Live ammo mixed with blanks before citizen's academy shooting

- New documents obtained by NBC 2 News in Florida confirm live ammunition and blanks were stored together before the fatal shooting of a woman at Punta Gorda Police Department citizen’s academy. Mary Knowlton, 73, a native of Austin, Minnesota, was shot during a “shoot-don’t shoot” scenario at the Aug. 9 citizen’s academy. The officer’s gun was supposed to be loaded with blanks.

“During the first scenario, participant Mary Knowlton was struck with a live round and was fatally injured,” the police department said in a statement after the shooting.

Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis said there was no policy in place for community demonstrations – something that will change. The department has already changed its policy on the storage of ammunition.

Why were blanks and live ammo mixed?

"As you know, we are a very small department. Typically you have one armory, where you have all weapons, all ammunition," Chief Lewis told NBC 2.

New policy

According to the Punta Gorda Police Department: “We have instituted a new policy for the storing of weapons and ammunition in the department armory. While the previous practice of keeping these items in the same storeroom is not directly related to the events of August 9th, the decision was made to take extra measures to ensure non-lethal weapons are stored in a designated safe which is separate from the armory.”

Status of investigation

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is leading an independent criminal investigation into the shooting of Mary Knowlton. After a review of their findings, the police department and Punta Gorda city manager will conduct an internal investigation.  

Lee Coel, the officer involved in the shooting, remains on leave. Officer Coel has worked for the department since 2014 and he often led department presentations and tours, including role-playing in shoot-don't shoot scenarios.

Victim’s son: ‘I forgive’

Mary Knowlton's son, Steve, told The Associated Press that he forgives the officer involved in the shooting. “
I forgive him,” he said. “There's too much hate in this world, in America. We always feel like we need revenge and it doesn't solve anything."

Knowlton was a librarian at the Scott County Public Library in Minnesota before moving to Punta Gorda. She studied Library Science at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Knowlton also worked as a librarian in the Eagan-Apple Valley-Savage school district, full-time at Parkview Elementary School from 1988 to 2004, and as a substitute as recently as 2013.

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