A Florida police chief has been suspended from his job for allegedly suggesting that the coronavirus-related death of a county sheriff’s deputy was linked to his sexuality.
Dale Engle of Davie, Florida, was placed on paid administrative leave this weekend “pending further review of allegations brought forward by the Fraternal Order of Police,” town administrator Richard J. Lemack wrote in a Saturday statement.
“The allegations will be investigated in accordance with the Town’s Equal Employment Opportunity compliance policy by outside counsel,” according to the statement, which was also posted on the town’s Facebook page.
Later on Saturday, the Florida State Fraternal Order of Police posted a copy of a complaint addressed to Lemack to its Facebook page. Written by Chief of Staff Mike Tucker, the letter outlined Engle’s “unacceptable” behavior during an April 7 patrol meeting.
According to Tucker, Engle “belittled” and “berated” police officers, calling their concerns over their risk of exposure to the coronavirus “baseless” before referencing the death of Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputy Shannon Bennett on April 3.
“Chief Engle allegedly yelled about a ‘backstory’ which proclaimed that Deputy Shannon Bennett contracted and died from the virus because he was a ‘homosexual who attended homosexual events,’” Tucker wrote. “He intimated that it was because of this homosexual lifestyle that Deputy Bennett first contracted a serious underlying disease which aggravated the COVID-19 virus and lead (sic) to his death.”
“His rant continued for some time,” Tucker said, “with the presumable desired effect of intimidating the members and discouraging any other department employees from complaining or expressing concerns in the future.”
Bennett, 39, died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The 12-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office became ill March 23 and was admitted to a local hospital days later, where he tested positive for the coronavirus.
The Miami Herald on Sunday cited an email sent by Engle to his department in which he appeared to walk back the eyebrow-raising remarks.
“My intent was to provide as much information to personnel as possible,” he wrote. “If my comments were taken out of context, they were not intended to be derogatory.”
The comments drew a blistering response from Bennett’s fiancé Jonathan Frey, who called them “completely false, homophobic, and slanderous.” The couple, who got engaged at Walt Disney World last year, had been slated to wed this December.
The State Fraternal Order of Police is calling for a third party, such as the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, to investigate the claims about Engle.
The National Fraternal Order of Police echoed those sentiments.
“If these allegations are true, the disgusting insinuation made by Chief Engle is not becoming of the badge he wears,” the group tweeted Monday. “He should be stripped of his rank for making such divisive comments that do not reflect the inclusive values of America’s law enforcement.”
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