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Officers charged in accidental shooting death of former Rosemount librarian

Former Rosemount librarian Mary Knowlton was killed during a police training exercise in Florida Aug. 9, 2016. She is pictured with her husband, Gary Knowlton. (Submitted Photo)

A Punta Gorda police officer and his chief have been charged in the accidental shooting death of a former Rosemount librarian.

Officer Lee Coel has been charged with one felony count of manslaughter with a firearm. Punta Gorda Police Chief Thomas Lewis has been charged with one misdemeanor count of culpable negligence in the second degree.

Mary Knowlton, 73, a former librarian at Parkview Elementary School, was participating in a two-hour training course Aug. 9, 2016, in Punta Gorda, Fla. Her trainer, Coel, was demonstrating a shoot-don't-shoot scenario and fired what he thought were blanks at Knowlton.

The gun was loaded. Knowlton was shot and pronounced dead that night at Lee Memorial Hospital in Fort Myers, Fla.

Coel was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.

The investigation, by the state attorney's office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, culminated Feb. 22 with charges against the officers.

"This has been a very labor intensive process and has involved a lot of investigative work," said Stephen Russell, state attorney for the 20th Judicial Circuit.

Coel could get up to 30 years in prison and a $10,000 fine, Russell said. The chief could receive up to 60 days in jail. Lewis will be arraigned April 5 and Coel April 10.

Howard Kunik, Punta Gorda's city manager, said Police Chief Lewis had been placed on administrative leave with pay pending further review. He said once he had all the information, the city would do its own internal investigation to determine whether the chief will remain employed.

In October, the city reached a settlement with Mary's husband Gary Knowlton in the amount of $2.06 million. In the settlement, the city admits no liability for Knowlton's death and it is exempted from further action by her family.

Kunik, who had overseen the hiring of Lewis, said the situation has been difficult.

"Tom Lewis is a fine man," he said. "I know he is committed to excellence in his profession and has the best interest of the community at heart. If you believe otherwise, you just don't know him."

Knowlton and her husband lived in Prior Lake from 1973 until retiring to the Florida coastal town of Punta Gorda. The couple have two grown sons, William and Steve.

Knowlton worked for the Scott County Library System until 1988 at the Prior Lake Library. She served on the library board from 1993 to 2001, said current Library Director Jake Grussing.

She also was the librarian at Parkview Elementary School in Rosemount from 1988 to 2004 and was a substitute librarian at other schools in the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district through 2013.

Family members said she continued to be involved in her Floridian community and had gone to the citizen's academy to show her support for the police department.