A 73-year-old woman was accidentally shot and killed by police in Punta Gorda, Florida. The shooting took place as part of a community “shoot/don’t shoot” exercise. The exercise was part of a community outreach program to help community members understand the challenges police officers face while on patrol.
73yo Mary Knowlton was accidentally shot and killed by PGPD officer during citizen police academy, police say pic.twitter.com/xRmTnwniJ1
— Corey Lazar (@CoreyLazarWINK) August 10, 2016
Mary Knowlton was taking part in the “shoot/don’t shoot” exercise at the time that she was shot. The project is meant to help civilians understand how officers decide to use lethal force, and the exercise was part of a wider civilian training program. Such programs are used throughout the country and are fairly popular. They cover a wide range of topics, including outreach for troubled youth.
A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Steve Arthur, said “shoot/don’t shot” drills are meant to help people understand police shootings. Arthur also said that live ammunition is normally not used in such drills.
‘It gives people a better idea of what an officer has to deal with when confronted with ambiguous situations.’
Reports indicate that Knowlton’s death was an accident. Apparently, the officer was role-playing as a criminal in this scenario. He shot Knowlton several times in the chest with a loaded revolver. He thought the gun was loaded with blanks.
The officer involved in the shooting has been put on paid administrative leave pending a full investigation into the matter. The city manager, Howard Kunik, issued a statement offering his condolences and said the police department’s chaplain was available to assist the other students. Chief Tom Lewis also held a press conference where he expressed his sorrow for the event and promised an investigation. Lewis said,
‘I am devastated for everyone involved in this unimaginable event.’
‘If you pray, please pray for Mary’s family, and for the officers who were involved. Everyone involved in this accident is in a state of overwhelming shock and grief.’
So far, reports indicate that Knowlton’s death was an accident, but that should not excuse those involved. Anyone who has ever handled a gun knows to check the rounds before firing it. It is beyond shocking that a trained police officer wouldn’t make sure they were using blanks before firing in a training exercise. Accident or not, the officer involved should certainly face punishment. If this had happened to an average civilian, they would be in jail right now.
Featured image via Getty Images.