Florida police chief placed on leave after alleged comment about deputy who died of coronavirus

DAVIE, Fla. — A South Florida police chief was placed on administrative leave after a complaint claimed he suggested a deputy’s death from the coronavirus was related to the officer’s sexuality.

According to the complaint, filed Friday by the state's Fraternal Order of Police, Davie Police Chief Dale Engle berated officers who expressed concern about exposure to COVID-19 that caused the death of Broward County Sheriff's Deputy Shannon Bennett on April 3, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

Mike Tucker, chief of staff for the Florida Fraternal Order of Police, sent a letter of complaint to the Davie Town Administrator Richard J. Lemack, WPLG reported. According to the complaint, concerned officers were sent to a back parking lot, where Engle "allegedly berated them, and yelled about a '... backstory' which proclaimed that Deputy Shannon Bennett contracted and died from the virus because he was a "homosexual who attended homosexual 'sexual' events."

“This obviously was shocking to the members that were present, who are right now looking for

"This obviously was shocking to the members that were present, who are right now looking for reassurance ... who were looking for guidance," WPLG reported, citing Tucker's complaint.

According to the Broward County Medical Examiner's Office, Bennett's underlying health condition was asthma, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

Bennett, 39, was a school resource officer at a Deerfield Beach elementary school. He was openly gay and planned to marry his partner in late April, according to the newspaper.

In a statement Saturday night, Lemack confirmed Engle had been placed on leave, WPLG reported.

“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," Lemack said in his 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.”

Tucker's letter also claimed Engle attempted to walk back some of his comments, writing in an email that he wanted to provide as much information as possible, the Sun-Sentinel reported. Engle also said his words were taken out of context and invited officers to speak with him if they wanted to discuss the situation, the newspaper reported.

“For any reference to be made to the tragic passing of one of our brothers at the Broward Sheriff’s Office is, if true, is absolutely not only unacceptable but is just shameful. And it’s not indicative of the professionals of the Town of Davie that we know,” Tucker wrote.

City officials said Engle deserves due process and an investigation will be launched, WPLG reported.

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