s been suing Punta Gorda police and specifically Officer Coel over the K9 incident said during a telephone interview with Photography is Not a Crime Wednesday, “Everybody had been put on notice that he was a loose cannon, that he should not have had a badge and a gun. The city, the state attorney and the police department knew he was not mentally fit to serve the public.”
Weinberg also provided proof that an astounding 37% of Officer Coel’s arrests result in dismissed cases, when the average officer only loses about 5% of arrest cases to dismissal.
Local newspaper the Charlotte Sun had photographer Sue Paquin at the event, but oddly isn’t releasing any photographs of the incident.. However, their reporting indicates that Knowlton was playing the victim in an exercise where the “good guy with the gun” has to face down a criminal, where the officer was supposed to be firing blanks. Punta Gorda police chief Chief Tom Lewis remarked sadly that, “I am devastated for everyone involved in this unimaginable event. If you pray, please pray for Mary’s family, and for the officers who were involved. Everyone involved in this accident is in a state of overwhelming shock and grief.”
Anytime the police kill an innocent person, questions are raised. This tragic incident raises even larger questions about the police, who are supposedly trained professionals in handling weapons and dealing with the general public:
Why is even a real gun used for this type of exercise? Why wasn’t the officer following the two most important rules of gun safety, which is to always assume the gun is loaded and to never point a gun at anybody you are not prepared to shoot? And why haven’t they released his name so we can determine if this officer has a history of recklessness?
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement – which is the state’s own mini-FBI – is investigating Mary Knowles’ untimely death. Knowing that the Punta Gorda police kept this officer on duty after knowing of his terrible past, knowing of his recent civil rights lawsuit and knowing that he’d contact the general public, shows a tremendous lack of intelligent leadership within the department, whose responsibility includes removing potentially violent and dangerous people from contact with society
Now, no amount of investigation can bring back Mary Knowles, the deceased 73-year old wife and mother to her family, and no citizen in their right mind would continue to attend Punta Gorda’s “citizens academy” after this disastrous result, for which Officer Coel deserves to be charged criminally, and convicted.
Grant Stern is the Executive Editor of Occupy Democrats and published author. His new Meet the Candidates 2020 book series is distributed by Simon and Schuster. He's also mortgage broker, community activist and radio personality in Miami, Florida., as well as the producer of the Dworkin Report podcast. Grant is also an occasional contributor to Raw Story, Alternet, and the DC Report, and a senior advisor to the Democratic Coalition