Davie, FL – A Florida police chief attempted to minimize his officers’ concerns about the risks of contracting COVID-19 by alleging that a Broward sheriff’s deputy who died from the disease contracted the novel coronavirus because he was a “homosexual who attended homosexual sexual events, according to multiple officers.
Davie Police Chief Dale Engle, 56, was placed on administrative leave on Saturday evening after the Florida State Lodge Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Labor Council Committee filed an official complaint with the city over his comments, the Miami Herald reported.
The incident occurred at the Davie’s Police Department (DPD) on April 7, after officers expressed concerns about whether or not they would be covered by their health insurance plans if they were to contract COVID-19.
Chief Engle allegedly launched into an angry tirade during the patrol briefing, the Miami Herald reported.
During his outburst, Chief Engle “proclaimed that [Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Shannon Bennett] contracted and died from the virus because he was a “homosexual who attended homosexual sexual events,’” according to the FOP’s complaint.
“He intimated that it was because of the homosexual lifestyle that Deputy Bennett first contracted a serious underlying disease which aggravated the Covid-19 virus and lead to his death,” the FOP noted.
Chief Engle then ordered the officers to line up for an inspection – a directive they hadn’t received since they attended the law enforcement academy, the Miami Herald reported.
The officers said that the forced inspection was an intimidation tactic.
FOP Chief of Staff Michael Tucker said that several of the officers were stunned by Chief Engle’s behavior and his comments about Deputy Bennett.
“Multiple officers expressed shock at the way that the chief not only conducted the briefing but obviously of his remarks, which left most of the officers speechless,” Tucker told the Miami Herald. “Really utter shock that the chief would attempt to minimize the risk to everyone and especially first responders by trying to draw a link between what happened to Deputy Bennett tragically and his sexual orientation.”
In an email to his staff, Chief Engle said that his words were “taken out of context” and that he did not intend for them to be offensive.
“I made comments concerning the death of BSO Deputy Bennett as reported in the local media. These comments were relative to COVID-19 and personal protective equipment,” the Chief wrote, according to the Miami Herald.
“My intent was to provide as much information to personnel as possible,” he added. “If my comments were taken out of context, they were not intended to be derogatory.”
Miami Fraternal Order of Police President Tommy Reyes said that Chief Engle’s alleged comments disrespected Deputy Bennett and all those who cared about him.
Deputy Bennett, 39, began feeling ill while on duty on March 23, so he went off shift early that day, Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony said in a press release.
On March 24, he went to the hospital, where he was tested for the novel coronavirus.
The test came back positive on March 27, according to the BSO.
“He was showing signs of recovery, and it turned for the worse last night,” Sheriff Tony told WSVN on April 4.
“His white blood cells started to go back up,” explained Deputy Bennett’s brother, Darren Bennett. “The fever went down, wasn’t coming back, but apparently his heart couldn’t take the work that had ensued over the course of that time, so he died peacefully in his sleep.”
Deputy Bennett succumbed to complications of COVID-19 just before midnight on April 3, Sheriff Tony told the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
Deputy Bennett, a 12-year veteran-of-the-force, contracted the novel coronavirus “in the line of duty,” the sheriff added.
“Shannon was my friend, a good man, and he loved his family, friends and his soon-to-be husband,” Reyes told the Miami Herald. “Chief Engle’s comments are disrespectful not only to Shannon, but everyone who loved him.”
“It was disrespectful to the entire LGBTQ community and his own officers,” the FOP president continued. “He should be ashamed of himself for his lack of professionalism and compassion for others.”
Deputy Bennett’s fiancé, Jonathan Frey, issued a statement denouncing Chief Engel’s alleged comments on Saturday, according to WPLG.
“The Chief’s alleged comments are completely false, homophobic, and slanderous,” Frey said. “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.”
Orlando Gonzales, the executive director of a LGBTQ group in South Florida, said that Chief Engle’s comments “fuel discrimination and stigma against LGBTQ people,” when his focus should have been on “addressing the health and safety of the police officers serving on the front line of a public health crisis,” the Miami Herald reported.
“Chief Engle’s approach to addressing the safety concerns of the police officers that serve under his command is exemplary of someone that is unfit for the Chief of Police role,” Gonzales said. “It’s clear that the actions he takes and speaks are homophobic and toxic for the workplace.”
“Chief Engle chose to make the death of BSO Deputy Shannon Bennett an opportunity for him to fuel discrimination and stigma against LGBT people instead of focusing on addressing the health and safety of the police officers serving on the front-line of a public health crisis,” he added. “His leadership and priorities are misaligned for a person in public safety.”
Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony said that if investigators determine that Chief Engle actually made the alleged comments about his fallen deputy, then he would consider those comments to be both homophobic and offensive, WTVJ reported.
“It would be lack of decency and character to make such a suggestion because there’s no accurate information out there that would support such a notion,” Sheriff Tony said. “And it would only be something done under derogatory aspect, which would be offensive to me and this agency.”
Chief Engle did not respond to the Miami Herald’s requests for comment.
On Saturday night, Davie Town Administrator Richard Lemack confirmed that Chief Engle has been placed on administrative leave, WPLG reported.
“Police Chief Dale Engle was placed on Administrative leave pending further review of allegations brought forward by the Fraternal Order of Police,” Lemack said in a written statement. “The allegations will be investigated in accordance with the Town’s Equal Employment Opportunity compliance policy by outside counsel.”
“The Town will have no further comment until the investigation is completed to protect the integrity of all involved,” he added.