DAVIE (CBSMiami) – Florida’s largest LGBTQ civil rights group is calling out Davie Police Chief Dale Engle after he allegedly said a Broward Sheriff Office’s deputy died of COVID-19 because he was gay.

“It’s vile, it’s unacceptable,” said Brandon Wolf with Equality Florida.

A letter from the Fraternal Order of Police, the union that represents Davie officers, alleges Engle made disturbing comments about BSO Deputy Shannon Bennett, who died of coronavirus. It happened after officers began asking about the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

“[Engle] referenced the fact that Deputy Bennett was homosexual and that somehow related to his ultimate passing from COVID-19,” said Fraternal Order of Police Chief of State Mike Tucker. “Of course that left many there with questions and shocking to hear that.”

In the letter sent to Davie Town Administrator Richard Lemack, it went on to add that Engle said there was a “backstory which proclaimed that Deputy Bennett contracted and died from the virus because he was a “homosexual who attended homosexual sexual events.”

“It’s really disheartening, again, that we’re in a time where we need public officials to be standing together to be stand with they serve,” said Wolf. “They need to be standing alongside the people they serve alongside, no demonizing and belittling people.”

A source told CBS4 News that officers who were there said this was blown out of proportion – that Engle was trying to quell fears by saying Bennett did not contract coronavirus on duty but an outside event.

“The reality is the complaint is made, it’s not been refuted and based on the facts in that letter, Chief Engle does not need to be in charge of people’s safety right now,” Wolf said.

Bennett was engaged to be married. His fiancé released a statement, which read, “The Chief’s alleged comments are completely false, homophobic, and slanderous. 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.”

The town administrator’s office said, “Chief Dale Engle was placed on administrative leave pending further review of the allegations.”

“We hope the investigation will allow the chief to provide some clarity as to why it was relevant to bring that up,” said Tucker. “Hopefully, at the end of the day, an investigation determines this was just a terrible miscommunication of some kind.”

CBS4 reached out to Engle for comment. He said he can’t say anything until the investigation has been completed.

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