Florida police officer charged in Knowlton’s shooting death

More than seven months after a former Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District librarian was shot and killed during a police citizens academy training exercise in Punta Gorda, Florida, the officer who shot the weapon has been charged.

Lee Coel was charged with felony manslaughter in a Charlotte County court on Feb. 22, according to the Fort Myers-based News Press report.

Coel has pleaded not guilty as his attorney said the officer did not know live ammunition was in the gun used during a “shoot-don’t-shoot” role-playing exercise Aug. 9, according to the News Press.

The situation entailed Coel portraying a criminal and Knowlton playing a police officer. Knowlton held a plastic gun during the scenario and the police officer used a revolver that he believed was loaded with blanks, according to news media reports.

After Knowlton was shot, she was taken to a nearby hospital where she died.

Coel, who was placed on administrative leave after the incident, has been fired by the department, according to the News Press.

The Punta Gorda police chief is still on administrative leave as he was charged with misdemeanor culpable negligence, according to the News Press.

The city of Punta Gorda approved a $2.06 million to Knowlton’s surviving family members as part of a settlement agreement in November.

Punta Gorda has a population of about 16,600 residents and is located on Florida’s west coast about 100 miles south of Tampa.

Knowlton, 73, was Parkview Elementary School’s librarian from 1998 to 2004. In addition to working in the Lakeville school, she worked as a substitute librarian in District 196 until 2013.

A Prior Lake resident since 1973, Knowlton worked at the Prior Lake Library previous to being employed at Parkview. She was on the Scott County Library Board from 1993 to 2001 and continued her commitment to libraries as a member of the Punta Gorda Library Board.

Originally from Austin, Minnesota, Knowlton graduated from Austin High School and studied at St. Olaf College, the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State University-Mankato.

Knowlton and her husband, Gary, were married for 55 years. They raised two sons — Steve and Bill.

Contact Tad Johnson at [email protected] or at twitter.com/editorTJ.