On August 9, 2016, our community tragically lost Mary Knowlton during a citizen safety demonstration at the Punta Gorda Police Department. Mary was a beloved member of this community and will always be remembered as such.
To make information on this event easily accessible and to ensure accuracy, we have established this public resources where we'll post Q&As, media updates and any other information we're permitted to share.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) conducted an independent criminal investigation into the events of Aug. 9, 2016. On Oct. 17, FDLE released its investigation to the State Attorney’s Office for a review and decision on criminal charges. On Feb. 22, the State Attorney for the 20th Judicial Circuit charged Officer Lee Coel with first-degree manslaughter and Police Chief Tom Lewis with a second-degree misdemeanor of culpable negligence. Officer Coel’s employment with the police department was terminated effective March 10. Chief Lewis remains on administrative leave pending resolution of the criminal charges and the conclusion of the department’s internal investigation.
The police department will not begin its internal investigation until the conclusion of the pending criminal case against Chief Lewis. In a criminal hearing, a person can elect to not answer questions under protection of the 5th amendment. Should the criminal case take longer than 180 days to conclude, it could affect the internal investigation because once started, internal investigations must be completed within 180 days. The city has started its comprehensive review of all policies, procedures and training related to the event.
April 24, 2017: Transcript, Audio from Coel's Employment Appeal (available upon request)
April 20, 2017: Witness and Exhibit List for Coel Appeal
April 18, 2017: Lee Coel's Hearing Procedures
April 7, 2017: The team assembled to conduct the department's internal investigation has completed its review of the department's policies and procedures, which is a separate process from the internal affairs investigation. This review was conducted to determine whether any gaps in policies and procedures which may have contributed to the incident have subsequently been addressed and/or corrected. The team’s conclusions are stated in the report.
March 31, 2017: The City has scheduled the appellate hearing for Lee Coel.
March 27, 2017: The City has responded to Lee Coel's letter of appeal. The date for the hearing has not yet been set.
March 21, 2017: The City has received notice of appeal from the PBA attorney representing Lee Coel. A date has not yet been set for the hearing.
March 15, 2017: The City of Punta Gorda has posted the first group of public records received from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and will continue reviewing remaining records for any necessary exemptions before posting. We believe it is important for the public to have access to as much information as we are able to share to better understand details from the the event on August 9.
March 9, 2017: The HR Manager issued a decision regarding Officer Lee Coel's employment status. Officer Coel has 10 working days to appeal this decision to City Manager Howard Kunik.
Nov. 2, 2016: The city council approved a settlement agreement between the city and Gary Knowlton and the Estate of Mary Knowlton.
Aug. 22, 2016: The city announces the members of its internal investigation team.
In the wake of the tragedy, the police department immediately began examining ways to ensure that more structure is in place for community demonstrations. Additionally, the department instituted a new policy for the storing of weapons and ammunition in the department armory. While the previous practice of keeping these items in the same storeroom is not directly related to the events of Aug. 9, the decision was made to take extra measures to ensure non-lethal weapons are stored in a secure area which is separate from the armory.
Policies that have been changed/updated since the incident:
General Order Regarding Use of Firearms in Training and/or Community Presentations
SOP 500.03 - Department Armory
SOP 259.00 - Police Officer Testing Process
SOP 500.01 - Use of Firearms
SOP 710.00 - Applicant Background Investigation
SOP 270.00 - Employee Development
SOP 530.00 - Community Services Program
Feb. 23, 2017: City Manager Media Statement 2/23/2017
Oct. 17, 2016: Update on FDLE Investigation
Aug. 11, 2016: Chief Lewis Statement
Aug. 10, 2016: Community Statement from City Leaders
Aug. 10, 2016: Police Department Releases Name of Officer Involved