Lee Coel: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

Lee Coel

Punta Gorda Police Officer Lee Coel. (Facebook/Punta Gorda PD)

Multiple eyewitnesses have identified the officer who shot retired librarian Mary Knowlton at a citizen’s academy as Lee Coel.

Coel was previously involved in a controversial videotaped incident in which his police K-9 mauled a man stopped on a bicycle.

Lee Coel

A scene from the Lee Coel dog mauling video. (YouTube)

Knowlton, 73, a community volunteer for the library, died in a bizarre shooting during a two-hour citizen role play put on by the Punta Gorda Police Department, which is located near Fort Myers, Florida.

Police have not formally identified the officer involved.

Here’s what you need to know:


A Witness to The Shooting Says Knowlton Was Playing The Police Officer During the Role Play & Her Son Says She Participated to Show Support For Law Enforcement

Mary Knowlton

Mary Knowlton. (Facebook/Mary Knowlton)

Knowlton was shot after being randomly selected to participate in the role playing incident, which occurred in front of 34 other people during the citizen academy designed to teach people about use of force. Her son, Steve, told NBC she signed up after recent break-ins near her home and to show her support for law enforcement after recent shootings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

NBC News initially said Knowlton was asked to play the part of an “intruder” in the drill.

John Wright, a witness and Chamber of Commerce president who witnessed the shooting, later told NBC that at first he thought it was “theater” when Knowlton fell to the floor after being shot but then saw the blood. However, Wright said that Knowlton was playing the police officer in the drill, not the intruder, as her son told the news media.

The police chief said “we were unaware that any live ammunition existed for this kind of weapon. We thought only blanks were available,” according to NBC.


2. Coel Was Involved In a Controversial Dog Mauling Incident Captured on Video

VideoVideo related to lee coel: 5 fast facts you need to know2016-08-10T16:14:47-04:00

Coel was accused of chasing down a man on a bicycle with a police dog.

In June, the man on the bicycle, Richard Schumacher, sued the city “after his attorney says he was nearly killed by a police dog in a traffic stop over a bicycle,” said WINK News. WINK News said Coel had trailed Schumacher because he was “riding a bike in the dark with no lights.”

According to WINK, Coel filled out a police report that said that it was almost impossible to see the bicycle in the dark and that Schumacher started pedaling faster.

Lee Coel

Lee Coel with his police dog, Spirit. (Facebook/Punta Gorda Police Department)

“Footage shows Coel pursue Shumacher who finally comes to a stop in the driveway of a home. Less than two minutes later, Coel would open his patrol car door, releasing his K-9 officer to take down Shumacher,” said WINK, adding that Coel wrestled with Schumacher “while the dog rips into the flesh under his arm,” and Schumacher required surgery and spent 11 days in the hospital.


3. The Officer Is on Administrative Duty & Was Asked to Resign From a Previous Job, Reports Say

Coel “was asked to resign from a Southeast Florida department before being hired two years ago in Charlotte County,” said USA Today. The newspaper said that Coel left the Miramar Police Department after 14 months in 2013 for “failing to satisfactorily complete an agency field training program.” A year later, he was hired in Punta Gorda.

According to The Herald Tribune, Coel left Miramar “amid two accusations of excessive force. He was placed on administrative leave and later was told he failed to meet the department’s probation period, records show.” However, the newspaper said that, when Coel applied at Punta Gorda, he wrote in his application that “an internal affairs investigation determined those claims were unfounded, but he was found to have committed two policy violations” and he had a dozen recommendation letters from those on the Miramar force.

He previously worked in Florida and Iowa as a veterinary technician, said the Herald Tribune.

Lt. Katie Heck of the Punta Gorda Police Department told USA Today that Coel was “devastated” by what happened to Knowlton and had previously been part of similar role play scenarios.

The officer was placed on administrative leave and the Florida Florida Department of Law Enforcement was called in to investigate the shooting.


4. Knowlton Was a Retired Librarian From Minnesota Remembered For Her Love of Books

Mary Knowlton

Mary Knowlton. (Facebook/Mary Knowlton)

Knowlton was from Minnesota before moving to Florida with her husband. She was a retired librarian who was on the Friends of Punta Gorda Library board. She was remembered by friends as having a passion for books and trying to instill a love of reading in youth.

Steven Knowlton, Mary’s son, released a statement to CBS This Morning that said, “This is a devastating time for us… my mom was a saint such a tremendous loss of a wonderful human being and the best mom a kid could ever hope for.”

Knowlton and her husband were married for more than 50 years, The Associated Press said. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune says Mary Knowlton had two sons.

Mary’s niece posted on Facebook, “Please pray for my family as we all grieve my beloved Aunt Mary Knowlton. I pray for my Uncle Gary and cousins Bill and Steve Knowlton as they mourn the loss of a devoted Wife and Mother. We are devastated. How I loved her so much❤️she will be forever missed by all. My heart just breaks…


5. The Police Chief Said People Were Shocked By The Incident In a Press Conference & Reports Said Knowlton Was Shot Multiple Times

ABC 7 said Knowlton was “randomly selected” with another participant to be part of the role playing exercise.

The Police Chief Tom Lewis said the victim, 73-year-old Mary Knowlton, was “mistakenly struck with a live round.” Knowlton was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

“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,” the chief said, according to ABC 7.