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The trial of Punta Gorda, Florida Police Chief Tom Lewis continues on Tuesday. Lewis is facing a charge related to the death of 73-year-old Mary Knowlton, who was participating in a tour for 35 civilians as part of a Citizen Police Academy. During the program, Knowlton was selected to participate in a “shoot/don’t shoot” simulation scenario, where she was shot and killed by Officer Lee Coel with what turned out to be a live round in Coel’s gun.
Lewis is facing a misdemeanor charge of culpable negligence. During Monday’s opening statements, the prosecution said that the simulation exercise was Lewis’ idea, but he didn’t have any safety protocol. Lewis didn’t check the weapon, didn’t assign anyone else to check the weapon, and didn’t designate anyone as a safety officer, the prosecutor said.
Lewis’ defense pointed out that while the chief didn’t assign an official safety officer, everyone knows to check weapons as safety measures. The problem was that Coel defeated safety checks by using a weapon that he had brought from home, the defense said.
Therefore, Lewis’ lawyer argued, Coel is the only one responsible for what happened.
Coel will face a separate trial for first-degree manslaughter.
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