Punta Gorda's Police Chief Is On Paid Leave

Feb 23, 2017

Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis is on administrative leave with pay today after being charged with culpable negligence in the death of a woman participating in a citizen’s academy last August.

Officer Lee Coel will have a disciplinary hearing with the city’s human resources manager and labor attorney to determine his future employment status with the Punta Gorda police department. Coel has the right to appeal the outcome to the city manager. He was charged with manslaughter yesterday in the death of Mary Knowlton during the shoot/don’t shoot demonstration last August.

Captain Jason Ciaschini is acting chief.

At a press conference City Manager Howard Kunik said he still has confidence in the department and the chief.

“I know this because of the constant positive feedback we receive from our community members, from the weekly quality assurance reviews we conduct with the public and from the department’s commitment to professional standards and accreditation,” said Kunik. “I also know Tom Lewis is a fine man. I know he is committed to excellence in his profession and has the best interest of the community at heart.”

Kunik’s office has not received any investigative files from the state attorney’s office or the FDLE. They can’t make any determination about Lewis’ future status until they do. They’ll launch a full internal affairs investigation once they get those files.

Officer Coel’s attorney said he’s disappointed in the charges. He said Coel may have been negligent but not criminally negligent, which is what must be proven for Coel to be convicted of manslaughter. He said he believes the case will likely go trial. 

Listen to today's Gulf Coast Live segment on this case.