Woman accidentally killed during ‘shoot, don’t shoot’ training exercise at police department

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. — A woman was shot to death during a “shoot or don’t shoot” training exercise Tuesday at the Punta Gorda Police Academy, according to police.

Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis said the woman was “mistakenly struck with a live round” during a Citizens Academy scenario designed to simulate the use of lethal force.  It’s not clear how the apparent fatal ammunition mix-up occurred.

The woman, identified as Mary Knowlton,  was randomly selected to participate in the exercise as roughly 35 people watched.

She was shot multiple times during a role play exercise in which the officer pretended to be the “bad guy,” with Knowlton playing the victim, a photographer covering the event told the Charlotte Sun.

Knowlton was rushed to an area hospital where she was pronounced dead.

The Citizens Academy is designed to teach local civics to civilians who apply for the eight-week course, according to Punta Gorda’s official website.

Chief Tom Lewis said in a statement, “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.”

An investigation into the shooting is ongoing.

See the full Punta Gorda Police Department statement below:

On Aug. 9, 2016, the Punta Gorda Police Department hosted approximately 35 civilians from the community for a two hour Citizen Police Academy, during which time two participants were randomly selected to be put through a “shoot/don’t shoot” scenario in which they make decisions on using simulated lethal force in a live role play.

During the first scenario, participant Mary Knowlton was struck with a live round and was fatally injured. She was transported to Lee Memorial Hospital where she was pronounced dead.

Chief Tom Lewis stated, “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.”

Chief Tom Lewis contacted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to respond and begin an investigation into the events surround the incident. The involved officer has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of this investigation. Florida Department of Law Enforcement personnel are now on scene and have taken command of the investigation.

The Punta Gorda Police Department realizes the community has many question about this incident. We also must take great care to not jeopardize the investigation. As the investigation continues and more information is available we, will release it.