Justice is elusive when policing goes wrong

Mary Knowlton and her husband Gary in a 2016 family photo

MARY KNOWLTON WAS 73 YEARS OLD when she was shot to death by a police officer demonstrating the perils of his job. The officer, Lee Coel, was playing the “bad guy,” and Knowlton was selected to play a cop during the exercise in Punta Gorda, Fla., in 2016. Instead of firing blanks as the retired librarian approached him, Coel accidentally shot her with live bullets, his lawyer says.

“She goes down, and no one knows if she’s pretending,” says one of her two sons, Steve Knowlton, 53. “Then they flipped her over.”

Knowlton bled out from her abdomen and left elbow in the Punta Gorda police department’s parking lot. She died about an hour later at a hospital. “It just feels like our souls got ripped out of our chest,” her son says.

August marked the third anniversary of Knowlton’s death, but Coel, 31, has yet to stand trial on a manslaughter charge and is free on

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