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The trial of Punta Gorda, Florida Police Chief Tom Lewis continues on Wednesday. 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, instead of blanks.
Lewis is facing a misdemeanor charge of culpable negligence, as prosecutors are blaming him for not putting in place safety protocols that could have prevented the tragedy. Coel will face a separate trial for first-degree manslaughter.
On Tuesday, the prosecution called a number of police department employees to discuss department procedure and the Citizens Academy.
Officer Jeff Woodard said that the Academy had used the shoot/don’t shoot simulation exercise several times in the past. During the defense’s questioning, Woodard said that while there was no designated “safety officer” for the exercise, Woodard said that everyone at the police force essentially operates as a safety officer.
Woodard also addressed the rounds that were loaded into Coel’s weapon, known as “wadcutters.” Woodard, who used to be in charge of the armory, said that by looking at them, he would not be able to tell the difference between wadcutter rounds or blanks. This would appear significant for the defense, as it indicates that even if there were safety measures in place to check the weapon, officers still may not have noticed that something was wrong.