A Florida police chief has been placed on administrative leave after asserting that a Broward County sheriff’s deputy died of COVID-19 because he was a “homosexual who attended homosexual events”.
Tragically, Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputy Shannon Bennett died April 3 of complications related to the virus, making him Florida’s first line-of-duty casualty of the pandemic.
When officers “inquired about safety protocols and protections” from COVID-19 four days after Bennett’s death, Davie police Chief Dale Engle “chose to instead retaliate against our members … ordering them to the parking lot and into formation (like cadets back in the patrol academy),” reads a complaint was filed by the Florida State Fraternal Order of Police.
“Chief Engle allegedly yelled about a ‘backstory’ which proclaimed that Deputy Bennett contracted and died from the virus because he was a ‘homosexual who attended homosexual events,'” the complaint said. “The reported inference was 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 to his death.”
But Bennett, a veteran of 13 years with the Sheriff’s Office, did not have any underlying health conditions, his fiancé told TV station Local 10. The couple was planning to get married in December.
“The Chief’s alleged comments are completely false, homophobic, and slanderous,” Jonathan Frey, Bennett’s fiancé, said in a statement. “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.”
Bennett was described by Sheriff Gregory Tony as a “fine deputy, consummate professional” who worked to “bridge the gap between the LGBTQ community and law enforcement.”
Equality Florida, Florida’s largest LGBTQ civil rights group, has called for Engle to “be removed from his position for the anti-LGBTQ remarks he allegedly made in describing Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputy Shannon Bennet’s death from COVID-19.”
“It’s vile, it’s unacceptable,” said Brandon Wolf with Equality Florida.
“It’s really disheartening, again, that we’re in a time where we need public officials to be standing together to be stand with they serve,” said Wolf. “They need to be standing alongside the people they serve alongside, no demonizing and belittling people.”