Thomas C. Grajek, Attorney at Law

Punta Gorda Police Officer Allegedly Shoots 73 Year Old Librarian During Demonstration

Gun in Question was Supposed to be Loaded With Blanks for Demonstration


Lakeland, FL -- (ReleaseWire) -- 09/08/2016 --On August 9, 2016, Punta Gorda police officer Lee Coel allegedly shot and killed 73-year-old librarian Mary Knowlton with a revolver that should have been loaded with blanks. Coel and Knowlton were both participating in a demonstration meant to show the public the kind of split-second decisions a police officer must make on the streets.  Knowlton was immediately taken to a nearby hospital where she was pronounced dead. 
It has now come to light that this incident is not the only of officer Coel's infractions. Three years before the alleged accidental shooting of Mary Knowlton, Coel was charged twice with using excessive force and relieved of his duties as a Miramar police officer. Last year, officer Coel was sued for ordering his dog to attack a bicyclist who was riding at night without a light. The bicyclist incurred several injuries during the attack that required surgery to repair.  

Investigators are trying to determine who was responsible for loading the weapon before the incident, but the outcome of that investigation is likely to be a deciding factor in whether criminal charges are filed. The Punta Gorda police chief has claimed full responsibility for the incident and also said that Coel was "grief stricken" over what had happened. 

There have been no developments on the fate of officer Coel or whether any charges will arise from this incident, though he could legally be charged with Involuntary Manslaughter under Florida Statute 782.07.

Thomas C. Grajek, Attorney at law, explains the unique circumstances that could potentially increase the severity of any criminal charges brought against him. "Because Knowlton can be classified as an "elderly person" according to Florida's criminal code, any charges filed against him could be upgraded to a 1st degree felony with a max of 30 years' prison for involuntary manslaughter of an elder. For the grand jury to indict Coel on these charges, they would need evidence proving that the police academy shooting was caused by the culpable negligence of the officer who shot the volunteer. There may be enough weight in the negligence argument simply because the officer should have checked his ammunition before the exercise.  This oversight may be seen as extremely negligent on the officer's part because he knew before the exercise that he would be pointing and firing a gun at people. The police are trying to figure out if someone else is responsible for checking the ammunition.  Ultimately, the officer firing the gun could be held responsible for recklessly failing to insure he was using blanks." 

Grajek goes on to explain, "Complicating matters for Coel is a previous forced resignation at another law enforcement agency.  This could be another factor in the grand jury's decision whether to charge him with a crime.  It may also be used in a jury trial against him in an attempt to prove a pattern of recklessness.  The inclusion of evidence regarding Coel's employment history, criminal record, or any other unrelated incidents that might indicate a behavioral pattern, would be challenged in court by officer Coel's defense attorney through a 'Motion in Limine'.  A Motion in Limine would ask the court to keep the jury from hearing about prior bad acts due to their prejudicial nature and lack of probative value."

About Thomas C. Grajek, Attorney at Law
Thomas Grajek is a prominent criminal lawyer in Florida, dedicated only to representing individuals charged with a crime in Polk, Pasco, and Hillsborough Counties. He is committed to providing each individual the best possible defense, aggressively pursuing freedom for clients and exoneration in every case.  Mr. Grajek is a member of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys and the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys. Grajek enthusiastically studies changes in case law and appellate decisions to provide his clients with the most informed and effective defense available.  If you are facing charges in the Lakeland, Tampa, or Lutz areas of Florida, contact Thomas C. Grajek, Attorney at Law at (813) 789-6404 for a free case evaluation.