Davie police Chief Dale Engle has been placed on administrative leave after officers at his Florida station filed a union complaint alleging that he dismissed their concerns about coronavirus protection measures and blamed the COVID-19 fatality of a Broward County deputy sheriffon his sexuality.
On April 7, amid a coronavirus outbreak at the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, police officers in Davie — a town in the county — attempted to raise concerns with Engle about their risk of contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
In response to the officers' concerns, Engle allegedly ordered them to stand in formation for inspection and berated them for raising the health issue, according to a complaint filed by the Florida State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police (FLFOP).
Engle then allegedly proceeded to blame the death of openly gay Broward County Deputy Sheriff Shannon Bennett on a “backstory," claiming he died because he was a “homosexual who attended homosexual events." Engle also allegedly implied Bennett, a 12-year veteran of the sheriff's office, had "a serious underlying disease which aggravated the COVID-19 virus."
According to the complaint, Engle emailed staff shortly after the alleged outburst and said his "intent was to provide as much information to personnel as possible."
“If my comments were taken out of context, they were not intended to be derogatory,” he allegedly wrote in the email.
Engle did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The town of Davie issued a statement Saturday saying Engle was on administrative leave “pending further review of allegations.” Town Administrator Richard J. Lemack said the alleged incident will be investigated “by outside counsel” and that the town would have “no further comment until the investigation is completed.”
Jonathan Frey, who was engaged to Bennett, issued a statement calling Engle’s reported remarks “completely false, homophobic, and slanderous,” saying he looked forward to the results of the investigation.
Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony on Sunday told NBC News 6 South Florida that Engle’s alleged remarks “would be offensive to me and this agency.”
The National Fraternal Order of Police tweeted that, if Engle's “disgusting” alleged remarks are true, he should be fired.
In its complaint, the Florida State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police said Engle's “derogatory references to homosexuality and Deputy Bennett are shameful” and don’t reflect the welcoming nature of Davie.
Lisa Henning, the legislative affairs director for the Florida Fraternal Order of Police, said the union filed the complaint to better advocate for officers who are increasingly concerned about their risk of contracting COVID-19 amid wide reports of shortages of personal protective equipment, or PPE.
“When all of this first began, the biggest complaint was they were only being given one mask per shift,” Henning said. “Now they’ll hold on to a mask because they’re lucky to have one.”
“The majority of the agencies in Florida are taking it very seriously and are trying to find alternate ways to ensure they have PPE for their officers,” Henning added, describing Engle’s alleged attitude as unrepresentative.
Henning said officers in the area are getting increasingly afraid as COVID-19 begins to sweep the state: “Quite frankly, it’s getting more prevalent here,” she said.