Ex-cop Who Shot and Killed Retired Librarian Wants Off Probation Early

Why I Am Suing The Governor of Virginia, iStock-1055138108
Ex-cop Who Shot and Killed Retired Librarian Wants Off Probation Early iStock-1055138108

U.S.A.-(AmmoLand.com)- Former Punta Gorda, Florida Police Officer Lee Coel aimed his Smith & Wesson .38-caliber revolver at 73-year-old retired librarian Mary Knowlton and pulled the trigger four times.

What were supposed to be blanks, weren’t. Coel had loaded wadcutters into his personal weapon. He could not tell the difference between blanks and live rounds.

Two rounds struck Knowlton – one hit her elbow and the other perforated her aorta. She fell to the ground mortally wounded while her husband of 55 years, Gary Knowlton, watched from just a few feet away. Mary later died at the hospital.

Knowlton and 30 other Chamber of Commerce members had been invited by Punta Gorda Police to attend a one-day citizens police academy. Knowlton and Coel were role playing. She was acting as a police officer while Coel played a bad guy.

The August 2016 killing stunned the nation – especially firearm instructors – none of whom believed that a modern law enforcement agency would be so reckless as to use a real weapon in a training scenario to shoot what they thought were blanks at someone. “Why did they use a real gun?” the trainers collectively asked. Coel’s actions, which the department officially sanctioned, violated all of the basic rules of firearm safety.

Coel wasn’t fired until a year after he killed Knowlton. In 2017, while his case was moving slowly through the legal system, Coel sued the city for denying him a disability pension. He claimed he suffered PTSD as a result of the killing and was later awarded more than $12,000 in compensation.

In October 2019, as part of a no-jail plea deal, Coel pleaded no-contest to Second-Degree Manslaughter and was sentenced to 10 years of probation. He could have been sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Knowlton’s husband Gary, who has since died, later accepted a $2 million payment from the City’s insurance fund, but the city did not admit any guilt or responsibility when they issued the payment.

Coel Wants his Probation Terminated

After serving just one-quarter of his sentence, Coel now wants his probation terminated. There will be a hearing before Lee County Circuit Court Judge Margaret Steinbeck to determine whether Coel’s probation will end early. Steinbeck is the same judge who sentenced Coel to probation rather than prison.

According to court documents, Coel has obtained a law degree since the killing, but any state bar association will likely deny him membership because of his status as a probationer.

“Not a day passes where Mr. Coel does not think about the effect his actions had on others, including the Knowlton family, the City of Punta Gorda, and the lives of those who know and love him,” Coel’s motion states. “Mr. Coel respectfully requests this Court grant his Motion for Early Termination. Granting the instant Motion will give Mr. Coel the best opportunity to be accepted into his chosen profession, allowing him to better himself, his community, and the legal profession, using his past to better the future.”

Mary Knowlton’s Family Objects

In 2019, Knowlton’s family strongly opposed Coel’s no-jail plea deal. Today, they strongly oppose ending his probation early, especially since he has served just one-quarter of his sentence.

“Lee Coel has never directly apologized to the family, nor has he paid any form of restitution. At no point did anyone from the State Attorney’s office contact Gary or his sons to instruct them concerning their rights and responsibilities as victims,” a family spokesperson said in a statement. “Both sons were close to their mother and suffered severe mental anguish and incurred substantial medical expenses. On Monday, Lee Coel may be released from probation. Odds are he will seek to seal as much of the record as is possible, then later have it expunged. Meanwhile he shifts positions from possessing the power of an officer of the law to the power of an officer of the court.”

This story is presented by the Second Amendment Foundation’s Investigative Journalism Project and wouldn’t be possible without you. Please click here to make a tax-deductible donation to support more pro-gun stories like this.

About Lee Williams

Lee Williams, who is also known as “The Gun Writer,” is the chief editor of the Second Amendment Foundation’s Investigative Journalism Project. Until recently, he was also an editor for a daily newspaper in Florida. Before becoming an editor, Lee was an investigative reporter at newspapers in three states and a U.S. Territory. Before becoming a journalist, he worked as a police officer. Before becoming a cop, Lee served in the Army. He’s earned more than a dozen national journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. Lee is an avid tactical shooter.

