Punta Gorda Police Officer Who Killed Retired Libarian Suing For Disability Pension

PUNTA GORDA — The former Punta Gorda police officer who shot and killed a retired librarian during a training exercise last August is suing his department’s pension board for refusing to grant him a disability pension for post-traumatic stress he claims to suffer as a result of the killing.

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.

A court date has not yet been set for the lawsuit, which is scheduled for Charlotte County Circuit Court Judge Lisa Porter’s courtroom.

Source: http://www.heraldtribune.com/news/20171129/officer-involved-in-fatal-shooting-suing-for-disability-pension