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Gay Deputy Sheriff Is Florida's First Line-of-Duty COVID-19 Casualty

Deputy Shannon Bennett

Deputy Shannon Bennett, a gay man who had been with the Broward Sheriff's Office in Florida for nearly 12 years, has died of complications from COVID-19. 

Bennett, 39, died Friday night, the sheriff's office announced in a Facebook post over the weekend. He had left work March 23 after not feeling well. He went to the hospital the following day and was tested for COVID-19. The results came back positive March 27, and he died a week later. His death from COVID-19 was the first of two in the department and is believed to be the first such line-of-duty death in Florida. Sgt. Jose Diaz Ayala, 38, subsequently died of complications related to COVID-19.

“I ask that you keep Shannon’s family members in your prayers, but keep Shannon within your heart," Sheriff Gregory Tony said in the Facebook post. “His legacy will be carried on in our performance."

Bennett was a larger-than-life presence in both his professional life and the LGBTQ community. He joined the Broward Sheriff’s Office in 2007 and steadily rose through the ranks. Since January 2019 he had been assigned as a school resource officer at Deerfield Beach Elementary School. Many friends, students, and parents shared messages on the BSO Facebook page about how Bennett had touched their lives. Several spoke to Florida media about him as well.

“During the Stonewall Pride fest in Wilton Manors, he never participated in the drinking aspect, the fun part of it,” Bennett’s friend Tim Martin told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “He always wanted to be in uniform, on the street, protecting his community. And he was very proud of that fact, that that’s what he did on most weekends. Whenever they closed down Wilton Drive, he was there, in uniform, protecting us."

According to Florida TV station WPLG, Bennett responded to the Pulse nightclub shooting by parking his patrol car outside bars and clubs in the heavily gay city of Wilton Manors. Over the weekend, flowers surrounded that same patrol car, and there was a heavy presence of law enforcement at Bennett’s home to show support and provide comfort.

“Shannon Bennett was the kind of guy who would put his family first, his friends second, and himself last,” Martin told WPLG.

Deputy Bennett is survived by his fiancé, Jonathan Frey; his mother, Barbara Bennett; and his brother, Darren Bennett, who worked for 10 years in BSO’s Department of Detention.

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