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Florida Police Chief: Deputy Died of COVID-19 Because He Was Gay

Dale Engle and Shannon Bennett
From left: Dale Engle and Shannon Bennett

Davie Police Chief Dale Engle is now on leave while town officials investigate his alleged remarks about Broward County Deputy Shannon Bennett.

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 gay.

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. In a briefing of officers four days later, Dale Engle, police chief in the town of Davie, which is within Broward County, minimized his department's concern about the virus by saying Bennett contracted it because of his sexuality, according to a police union.

When officers "inquired about safety protocols and protections," Engle "chose to instead retaliate against our members ... ordering them to the parking lot and into formation (like cadets back in the patrol academy)," says a letter from Florida State Lodge, Fraternal Order of Police, Labor Council Committee, sent to Davie Town Administrator Richard J. Lemack, Miami TV station WPLG reports.

Once there, 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," the union's letter states. Engle further said Bennett had "a serious underlying disease, which aggravated the COVID-19 virus" and led to his death, the letter notes.

There is, of course, no connection between the virus and sexuality, and it is not sexually transmitted. Anyone can contract it, although people with certain health conditions are more vulnerable to serious complications. Those who have HIV, if it is not controlled with medication, may be among those vulnerable. But Bennett did not have any underlying health condition, his fiance, Jonathan Frey, told WPLG. They were to be married in December.

"The Chief's alleged comments are completely false, homophobic, and slanderous," said a statement issued by Frey. "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."

Engle was placed on administrative leave while the matter is being investigated, Lemack, the town administrator, said Saturday. He released the following statement: "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."

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