Tom Lewis

Former Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis

PUNTA GORDA — Former Punta Gorda police chief Tom Lewis was hired recently as a full-time police officer in the city of Clewiston.

This is Lewis’ first full-time position as an officer since he was fired as Punta Gorda Police chief following the death of Mary Knowlton, a 73-year-old retired librarian from Michigan who was killed by a Punta Gorda police officer in an Aug. 9, 2016, community demonstration.

The officer, Lee Coel, who was playing the “bad guy” in a “shoot/don’t shoot” scenario, fired live rounds at Knowlton, who died on the way to the hospital. Coel had believed his gun was loaded with blanks.

Coel pleaded no contest to second-degree manslaughter in November 2019. He was given 10 years probation and agreed never to seek a job as a police officer.

Lewis, who had been named chief in March 2016, was charged with misdemeanor culpable negligence in connection with Knowlton’s death. A jury acquitted him in June 2017.

Despite the verdict, Lewis was fired from the police department later that year in August, citing failure to integrate proper safety procedures.

Lewis could not be reached for comment, nor could anyone from the Knowlton family, who are no longer in the area.

Since his termination, Lewis has worked as an office manager for Prompt Towing in Punta Gorda and as a correctional officer with the Charlotte Correctional Institution.

Lewis was hired as a reserve police officer for the city of Clewiston in August 2020. He was hired as a full-time officer in March.

Among the questions in the Clewiston application, Lewis wrote that he has more than 20 years of experience in law enforcement and in many different areas of a police department, including patrol, detective, supervisor, instructor, commander and administration.

He also admits to having been been dismissed or asked to resign, having been the subject of an Internal Affairs investigation, and being the subject of formal criminal or non-criminal complaint.

Explanation of those admissions were attached in documents not provided by the city of Clewiston; however, they do reference Lewis’ time at the Punta Gorda Police Department.

In a letter of interest signed by Lewis and sent to Clewiston Police Chief Aaron Angel, Lewis wrote, “I would he honored to be considered for the position to work alongside the men and women of the department in a full-time capacity.”


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