The photo above shows two cartridges side by side. On the left is a blank cartridge. On the right is a wadcutter, full power .38 caliber cartridge. On the night in question, Officer Lee Coel loaded his unmodified revolver with one instead of the other. He intended to load blanks, and that probably would have made a difference in this instance. But both can be deadly. Full power blanks, under certain conditions, can prove as deadly as live cartridges and should never be used in opposed force training without the use of specially modified firearms that can deflect the blast. And even then, only under very tightly controlled conditions by specially trained individuals and under the aegis of contemplated rules of engagement that ensure the danger is contained.

On August 9, 2016 in Punta Gorda Florida, Mary Knowlton joined 30 other members of the community for the start of a Citizen’s Police Academy designed to familiarize members of the public with various aspects of law enforcement duties. Four “live action” scenarios were planned that used members of the attendees in various roles. This was one of several mistakes that were made leading up to the death of Mary Knowlton. The “bad guy” played by the Officer Lee Coel inadvertently loaded his unmodified .38 revolver with live cartridges believing they were blanks. During the simulation he shot Mary in the abdomen, perforating her abdominal aorta. She died from her injuries.

Lack of familiarity with various munitions is a big problem in police and military organizations around the world. The RBTA briefs training participants in its 5 Day Reality Based Training Instructor Schools on many of the various types of munitions available, and the dangerous confusion that can occur when “trainers” are ignorant about the munitions they are using during simulations, or the inherent hazards of each. In this instance, the mistake proved fatal.

Mary Knowlton moments after being shot during a simulation in Punta Gorda

To read more on the findings of the FDLE investigation into the incident, click on the following link for the story appearing in the Herald Tribune, March 15 2017