The Fort Myers News-Press quoted Punta Gorda police Chief Tom Lewis on Thursday:
"As your chief of police, I accept full responsibility for the actions of my department, my officers. And the bottom line, I'm 100 percent accountable."Then Lewis and Public Information Officer Lt. Katie Heck and Punta Gorda City Manager Howard Kunik all refused to answer questions.
Officer Coel resigned his position at the Miramar, Florida PD during two simultaneous internal affairs investigations into his alleged use of excessive force.
In Punta Gorda, Coel had his German Shepherd maul a bicyclist he stopped, Richard Schumacher, for two minutes. Schumacher spent 11 days in the hospital where he underwent surgery to repair a latissimus dorsi muscle ripped apart by the dog. Then he spent almost three months in the county jail.
His crime: riding a bike at night without a light.
|Left to right: Officer Lee Coel and German Shepherd; Richard Schumacher|
Schumacher's lawyer, Scott Weinberg, had this to say:
Similar to his time in Miramar, his arrest stats were high: He’d filed more than 300 charges in a year and a half. Weinberg says that’s where he first grew concerned about Coel, saying he saw a pattern of aggressive tactics in his arrests.
Records provided by Weinberg, but not independently verified, show more than a third of those charges were dismissed by prosecutors.
“That’s an astronomically high number and those cases are being dismissed very early on… which means people are seeing he is violating people’s rights, illegally searching them and arresting them for bogus reasons,” he said.
...After Weinberg went public with his concern, he says Punta Gorda waged a counter-publicity campaign. A few weeks after the dashcam of the K-9 attack was released, PGPD posted a photo on its Facebook page showing Coel with a dog it says he rescued. A few weeks later, Coel is shown in a video with his K-9 on a helicopter ride.
"For what purpose that would serve, I have no idea, other than to get people to like their Facebook page and say, 'oh, isn't that nice,'” Weinberg said. “I assume that's why he was involved in this training program as well, because they were trying to soften his image."