A Florida police captain has been relieved of her command following the release of shocking audio in which she’s heard instructing a deputy to act like a “white supremacist” and “neo-Nazi” while investigating an accused murder suspect.
Capt. Penny Phelps was suspended Wednesday from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, where she heads the major crimes and narcotics units, according to the Miami Herald. Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay was first made aware of the recording in October, after which he pulled Phelps from the late 2017 case known as the “tree house murder.”
“Several issues concerning the tree house murder case have been brought to my attention,” Ramsay said in a statement. “I immediately turned them over to my Internal Affairs Division and directed that an investigation be initiated. At this point, I’m prohibited by law from discussing the details of the investigation until it is concluded.”
Ramsay also launched an internal affairs probe into the police captain’s conduct. So far, officials say it’s too early to tell whether Phelps will lose her job.
“We have to have all the facts first,” Ramsay told the newspaper Saturday.
The incident stems from a police investigation into a botched crack cocaine robbery at a makeshift tree house on Stock Island in the Florida Keys on Nov. 17, 2017. It was there that authorities say suspects Rory “Detroit” Wilson, 52, and Franklin Tyrone Tucker, 48, fatally stabbed 59-year-old Mathew Bonnet. A female victim, 55, was slashed in the throat but survived the grisly attack.
Phelp’s racial remarks in late 2017 during the investigation were captured on the body camera of a sheriff’s deputy who was sitting in a room with her as she ordered another officer to stop Wilson, according to Ramsay. In the recording, she’s heard telling the deputy, Lee Malone, to stake out Wilson’s home and to pull him over should he try leaving on his bicycle.
“We don’t want Detroit knowing that we know who he is,” Phelps said of Wilson, who’s African-American. “We want it to look like you’re the grumpy old man. You have nothing better to do than, you’re the white supremacist, you’re messing with the black guy who’s riding his bike.”
“I just want you to be the neo-Nazi who’s picking on the black guy riding the bike,” she added.
Moments later, Phelps is heard filling in the other deputies on Malone’s assignment, describing the ruse as “the white supremacist cop picking on the poor black guy that’s riding on a bike.”
Ramsay said he handed over the recording to defense attorneys and immediately launched an investigation into Phelps.
According to department officials, the top cop has been with the sheriff’s office for 18 years, earns a $110,000 annual salary and performs multiple duties within the department, including officer training.