The tragic shooting of a 73-year-old woman during a citizen’s police academy demonstration this past summer shocked people. Fort Myers media reported that there were supposed to be blanks in the Punta Gorda police officer’s gun.
Now an investigation into the tragedy reveals that Officer Lee Coel was a problem within the department in the days leading up to the shooting. There were repeated difficulties with Coel, according to internal memos, involving a deeply flawed DUI arrest, questionable judgment and insubordination.
According to the memos, Coel performed a traffic stop in early summer of last year after he spotted a vehicle going the wrong way on U.S. 41.
Two additional officers arrived at the scene as requested back-up: one was a master police officer and the other an officer trainee.
The two officers reported that Coel conducted haphazard and increasingly hostile field sobriety tests on the male driver.
Coel neglected to ask standard DUI-related questions of the driver, but did ask him to perform tests. After the man performed the test without any indication of impairment, Coel had him perform the test again. Again, there was no sign of impairment, according to the master police officer.
The officer believed that Coel was looking for a reason to arrest the man, even though there were no signs of impairment. Believing that the traffic stop “was going from bad to worse” and that it “was not productive for a trainee to observe,” the master officer and trainee left.
The driver was then arrested after refusing to continue repeating sobriety tests.
Prosecutors later declined to press DUI charges against the man, who reportedly lost his job and his home because of the arrest.
Unfortunately, these kinds of mishandled and inappropriate arrests happen far too often. An experienced Fort Myers criminal defense attorney can help you fight for your rights, freedom and driving privileges.