Florida Police Chief Accused of Linking Deputy’s Coronavirus Death to ‘Homosexual Events’

A Florida police chief has been placed on leave after a police union said he berated his officers and told them that a sheriff’s deputy had died from the coronavirus because he was a “homosexual who attended homosexual events.”

Dale Engle, the police chief in Davie, Fla., a town of 106,000 residents west of Fort Lauderdale, was placed on administrative leave on Saturday “pending further review of allegations brought forward by the Fraternal Order of Police,” the town administrator, Richard J. Lemack, said in a statement.

Mr. Lemack added that “the allegations will be investigated in accordance with the Town’s Equal Employment Opportunity compliance policy by outside counsel.” He declined to comment further.

The complaint, which was written by Mike Tucker, the Florida State Fraternal Order of Police chief of staff, described a patrol briefing on April 7 during which Davie police officers expressed concern about the coronavirus. The Miami Herald reported on the complaint on Saturday.

Chief Engle “belittled” the officers and ordered them into the parking lot in formation “like cadets back in the police academy,” according to the complaint.

“Engle then proceeded to berate these members about the issues they raised, yelling about their ‘baseless’ concerns,” the complaint said.

Chief Engle then cited Shannon Bennett a Broward County sheriff’s deputy who had died of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, four days before.

The chief suggested that Officer Bennett had contracted the coronavirus and died from it because “he was a homosexual who attended homosexual events,” the complaint said.

After the incident, the chief sent an email to his department in which he tried to walk back his comments. He said that he had been trying to “provide as much information as possible” and that his comments may have been “taken out of context,” according to the complaint. The chief also invited officers to talk to him if they wanted to discuss something.

Mr. Tucker added in his report that Chief Engle’s actions, if true, “were unacceptable and are not representative of the longstanding professionalism of the Davie Police Department.”

Chief Engle was hired as a police officer in Davie in 1998 and was put in charge of the department last year. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.

The State Fraternal Order of Police, which has 23,000 members, has called for a third party, like the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, to conduct an investigation.

The National Fraternal Order of Police also weighed in. “If these allegations are true, the disgusting insinuation made by Chief Engle is not becoming of the badge he wears,” the group said on Twitter.

Officer Bennett, 39, had been a member of the Broward Sheriff’s Office for more than 12 years. His most recent assignment was as a school resource officer at Deerfield Beach Elementary School, about 15 miles north of Fort Lauderdale. The Broward Sheriff’s Office described him as “an out and proud gay law enforcement deputy” who was planning to marry his partner later this year.

The Broward sheriff, Tony Gregory, said in a statement that Officer Bennett left work early on March 23 because he was not feeling well. He tested positive for the coronavirus on March 27 and died on April 3, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff Gregory called Officer Bennett “a fine deputy and individual” who was instrumental in leading an initiative to foster unity between law enforcement and the L.G.B.T. community.

Sgt. Thomas Reyes, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police chapter in Miami, described Officer Bennett as a friend who volunteered at gay events, such as an annual prom.

“I loved watching him and his family get together on Facebook and sing,” he said. “He was a fun guy to be around.”

A message that was posted to the Sheriff’s Office Facebook page on April 5 included a quotation from Officer Bennett: “Through my work ethic and loyalty I was welcomed with open arms and have made a second family with the men and women here at the Broward County Sheriff’s Office. What I want you to know about me is that I am a human being, I am sensitive, I have feelings, and I love the same way you love.”

In a statement on Monday, Officer Bennett’s partner, Jonathan Frey, responded to the accusations against Chief Engle.

“The Chief’s alleged comments are completely false, homophobic, and slanderous,” said Mr. Frey, who had been in a relationship with Officer Bennett for a year and a half. “I look forward to the fair and impartial investigation initiated by the Town Manager, and I hope that appropriate action will be taken at its conclusion.”

Aimee Ortiz contributed reporting.

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