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Florida police chief charged over shooting death put on leave

By Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) - A Florida police chief has been placed on paid leave a day after being charged over the shooting death of a 73-year-old retired librarian who was struck by live fire during an August training exercise, officials said on Thursday.

Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis was charged on Wednesday with culpable negligence, a misdemeanor, in the death of Mary Knowlton. Lee Coel, the officer who fired the shots, was arrested the same day on a charge of felony manslaughter.

Lewis was placed on paid administrative leave, said officials in the southwestern Florida city.

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Reuters could not immediately reach Lewis' attorney.

The incident, which authorities called a tragic accident, occurred during a role-playing exercise. Knowlton was shot in front of about 35 people as she acted as an intruder during a simulated robbery.

Coel's attorney, Gerald Berry, said the facts did not support the charges against the 28-year-old officer.

"Lee Coel absolutely, positively did not know there was ammunition in that gun," Berry told reporters on Wednesday.

Coel, who has been on paid leave, was released from jail on Wednesday after posting a $5,000 bond. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison.

Punta Gorda's city council approved a $2 million settlement with the Knowlton family in November.

(Editing by Letitia Stein and Paul Simao)