Last week, we shared the tragic news of the COVID-19 death of Florida police officer Shannon Bennett. Deputy Bennett, 39, who was gay and due to marry his fiancé, Jonathan Frey, later this year, was a widely respected and much-loved officer with the Broward Sheriff’s Office.
Despite having no underlying health conditions, he came down with a fever and headaches and then experienced shortness of breath.
A couple of days after going to hospital, he died on April 3. Bennett is believed to be the first Florida police officer to die from the disease. Many of his colleagues took to social media to praise him and express their devastation at his passing.
It appears one of his colleagues may have been less sympathetic.
In the wake of Bennett’s death, police officers in nearby Davie (a small town also in Broward County), brought up the issue of safety protocols and protective equipment with their Police Chief, Dale Engle.
Engle’s reaction? He allegedly marched them outside to the back parking lot, had them line up, and then began to berate them over their concerns, saying there was a “backstory” to Bennett’s death not being talked about.
Mike Tucker, Florida chief of staff for cop union the Fraternal Order of Police chief, wrote a letter last Tuesday to the Davie Town Administrator, Richard J Lemack, complaining about Engle’s comments. He says that during the briefing, Engle had linked Bennett’s death to the fact he was a, “‘homosexual who attended homosexual sexual events’.”
Tucker says Engle’s rant continued for some time.
“This obviously was shocking to the members that were present, who are right now looking for reassurance. . . who were looking for guidance,” said Tucker.
On Saturday night, Lemack issued a statement, saying Engle had been placed on leave pending an investigation.
“As of April 11, 2020, Police Chief Dale Engle was placed on Administrative leave pending further review of allegations brought forward by the Fraternal Order of Police. 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.”
Bennett’s partner, Frey, told Local10, “The Chief’s alleged comments are completely false, homophobic, and slanderous. 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.”
The National Fraternal Order of Police said in a tweet: “If these allegations are true, the disgusting insinuation made by Chief Engle is not becoming of the badge he wears. He should be stripped of his rank for making such divisive comments that do not reflect the inclusive values of America’s law enforcement.”
Engle has not commented on the allegations.
Bennett had been an officer for 12 years. Following the Pulse shooting in Orlando in 2016, he had made a point of parking his police car outside LGBTQ venues in Wilton Manors so that patrons might feel a little safer.
Before his death, he was Deerfield Beech Elementary School resource officer and was reportedly a much-loved figure at the school.