Former Punta Gorda police officer who killed librarian suing for PTSD disability claim

Lee’s note: This just in from my teammate Carlos Munoz.

Former officer Lee Coel is asking a judge to reverse the order of the Board of Trustees of the Punta Gorda Police Officers’ Pension Fund that ruled him ineligible in July for disability pension benefits.

But even if Coel wins the lawsuit, he could still be forced to forfeit all his “rights and benefits” — namely his pension — if he is convicted of manslaughter in connection with the fatal shooting of Mary Knowlton on Aug. 9, 2016.

The criminal case for Coel will likely occur sometime into 2018. No trial date has yet been set.

His civil suit was filed Nov. 21 and includes two physician’s statements that claim he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and other impairments that render him “unable to perform his duties as an officer.” It states he has “total and permanent disabilities.”

Knowlton was killed when Coel pointed a gun supposedly loaded with blanks at the 73-year-old woman and fired multiple rounds at her during a use-of-force drill. The live rounds ricocheted off a nearby car and struck Knowlton, who fell dead in the parking lot of the police station where a citizen’s police academy was being held.

Her husband watched from just feet away.

Coel was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into the shooting, and he was not fired until March 10 — three weeks after he submitted his application for disability retirement.

The City of Punta Gorda said they had no comment about the suit, and Coel’s attorney James Brantley declined to comment.

The lawsuit claims the Board denied Coel due process, in that a “final order” regarding benefits must be issued within 90 days from the date of submission, according to the civil complaint. A decision on Coel’s application was made over five months after its submission.

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About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.


  1. John Lloyd Scharf on

    They say chutzpah is when a son kills his parents and asks the judge for leniency because he is an orphan. They gave him more than time with due process, but there was no excuse for his negligent discharge.
    No badge excuses you from the basic firearms safety rules:
    All guns are always loaded.
    Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
    Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
    Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.

  2. Fired multiple shots? Why didn’t he feel the recoil that a blank doesn’t have?
    TPTB keep telling We the Peons about how the cops are the “only ones” competent enough to armed in public. But when these highly trained super pistoleros f**k up they walk. If that’s not bad enough he thinks he should be rewarded with a lifetime on benefits he “earned” by killing an old woman. It’s clowns like this who got the cops labelled as “pigs.”

  3. Richard Strayer on

    based upon Mr Coel’s prior record with his former employer in Dade County and his handling of his K-9 Mr. Coel was “unable to perform his duties as an officer.” way before he wrecklessly murdered Mary Knowlton, the thin blue line just chose to cover it up, sweep it under the rug and allow him seek employment elsewhere.

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