Lee Williams

Lee Williams
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“Very sad story Alec Baldwin incarcerated yet ??” Firearms and Safety treat every gun as if it was loaded. Blanks can kill a person never point a gun at something that you do not want to kill. The demonstration should have been with a blue gun all involved “all” should be held accountable. If the weapon is in your hand it is your responsibility to make safe. Tragic yes unavoidable without a doubt this should never had taken place most of all with a police demonstration. I completed against police officers most are not well versed in firearms training. Some… Read more »


who ever set up this stupid demo should be in the next cell, they could share soap ….I have no tolerance for stupid…every thing about this was criminal negligence


I’m a resident of this area and a former Federally Licensed Firearms Dealer and Manufacturer and this whole thing was a cluster F*ck from the start! The female Lieutenant that issued what she thought were blanks must have assumed they were. The paper showed a picture of the Ammo box and it clearly said .38 special wadcutter target ammunition!
They should have fried her as well as him!


Was it Val Demmings?

Fnu Lnu

To have miss identified a wad cutter from blank ammunition implies he’s missed more than this over the course of his career. Lee Coel is incompetent. To be a cop then or again is a mistake in judgement. I’ve noted this before; in ancient Rome, if a civil servant violated the rights if a citizen the punishment was death. Since that ship has sailed, at the very least, Coel should have become indentured to Mary Knowlton’s Family. Every breath he takes, every muscle he moves, every dollar he earns should be for the benefit of Mary Knowlton’s Family. And to sweeten the pot, Mary… Read more »


Another law enforcement “gun expert”! No better than a movie actor! He should have done some actual time. Who knows, it might have eased his conscience (if any) a bit.


You’re absolutely right. There are retail sources providing “prop guns” which are identical outwardly to actual firearms, but as you say: “cannot accept real ammo”.The solution: Federal legislation mandating all theatrical and cinematic activities employ only prop guns. This,possibly, could be the only type of “gun control” which could really save lives. Of course, universal education on the four rules of gun safety is a must. There are no excuses for this tragedy.

Last edited 1 year ago by Wass

You cannot legislate common sense. Please, don’t give the career legislizards another excuse to muddle things up.


Can you imagine the firearm safety checks on the set of John Wick movies? My goodness… he must have fired millions of rounds.


There are a lot of jobs he can do with a law degree with out being admitted to the bar.

AZ Lefty

So he NEGLIGENTLY killed a woman and now since he got a JD wants his sweetheart probation ended no not abut HE__ No. Besides most intelligent states would refuse him admission to their Bar becasue of his actions in causing death and know wanting to skirt his very minimal punishment!


someone should load a gun with 3 live rounds and three blanks and he gets to pull trigger with it under his chin


oh and he gets to pick the rounds, could all be live


Even a blank will eff him up .. under the chin.

Last edited 1 year ago by Boom

Even a blank could be deadly, if the muzzle is right up against the chin. He fired three shots, Seems that he didn’t know that blanks don’t recoil! Another well trained cop.


that is the idea ,the wad

Dubi Loo

This was no accident, it was fully intentional. At best, it was voluntary manslaughter.

Dan Griffin

A cop who is too stupid to know what a wadcutter is v. a blank should not be a cop. How did he even get the wadcutters? And how stupid is he to violate the four firearms safety rules? Execute him in front of his family and friends.


You had me until you wrote “Execute”.


Why do these PIGS Always think they are above the Law. It really is true, to be a cop, you cannot have an IQ above 55. This ‘cuck’ should be serving a mandatory 25-year prison sentence.


Don’t be upset. There is no reasonable measure in which you can defend this…don’t even try. If this would have happened to an Iraqi, the soldier would be spending the rest of their life in prison…in fact, if any soldier, did to any Iraqi, and been caught, along the same lines of what American civil law officers do to American citizens on a daily basis –and get away with…get medals for…the soldiers would be spending the rest of their life in federal prison.


The socialist cop should have served time but didn’t because he was a socialist cop who only killed White person, and not a protected species. He should have been charged for the two misses since the video shows he shot at a group of people. Sir, there is no such thing as an accident with a gun, unless it is from a manufacturer’s defect. The older folks call negligence an accident to make stupid people feel better about what they did, when it was entirely avoidable. Anything else is negligence with a dangerous weapon. You are letting the dangerous idiots… Read more »

Last edited 1 year ago by WeWereWarned

should still be buying Vaseline at prison

Last edited 1 year ago by swmft

There’s no such thing as an accident.


this was a stupid ,avoidable criminally negligent mistake


Coel needs to live with that memory of his incompetent behavior forever, chickenshit that he is.