Jury Will Decide If Punta Gorda Police Chief is Responsible for Woman’s Death

A judge says there is sufficient evidence to allow a jury to decide whether Punta Gorda police chief Tom Lewis is culpably negligent in the accidental shooting death of a woman during a police demonstration.

The ruling came after lawyers for Chief Lewis asked the judge to acquit their client from the bench, and not send the case to a jury. Prosecutors say the chief is partly responsible for the shocking accident, where Officer Lee Coel pointed his service weapon at 73 year old Mary Knowlton, and opened fire during a shoot/don’t shoot demonstration.

Coel was playing the bad guy, and Knowlton had to decide whether to use her simulated gun in a given situation. Thomas’ lawyers say the ultimate responsibility for Knowlton’s death lies with Coel, who should have checked to make sure it was loaded with blanks, and actually made the decision to point the weapon at the woman and pull the trigger.

Chief Lewis could get 60 days in jail if convicted by a six member jury.