Family of proud gay police officer struck down by coronavirus and insulted in death dealt yet another blow
Insurance giant AIG has refused to pay line-of-duty benefits to the family of Shannon Bennett, a gay sheriff’s deputy who died of coronavirus on April 3.
Bennett was planning to marry his fiancé Jonathan Frey later this year, before he tragically passed away in what is believed to be the first line-of-duty coronavirus death in Florida.
Life insurance policies are normally paid when an officer dies while performing their work duties, but AIG has denied the claim, arguing that there is no way to prove Bennett caught the virus while at work.
A rejection letter sent to Bennett’s family states that his death was caused “in whole or in part by, or resulted in whole or in part from sickness or disease, specifically excluded under this policy”.
This rejection has dealt yet another blow to the family as they grieve their loss.
“Essentially, while my family is grappling with trying to get our bearings back, this type of letter comes in and of course it floors us,” Darren Bennett, Shannon’s brother told Local 10.
Police chief claimed Bennett caught coronavirus because he was gay.
It comes after Davie Police chief Dale Engle reportedly berated Bennett’s colleagues for expressing concern about the virus in the days following his death.
Engle allegedly told them their fears were “baseless” and claimed they didn’t understand the “backstory” — that Bennett had supposedly caught coronavirus because he was a “homosexual who attended homosexual ‘sexual’ events”.
He reportedly claimed that Bennett had contracted “a serious underlying disease which aggravated the COVID-19 virus and led to his death.” Engle was later suspended for the “shameful” comments.
“It was bad enough to have a family member, a loved one die, a brother, a best friend, a companion, a son, die… And then you add that to the hateful and homophobic remarks by the chief in Davie,” Darren said.
“Then curate that with all the emotions and just the trauma of trying to regain your composure and your bearings and now you get a letter, an insensitive letter, not even a phone call, but just a letter, telling you that this claim has been denied.
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“The benefits that would be given to your family are not going to be given out.”
The Broward Sheriff’s Office submitted an appeal to the insurance carrier, but this was denied too.
In the second denial AIG admitted that certain health conditions do qualify under Florida law as “accidental and caused by employment,” but since the coronavirus wasn’t explicitly listed, it didn’t count.
The Broward Sheriff’s Advisory Council stepped up to help the family and managed to raise $14,725 in Bennett’s memory, but Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony stressed that this support should have been provided by the insurance company.
“We pay thousands of dollars each year for this insurance, and I’m extremely disappointed that AIG is denying this claim,” he told South Florida Gay News.
“We will exhaust all appeals. I have directed my command staff to review our contract with AIG. We hope as we have further dialogue with AIG, they recognise the global impact in [the] message that they are sending to our first responders.”