There’s a reason why no legitimate police department uses real weapons during force-on-force training.
There’s a reason why we don’t point firearms — loaded or unloaded — at anything we’re not willing to destroy.
There’s a reason why we practice safe muzzle discipline.
There’s a reason why we assume every gun is loaded.
There’s a reason why firearms training should only be presented by qualified instructors.
Mistakes can happen, usually with tragic results.
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 FDLE report indicates that mistakes were made.
“There is no evidence that Officer Coel intended to use lethal ammunition while participating in the role play scenario with Mary Knowlton on August 9, 2016. Furthermore, it is apparent that Ofc. Coel’s, and others’, inability to differentiate between blank firing cartridges and .38 caliber HBWC ammunition resulted in Mary Knowlton’s death.”
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.
Every single officer who attended the “training” should be ashamed.
All it would have taken was for one of them to step up, call a cease-fire and object to pointing real guns at real people.
Instead, no one said a damn thing.
If this is the state of firearms training at the Punta Gorda Police Department, one has to wonder how the officers make it through an eight-hour shift without shooting each other.