Florida officer who killed girl during demo has checkered record

Lee Coel, put on leave after Tuesdays fatal shooting, has been accused of using excessive force-out with police puppy and resigned from another police agency in 2013

The officer who shot and killed a 73 -year-old retired librarian during a police shoot/ dont shoot demonstration in Florida was accused of using excessive force-out with his police dog and resigned from another police agency in 2013 for failing to satisfactorily complete an agency field develop program.

Officer Lee Coel, 28, was put on administrative leave Tuesday as the Florida department of law enforcement investigates why real ammunition was used by mistake at an event designed to bring police and the public together in the small Gulf Coast city of Punta Gorda.

Authorities are expected to hold a news conference about the shooting on Thursday morning.

Lt Katie Heck, the spokeswoman for the Punta Gorda police, told Coel has worked for the department since 2014. She said Coel frequently devoted department presentations and tours, specifically role-playing in these shoot/ dont shoot scenarios.

The department did not stimulate Coel available for comment on Wednesday. A female who answered a phone listed in public records for Coel said she didnt want to talk and hung up.

On Tuesday night, Heck told Mary Knowlton, a well-known community volunteer, presumed the role of the officer during the course of its shoot/ dont shoot exercise.

During such an exercise, Heck told, the citizen presumes the role of the officer, and is confronted with situations in which they must make a decision about whether to use force on the role-player. The situations escalate speedily, forcing fast decisions.

Historically, it fosters a better understanding for what policemen face during an intense situation, and leads to informative dialogue between the community and the staff members who act as role players.

Both the citizen and the officer have a firearm during these scenarios.

But the gun are either supposed to be loaded with blanks or simunition guns, which are real-looking weapons that fire a non-lethal projectile with reduced force.

But Knowlton was erroneously struck with a live round, officers told.

Mary Knowlton attended the class with her husband and it was supposed to be a fun night, her son said on Wednesday. Even the police chief was in attendance at the class and was visibly upset during a news conference on Wednesday.

What officers didnt discuss: Coels record.

Coel left the Miramar police department after 14 months of service in the Broward County agency. Tania Rues, a Miramar police spokeswoman, said Coel resigned but could not comment on the reasons why. Coel wrote a resignation letter saying he was resigning for personal reasons; the News-Press reported that he failed to complete an bureau field educate program.

A Punta Gorda lawyer said on Wednesday that Coel shouldnt have been on the Punta Gorda force. Scott Weinberg is representing a human who said he was mauled by Coels K-9 during an apprehend in November, and took the mans suit in June. Thats when he viewed Coels dashcam video of the arrest and informed local media about the occurrence.

I told everyone that this officer was dangerous and he needed to be fired, told Weinberg, who didnt identify his client. If he had been fired like he should have been where reference is ordered that puppy to maul my client for a minute and 47 seconds, then this wouldnt have happened.

Punta Gorda officials arent saying how a gun with a live round came to be used at Tuesday evenings demo , noting blank rounds are typically used in such classes.

We were unaware that any live ammunition was available to the policeman, Punta Gorda police chief Tom Lewis said at a press conference on Wednesday. The officer involved is grief stricken. Weve get officers assigned to him to make sure hes psychologically stable.

The victims son, Steve Knowlton, said in an interview at his mothers home that, on his mothers behalf, he was forgiving the officer who fired.

Mary Knowlton moved to Florida after living for years in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. Books and magazines lay scattered on tables of the home she shared in Florida with Gary, her husband of 55 years. The couple divided their period between Minnesota and the smaller Gulf Coast community. She had two sons.

Theres too much loathe in this world, in America, we always feel like we need retaliation and it doesnt solve anything, Steve Knowlton told. I obviously cant say its easy to forgive, but it needs to be done. Shes watching me now.

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