Former Punta Gorda Police Officer Lee Coel appealed his termination today. He was fired for his part in the shooting death of 73-year-old Mary Knowlton last August during a shoot/don’t shoot demonstration at police headquarters.
The hearing took place in a city hall conference room that was closed to the public and the media. Attorney James Brantley representing the Florida Police Benevolent Association and Lee Coel argued that the officer should not have been fired. He was the one who pulled the trigger during the scenario being run for members of the city’s Chamber of Commerce last August.
After the nearly three-hour hearing, which Coel did not attend, Brantley met with reporters and presented his case.
“They confirmed during the hearing that not a single other employee of the police department or the city has received so much as a written reprimand,” said Brantley. “So the question is, is why Officer Lee Coel would be the only person held responsible for the events of August of last year that resulted in Ms. Knowlton’s death.”
City Manager Howard Kunik is on record saying they will conduct a full internal affairs investigation into everyone on the police force connected to the scenario after the criminal charges against Coel and police chief Tom Lewis have been resolved. Coel is charged with felony manslaughter, and the chief with misdemeanor culpable negligence. But Brantley observed the chief has been put on indefinite paid administrative leave pending the outcome of those criminal charges. He asked why Coel couldn’t be treated the same way? No decision was made today during the hearing.