No prison for officer in fatal citizens academy exercise

Published 9:17 pm Thursday, October 17, 2019

FORT MYERS, Fla. — A former Florida police officer who accidentally shot and killed a woman during a citizens academy exercise will serve no prison time.

Thirty-one-year-old Lee Coel pleaded no contest Wednesday to second-degree manslaughter as part of a deal with prosecutors.

A Lee County judge withheld adjudication of guilt and sentenced Coel to 10 years of probation. He must also make restitution and has agreed not to seek employment as a police officer.

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Coel was working for the Punta Gorda Police Department in August 2016 when authorities say he mistakenly shot and killed 73-year-old Mary Knowlton during a role-playing scenario. She was shot with a gun that was supposed to have blanks.

Coel was fired in March 2017, shortly after being criminally charged.

Knowlton, an Austin, Minnesota, native was a librarian in Minnesota schools for many years before she and her husband retried to Punta Gorda. Her husband and son attended Wednesday’s hearing to voice their opposition to the plea agreement.