Lee Williams has an update on the Punta Gorda, FL, shooting death of 73-year-old retiree Mary Knowlton. The police officer who killed her, Lee Coel, has been fired and charged with manslaughter, and the police chief, Tom Lewis, has also been charged with some trivial misdemeanor (although he clings to his job) in what has turned out to be the most incredible and horrifying bad shoot in this young century.
Hey, at least when NYPD shoots nine bystanders, they’re trying to shoot a criminal, and they know they’re firing live ammo. This cockeyed Keystone incompetence has no such excuse.
According to investigative reports and crime scene photos released Wednesday, former Punta Gorda Police Officer Lee Coel loaded Blazer .38 Special hollow-base wadcutters into his Smith & Wesson .38 Special Airweight revolver, instead of Winchester blank rounds.
Coel then pointed his revolver at 73-year-old retired librarian Mary Knowlton and pulled the trigger four times.
Knowlton was hit twice.
“Mrs. Knowlton was struck by two of the four bullets that were fired. One bullet ricocheted off the engine hood of the parked car and struck Mrs. Knowlton in the abdomen, where it remained. Another bullet ricocheted off the engine hood and struck her in the inside of her left elbow, where it remained. A third bullet ricocheted off the engine hood and came to rest at an unknown location. The fourth bullet entered and lodged in the driver’s side door of the parked vehicle,” the FDLE report states.
An autopsy later showed that the fatal round perforated Knowlton’s aorta.
The next line is one that always makes us lose focus for a minute, because it’s the classically mealy-mouthed passive voice of responsibility shirkers.
The FDLE report indicates that mistakes were made.
“Mistakes were made,” my ever-lovin’ eye.
The mistakes “were made” by somebody, or several somebodies: Coel and the Punta Gorda police chief, to be sure, but also, as an outraged Williams points out, by every officer who attended this kind of half-assed “training,” and didn’t speak up.
Do Read The Whole Thing™, as Williams extracts a whole litany of lessons from these morons, but the fact is, somebody chose the easy wrong (“Hey, a revolver works great with blanks,” over the hard right, “How do we do this without pointing a live weapon at anybody?”).
Lee is not buying the idea that the superficial similarity of the rounds somehow excuses the shoot.
Anyone who has ever taken even the most basic firearm safety course will see that a plethora of mistakes — an entire chain of mistakes — occurred long before Coel was unable to distinguish wadcutters from blanks, and then loaded the fatal rounds.
I’m sure there may be some who say — because the wadcutters and blanks look somewhat alike — that they now understand how this could have happened.
This never should have happened.
Adherence to even the most basic fundamentals of firearms safety would have prevented this needless, tragic death.
Lee Williams has written an update, calling for the resignation or firing of Lewis. Apart from Lee’s points, just the hiring of Coel, who had failed at other police departments, calls into question Lewis’s judgment — and makes one wonder whether other clockwork bombs are ticking away in the Punta Gorda PD.
One gets the impression that Coel is that rare thing, the sort of cop who always wanted to shoot somebody. Now that he’s done it, maybe he understands why all the other cops aren’t like that. In partial defense of Lewis, he seems to have cooperated with the investigation.
The same cannot be said of Coel. He lawyered up and shut up, getting a privilege you would not, and he and his lawyer lied in a statement submitted by letter, claiming that he had called out to test fire the blanks while on duty. This was contradicted by the recollections of the dispatchers and the radio logs and tapes.
Only four fired casings from Coel’s revolver were recovered, but the revolver has five chambers, and the partial box of live .38 ammo in his car contained 35 rounds — 50 minus three revolver loads. That suggests that Coel pocketed or otherwise disposed of the one remaining live round in an attempt to evade responsibility (witnesses agree that he fired four shots, and traces, at least, of four shots were found). The manufacturer of the casings from the firearm and the matching box of live ammo in the car, CCI, does not manufacture centerfire blanks, and confirmed that to the investigation.
The FDLE investigation’s complete report is being trickled out only to friendly reporters. A partial textual report is here: FDLE Report on Punta Gorda Shooting.pdf
Another news story based on access to the full report contains this chilling note:
Punta Gorda police Lt. Katie Heck said she “probably” gave Coel a box of live ammunition, thinking they were blanks, the report said.
It’s beginning to look like Coel was just the tip of the incompetence iceberg, and nobody in that department knew what he or she was doing.
Lewis, meanwhile is on “paid administrative leave.” Yep, he’s been vacationing on his failure for seven months and counting. Maybe someone should give him his incompetent officer’s revolver, and a box of what his incompetent lieutenant thinks are blanks, and urge him to do the right thing.