As part of a motion seeking to dismiss the criminal charges he’s facing, Punta Gorda Police Chief Thomas Lewis and his defense team have made some unbelievable claims.
Although he’s only been charged with a misdemeanor, Lewis is fighting for his career.
The fight began Aug. 9, when former PGPD officer Lee Coel loaded wadcutters into his .38 caliber revolver instead of blanks before a shoot/no-shoot demonstration. Coel then shot and killed retired librarian Mary Knowlton. The killing made international news.
Prosecutors have charged Coel with manslaughter. Lewis fired the young officer after Coel pleaded not guilty.
Lewis was charged with culpable negligence — a misdemeanor. He’s been on paid leave ever since, but remains employed by the city.
His attorneys recently filed a motion to dismiss the negligence charges.
According to court documents, they argued that “such demonstrations had been held before by the police department and the Sheriff’s Office, and that he merely appeared at the demonstration, while other officers were delegated to organization, safety and participation.”
Chief Lewis, the documents state, “had no knowledge of the violations of department policies and regulations by the officers. He believed the statute was being arbitrarily applied because no one had been charged in previous demonstrations.”
As a non-lawyer, I interpret the chief’s four-part defense strategy as thus:
- Look at all the people we haven’t killed.
- I was just there, but I wasn’t in charge.
- It’s my guys’ fault, not mine.
- You’re picking on me only because someone was shot to death.
If I was a juror in his upcoming trial, which begins later this month, none of these arguments would sway me.
Evidently, they didn’t sway the trial judge either.
On Friday, Lee County Judge Devin George denied Lewis’ motion to dismiss the case
“As it applied to the facts of this case, if Defendant (Lewis), as argued by the State, implemented and designed the demonstration without any policies or protocols in place for citizen safety or oversight of the officers participating, such acts or omissions would create a risk of death or great bodily harm when a live firearm is involved. Defendant would or should have been on notice of that risk,” Judge George wrote in his order denying Lewis’ motion to dismiss.
I certainly couldn’t have said it any better.
We’ll have gavel-to-gavel coverage of the chief’s upcoming trial, unless of course he pleads guilty and resigns — the only honorable option left to him.