Woman fatally shot playing ‘officer’ in Florida police academy drill

Woman fatally shot playing ‘officer’ in Florida police academy drill

(CNN) — A woman was accidentally shot and killed during a community police academy exercise in Punta Gorda, Florida.

A police officer shot Mary Knowlton on Tuesday night during a “shoot/don’t shoot” role-play scenario,” in which officers would make decisions on using simulated lethal force in a live role play, Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis said at a news conference.

Lewis said the gun used in the active-shooter scenario mistakenly had a live round in it. Knowlton was transported to a local hospital where she was pronounced dead.

She was 73, according to CNN affiliate WINK. A librarian who originally hailed from Minnesota, Knowlton was listed as being on board of directors for the Friends of the Punta Gorda Library.

During the scenario in which Knowlton was shot, participants played the roles of police officers, good guys and bad guys, and everyone was provided “blank guns,” Punta Gorda police Lt. Katie Heck told CNN.

Knowlton was selected to play an officer in Tuesday night’s scenario, she said. Heck said she could not verify how many times Knowlton was shot.

Citizens Academy

The scenario was part of a two-hour training course. Though the city advertises an eight-session Citizens Academy, which gives residents a closer look at all facets of city government, this program was different, Heck said.

This was a police-specific event sponsored by the local Chamber of Commerce. While the police department has conducted five or six such sessions in the past, this was the first sponsored by the chamber, she said.

An advertisement on the chamber website said the event was sold out. Chamber President John Wright was in a meeting late Wednesday morning and couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Among the program’s highlights are a tour of the police department, a “show-and-tell” of various equipment used by police and the reenactment of scenarios in which officers have to make decisions on whether to fire their weapons, Heck said.

In a March Facebook post, the police department touted “another successful Citizens Academy” and provided photos from the event.

“Two lucky members were chosen to test fire a department Taser, which was a huge hit,” the post said.

Tuesday’s course was attended by 35 civilians.

‘Pray for Mary’s husband’

“Our entire police department and all of our city leaders are absolutely devastated for everyone involved in this unimaginable event,” Lewis said. “If you pray, you pray for Mary’s husband and family and for all of the officers and witnesses that were involved in this incident. Everyone involved is in a state of overwhelming shock and grief.”

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has been contacted to initiate an investigation into the incident, he said.

Information regarding the officer will be released publicly later Wednesday, Heck said.

Citizen police academies are generally encouraged as a way to bolster ties between police department and the communities they protect. A report last year from the President’s Task Force on 21st-Century Policing said, “Law enforcement agencies should engage youth and communities in joint training with law enforcement, citizen academies, ride-alongs, problem solving teams, community action teams, and quality of life teams.”

In the United States, 33,636 people died from firearm-related incidents in 2013, the most recent data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

By Eliott C. McLaughlin, Tessa Carletta and Euan McKirdy

CNN’s Kate Conerly contributed to this report

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