Mary Knowlton, a 73-year-old retired librarian, was accidently killed Tuesday night during a police exercise in Punta Gorda, Florida. The officer that was pretending to be a criminal shot real ammunition to the lady instead of blank ones and fatally wounded the woman. Ironically, the exercise was part of a program that seeks to improve the police relationship with the community.

The night of the accident, 35 people were part of the classes divided into eight sessions of interactive exercises for residents. The course goal is to teach Punta Gorda citizens the role and responsibility of the different departments that serve the city.

Mary Knowlton was killed during a police exercise in Punta Gorda Florida. Image Credit: Independent UK

The night of the accident, two volunteers were randomly selected to act as victims in the “shoot/don’t shoot” scenario where police officers need to make the decisions to open fire, or not. In the simulation, they use blank rounds or empty guns to play the roles with guns.

Charlotte Sun’s photographer Sue Paquin reported that Knowlton was one of the volunteers and was the victim of a “bad guy” in the role-play. But when the officer pretending to be a criminal shot his weapon, real ammunition lethally hit Mary Knowlton, mother, wife, and longtime librarian.

Knowlton was rushed to the nearest hospital but was declared dead upon her arrival

It is not known how many times she was shot and who was the officer behind the weapon, but according to the Punta Gorda police, the police officer was put on administrative leave.

Tom Lewis, Punta Gorda Police Chief, stated that Mrs. Knowlton was mistakenly shot with a round of real bullets.

He continued to say he was devastated for all the people involved in the accident and said that everyone in the Academy was in a state of overwhelming shock and grief, according to The Chicago Tribune.

Knowlton had moved to Punta Gorda in recent years with her husband. The city is a popular destination for retirees, yet not as safe as one would think, apparently.

A woman participates in the “shoot/don’t shoot” exercise during a Punta Gorda Citizen’s Academy session in March. Image Credit: Punta Gorda Police Facebook Page.

About the programs to improve the police-citizen relationship

The Associated Press reported that Lt. Katie Heck, who is the public information officer for the Punta Gorda Police, stated that the Punta Gorda Police Department have run the “shoot/don’t shoot” scenarios as part of the program for almost two years. But this is the first fatal accident known.

Citizen police academies have been successful for law enforcement agencies to improve relations between the community and the men in blue uniforms. The citizen academies date back to 1985, and the first one to open was in Orlando.

In 2000, the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that in that time, 15 percent of police academies were featuring the program. Sadly, the number of academies trying to bond with their community did not grow.

The Punta Gorda city manager, Howard Kunik, believes that the town’s priority is to improve the relationship between the police department and the community.

Regarding Tuesday’s accident, Kunik said in a statement that they are in shock by the horrific event, and they are deeply sorry because of Mary’s passing. The speech happened on Wednesday in a gathering with the mayor, city council members, and reporters.

Source: The Chicago Tribune