Florida police shoot dead woman during safety exercise for local community

Critics are asking why a real gun was used during a role play

Will Worley@willrworley
Wednesday 10 August 2016 15:10
Florida police shoot dead woman during safety exercise role play

An elderly Florida woman who was helping the police with a training exercise has been shot dead by an officer using a real gun and live ammunition.

Mary Knowlton, 73, was killed in a role play involving a real firearm which was being performed as part of a 35-strong citizenship class.

According to the Punta Gorda City police department, “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”.

Ms Knowlton was playing a victim and the officer was playing an aggressor.

But the gun used in the exercise was real and loaded with ammunition, and at least one round was shot into Ms Knowlton, causing fatal injuries. She was transported to hospital but pronounced dead on arrival. There have been no further details released of how the incident transpired.

An investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has been opened and the officer involved has been placed on administrative leave. The name of the officer has not been released.

It is unclear why a real gun and ammunition were used as part of a role play scenario in the Citizen's Academy, a series of classes used to educate selected residents about the operation of local government.

“I just do not understand why a real firearm even needs to be used during a live role play simulation,” Ryan Meis commneted on the PGPD’s Facebook page. “Even if the firearm had blanks, the person with that firearm just disregarded every top safety rule in the book. Is it so hard to use a Nerf gun for a role play simulation?”

On the same page, Bret Walley said: “What kind of morons use real guns in a role playing situation? You never point a real gun at anyone you don't intend to kill.”

Photos of other Citizen's Academy classes at the Punta Gorda police department showed role play exercises being carried out with mock firearms.

A Citizen's Academy class at the Punta Gorda Police Department, using a mock firearm

One picture even shows members of the group test firing a taser, which was a "huge hit" with the class, according the department's Facebook page.

A woman prepares to fire a taser during a Punta Gorda Police Department Citizens Academy class

Chief Thomas Lewis said: “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.”

A statement said: “The Punta Gorda Police Department realises the community has many questions 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.”

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