An investigation into Davie Police Chief Dale Engle, who was accused of saying a gay deputy died of COVID-19 because he was a "homosexual who attended homosexual events,” is now complete.
The report produced by an independent law firm hired by the town and obtained by SFGN confirmed Engle did make comments about Shannon Bennett’s sexual orientation. Bennett was a 12-year veteran of the Broward Sheriff’s Office and the first local deputy to die from COVID-19 on April 3.
“This investigation has revealed that Chief Engle did make a statement regarding deceased deputy Bennett’s sexual orientation in connection with his contracting coronavirus that some town of Davie employees viewed as inappropriate and offensive, which is arguably unprofessional and inconsistent with town expectations,” the report reads. “However, the statements were not made in connection with any adverse employment action.”
Engle has been on administrative leave since April while the investigation was being conducted. The remarks were made April 6 during a patrol briefing where Davie police officers expressed concerns over the coronavirus.
Mike Tucker, the Chief of Staff of the Florida Fraternal Order of Police, sent a letter to Davie’s Town Administrator outlining a slew of complaints against the police chief including retaliation, intimidation, belittling the officers, as well as the comments about Bennett.
The FOP complaint reads: “[He] allegedly yelled about a ‘backstory’ which proclaimed that Deputy Bennett contracted and died from the virus because he was a ‘homosexual who attended homosexual events.’ The reported inference was that it was because of the homosexual lifestyle that Deputy Bennett first contracted a serious underlying disease that aggravated the COVID-19 virus and lead to his death.”
Most of the witnesses interviewed during the course of the investigation heard a variation on the above comments. Many of them said that the FOP complaint, and the media reports that followed, inaccurately portrayed the patrol briefing that took place. In fact, most of the officers present were not offended, and did not interpret the comments about Bennett in a negative way. Some of them though found the comments to be inappropriate, and disrespectful to the late deputy and his family. But only three out of the 28 witnesses, who were present at the briefing, expressed to the investigators they were offended by Engle’s remarks.
The report described Witness 14 as being offended and took Engle’s comment to mean “if you are homosexual or have a pre-existing condition then you are going to die, but if you are straight you are going to be fine.” Whereas Witness 19 was described as saying “The chief did not state the BSO Deputy died because he was homosexual, but just that he may have contracted the virus at a big homosexual festival in Miami, not to belittle, but just to provide information.”
Some of the witnesses believed Engle had good intentions as he discussed Bennett’s sexual orientation and alleged lifestyle.
“In fact, at the time the statement was made, Chief Engle was addressing concerns and questions regarding contracting COVID-19 in the line of duty,” the report reads. “Some witnesses stated they believe the reasoning for Chief Engle’s statements regarding the deceased BSO deputy was to try and put the officers at ease as to potential contraction of the virus on duty.”
The report concluded Engle did not violate the town’s Equal Employment and Non-Discrimination Policies. However, the report also concluded his comments were inappropriate.
The letter from the FOP also accused the police chief of creating a hostile work environment over his behavior and comments at the patrol briefing, of which the report stated: “While these statements don't rise to the level of the actionable, hostile work environment, or direct evidence of discrimination, they do appear to be further evidence of poor judgment.”
Engle announced his intention to retire from the police department a month ago. He told the Sun Sentinel at the time the city did not pressure him to leave. He claimed that after the allegations against him came to light, his teenage children began to receive backlash on social media. His last day is Sept. 3. According to the Sentinel he will continue to collect a paycheck even though he won’t be working. Even though the report just recently became public, the timeline would suggest Engle’s decision to retire came after the report was given to Richard Lemack, the Davie’s Town Administrator.
Engle admitted to making the comments about Bennett in a letter from his attorney that’s included in the report.
“...apparently to some officers present the reference to deputy Bennett's death as possible attendance at a festival on Miami Beach, hosted by the LGBTQ community was interpreted as a comment that deputy Bennett died because he was gay,” the letter from his attorney reads. “That drastically inaccurate interpretation is unfair to the delicate balance of the vitally important information Chief Engle was trying to impart to his troops and disrespects the memory of deputy Shannon Bennett.”
But Engle told the Sun Sentinel a month ago that he made no such remark, saying “I maintain my innocence.”
According to media reports, Bennett had been in Chicago celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with his fiancé days before getting sick.
Richard Lemack accepted the report’s findings and announced in a letter he’s going to direct the new police chief to work with the Human Resources director and Equal Opportunity Compliance officer on the following recommendations:
– Include anti-bias, sexual orientation sensitivity and interpersonal skills assessment into officer recruitment, orientation, field training (FTO) evaluations and performance appraisals.
– Reevaluate the traditional department diversity/EEO classroom training. Further, ensure training includes an understanding of demographic characteristics, personality traits, values, and attitudes within the ranks and the community.
– Explore the hiring of a Diversity Manager for the town to work not only with the Police Department personnel, but all town employees.
– Determine whether the position is best to fit organizationally in Human Resources or the Office of Equal Opportunity Compliance.
According to the letter from Engle’s lawyer, the police chief regrets his comments about Bennett.
“Given the inaccurate media accounts to date, Chief Engle is anxious to convey his heartfelt sympathies and condolences directly to the fiancé and family of deputy Shannon Bennett further for their loss and to offer his apology for any pain and out of context comments that may have unintentionally caused them,” the attorney’s letter reads.