Ryan O'Connell, Alexandra Grey, Jake Borelli
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Police Chief Suspended for Homophobic Rant About Coronavirus

Dave Engle, Shannon Bennett

Following the death of Shannon Bennett, a deputy with Broward Sherrif's Office in Florida, a police chief has been placed on administrative leave for allegedly suggesting that the death was a result of Bennett's sexuality. The decision was preceded by a complaint lodged by other officers, and has been supported by Bennett's fiance, Jonathan Frey.

“The Chief’s alleged comments are completely false, homophobic, and slanderous,” said Frey in a statement reported on Towleroad. “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.”

Bennett's death earlier this month made him Florida's first line-of-duty casualty in the ongoing global pandemic. In the wake of it, while Sheriff Gregory Tony told the community to "keep Shannon within your hearts" in a Facebook post, Davie Police Chief Dave Engle reportedly told officers that the fatality was a result of "homosexual sexual events," according to multiple news outlets. The comment came after officers raised safety concerns about possible exposure to the sometimes-fatal virus.

“Engle then proceeded to berate these members about the issues they raised, yelling about their ‘baseless’ concerns,” A complaint by the Fraternal Order of Police Chief of State for Florida Mark Tucker alleged. The chief had forced the officers to get in formation in a parking lot to hear what he had to say according to multiple outlets. “During this, members were shocked when Chief Engle cited the tragic death of BSO Deputy Shannon Bennett who recently succumbed to the COVID-19 virus. Chief Engle allegedly 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’ He intimated that it was because of this homosexual lifestyle that Deputy Bennett first contracted a serious underlying disease which aggravated the COVID-19 virus and lead to his death. His rant continued for some time, with the presumably desired effect of intimidating the members and discouraging any other department employees from complaining or expressing concerns in the future.”

Engle later attempted to walk back his statements in an email to officers, claiming his words were taken “out of context,” according to the Gay Times UK.

“My intent was to provide as much information to personnel as possible," he wrote in an email to staff. "If my comments were taken out of context, they were not intended to be derogatory.”

Orlando Gonzales, the executive director of the South Florida LGBTQ organization SAVE, rejected Engle’s claims and questioned his fitness for duty.

“Chief Engle’s approach to addressing the safety concerns of the police officers that serve under his command is exemplary of someone that is unfit for the Chief of Police role,” Gonzalez told the Miami Herald in a statement. “It’s clear that the actions he takes and speaks are homophobic and toxic for the workplace. We have learned that the coronavirus does not discriminate who is infected and Chief Engle chose to make the death of BSO Deputy Shannon Bennett an opportunity for him to fuel discrimination and stigma against LGBT people instead of focusing on addressing the health and safety of the police officers serving on the front-line of a public health crisis. His leadership and priorities are misaligned for a person in public safety.”

As a result of the complaint, Engle has been placed on administrative leave as an investigation is launched. Bennett's fiance, Jonathan Frey, with whom he was set to marry in December, had a blunt response to the news.

“The Chief’s alleged comments are completely false, homophobic, and slanderous,” said Frey in a statement reported on Towleroad. “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.”

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Tags: News, Health, COVID-19

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