A Florida police chief has been placed on administrative leave after some of his officers filed a union complaint alleging that he had blamed the Covid-19 death of a local deputy sheriff on his sexuality.
The officers also alleged that Dale Engle, chief of police in Davie, a town in Broward County, had dismissed their concerns about the coronavirus pandemic and appropriate protection measures, NBC News reports.
The deputy sheriff who had died from the disease was 39-year-old Shannon Bennett. He contracted Covid-19 on 23 March and died on 3 April, having proposed to his fiancé four months earlier.
Deputy sheriff Shannon Bennett died on 3 April after contracting coronavirus
Bennett had contracted the virus in the line of duty and was the state’s first law enforcement officer to die of it.
A few days after his death, officers in Davie, flagged their concerns about contracting coronavirus to Engle.
His alleged response was to order them to stand in formation for inspection, and then reprimand them for raising the issue – according to the complaint that was filed.
Engle also claimed Bennett had died because he was a “homosexual who attended homosexual events” and implied he had “a serious underlying disease which aggravated the Covid-19 virus”.
Dale Engle has been placed on administrative leave over the alleged remarks
Trying to cover his back following the incident, he emailed staff soon afterwards, saying, “If my comments were taken out of context, they were not intended to be derogatory.”
Engle has not responded to requests for comments, but the town of Davie issued a statement saying the police chief has been placed on administrative leave “pending further review of allegations”.
— Broward Sheriff (@browardsheriff) April 5, 2020
Bennett had served for 12 years in the Broward Sheriff’s Office, which tweeted following his death to say that he was “an out and proud gay law enforcement deputy” and thanked him for his “bravery, kind heart, and service”.
His fiancé, Jonathan Frey, called him his “soulmate” and told People magazine that the two met in 2013 as volunteers at an LGBTQ mental health centre.
Following the Pulse nightclub massacre in 2016, Bennett reportedly parked his police car outside LGBTQ establishments to reassure the gay community of their safety.