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A South Florida police chief was suspended after going on a tirade in which he criticized subordinate officers for raising concerns about the risks posed to their health during COVID-19 pandemic, and attributed the COVID-related death of a county sheriff’s deputy to his sexual orientation.
In a letter to Davie Town Administrator Richard Lemack, the Florida State Lodge Fraternal Order of Police alleges that Davie Police Chief Dale Engle dismissed officers’ concerns during an April 7 patrol meeting.
Officers were asked to line up in formation in the parking lot, where they were subjected to criticism from Engle, who allegedly berated and “belittled” them for raising concerns about safety protocols and personal protective equipment needed to prevent them from contracting COVID-19 while on the job.
During his rant, Engle raised the death of Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputy Shannon Bennett, a 12-year veteran of law enforcement who died last week after being diagnosed with COVID-19, reports NBC Miami.
According to the Fraternal Order of Police, Engle told officers that Bennett had died because he was a “homosexual who attended homosexual events.”
Officers say Engle implied that Bennett’s “homosexual lifestyle” had contributed to his illness.
“[Members assumed] there was an attempt by the chief to minimize the concerns they had, the dangers they were facing, by using Deputy Bennett as an example,” Mike Tucker, the chief of staff for Florida’s Fraternal Order of Police, said in the letter.
Officers say Engle later sent out a department-wide email walking back his comments. He said his comments had been “taken out of context’ and had merely been an attempt to “provide as much information as possible” about the COVID-19 safety protocols.
The State Fraternal Order of Police has since requested that a third party investigate Engle’s actions. Fellow police officers and friends of Bennett began circulating a petition addressed to Mayor Judy Paul and the Davie Town Government calling for that investigation, and for Engle to be fired if it’s found that he engaged in wrongdoing. More than 11,000 people have signed the petition thus far.
On Sunday, Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony said that if Engle indeed made the comments, they would be considered offensive and homophobic.
“It would be lack of decency and character to make such a suggestion because there’s no accurate information out there that would support such a notion,” Tony said. “And it would only be something done under derogatory aspect, which would be offensive to me and this agency.”
Lemack, the town administrator, told NBC Miami that Engle has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. Engle has declined media requests seeking comment on the accusations lodged against him.
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