Key West, FL – The Monroe County sheriff ordered one of his captains to turn in her badge and gun on Friday after an audio recording revealed she had coached an officer to “act like a white supremacist” when stopping a murder suspect.
Monroe County Sheriff’s Captain Penny Phelps was initially relieved of her command of the sheriff’s department’s Major Crimes and Narcotics Units on Dec. 4, according to the Miami Herald.
Defense attorneys on a murder case brought the recording to the attention of Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay in October and he originally only removed her from that specific investigation.
But Sheriff Ramsay also launched an internal affairs investigation into Capt. Phelps conduct during the investigation of the 2017 “treehouse murder” of Matthew Bonnett.
Sheriff Ramsay said Capt. Phelps’ comments were picked up by a bodycam worn by a deputy who was in the room when the captain was giving instructions to another deputy over the phone, the Miami Herald reported.
In the recording, Capt. Phelps was telling the officer to stake out the suspect’s home and pull him over if he tried to leave on a bicycle.
The ultimate goal of the stop was to get a photo and a thumbprint from the suspect, the Miami Herald reported.
“We want it to look like you’re the grumpy old man. You have nothing better to do than, you’re the white supremacist, you’re messing with the black guy who’s riding his bike,” Capt. Phelps instructed a deputy in the recording. “I just want you to be the neo-Nazi who’s picking on the black guy riding the bike.”
A minute later, Capt. Phelps was heard reassuring someone that the deputy she had been talking to knew what he was supposed to do, the Miami Herald reported.
“He knows his bit. It’s the white supremacist cop picking on the poor black guy that’s riding on a bike,” she said.
Sheriff Ramsay released a statement shortly after the recording became public that said there were several issues about the murder case that caught his attention.
However, he said at the time that it was too early to tell if Capt. Phelps would be fired, the Miami Herald reported.
“We have to have all the facts first,” Sheriff Ramsay said.
But then on Dec. 13, Sheriff Ramsay put Capt. Phelps on unpaid administrative leave and ordered her to turn in all of her department-issued equipment, the Miami Herald reported.
The sheriff sent the captain a memo that said the internal affairs investigation had been completed and ordered her to turn in her credentials, guns, uniforms, business cards, “and any other Sheriff’s Office property issued to you at once.”
“After careful consideration of your conduct and the effect it has had on this agency and our community, I cannot, and will not, defend your actions,” Sheriff Ramsay wrote. “The allegations are sustained and I am unable to allow you to return to your post. Accordingly, it is my intention to withdraw your appointment to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.”
He advised Capt. Phelps in the memo that she had until Dec. 20 to fight her termination, according to the Miami Herald.
Capt. Phelps, an 18-year veteran of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, earned a salary of about $110,000 a year.