Top cop told her deputy to act like a ‘white supremacist cop.’ It was caught on tape
The head of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office major crimes unit was relieved of her command this week following the release of an audio recording in which she is heard ordering one of her officers to pull over a black man who is a suspect in a Key West murder and act like a “white supremacist,” “neo-Nazi cop” to get information from him.
Monroe Sheriff Rick Ramsay pulled Capt. Penny Phelps from the late 2017 case in October when he became aware of the recording, which his agency turned over to defense attorneys. He also initiated an internal affairs probe into Phelps’ conduct while she headed the investigation into the so-called “tree house murder,” which happened on Nov. 17, 2017, on Stock Island.
“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 am prohibited by law from discussing the details of the investigation until it is concluded.”
Phelps was removed from her post as head of the major crimes and narcotics units on Thursday, according to paperwork released to the Miami Herald Saturday. Ramsay said it is too early in the investigation to comment on whether Phelps could lose her job.
“We have to have all the facts first,” he said Saturday, adding Phelps has been with the sheriff’s office about 18 years and makes about $110,000 a year.
Reached by phone Saturday, Phelps said policy prohibits her from talking about the case.
“It’s an open investigation,” Phelps said. “Once the investigation is closed, I’ll be happy to talk.”
News of her removal comes the same week the Monroe County State Attorney’s Office announced it had pulled its lead prosecutor in the same case following complaints lodged by an attorney for one of the defendants. That prosecutor, Colleen Dunne, is also under investigation from the Florida Bar, which has accused her of withholding evidence from defense attorneys in a 2009 attempted murder case.
Dunne was also removed from all of her other cases, Monroe County State Attorney Dennis Ward said this week.
The two men police accuse of stabbing to death Mathew Bonnett, 59, inside a makeshift tree house in a trailer park on Laurel Avenue in 2017 are Rory “Detroit” Wilson, 52, and Franklin Tyrone Tucker, 48. A third defendant, John Travis Johnson, 41, is accused of driving the getaway car. A woman, Paula Belmonte, 55, had her throat slashed, but she survived the attack. Investigators said it was a botched crack cocaine robbery.
Ramsay said the audio of Phelps making the racial comments was picked up by a body camera worn by a sheriff deputy who sat in a room with Phelps in late November or December while she instructed a deputy to pull over Wilson. Wilson lived on Second Avenue in a warehouse that was only accessible from the back, according to the conversations.
Phelps, in the phone conversation picked up in the audio recording, told the deputy, Lee Malone, to stake out the home and pull Wilson over if he left on his bicycle. Phelps wanted a photo and thumb print from Wilson.
“We don’t want Detroit knowing that we know who he is,” Phelps is heard saying on the recording. “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,” Phelps said.
About a minute later, Phelps is heard instructing other deputies about Malone’s assignment.
“He knows his bit,” she said. “It’s the white supremacist cop picking on the poor black guy that’s riding on a bike.”
Ramsay reiterated Saturday that his department forwarded the tape to Tucker’s attorney, Cara Higgins, as soon as it received the request, and that he immediately launched an investigation.
“We have 600 employees and respond to 350,000 calls a year. Not everything we do is going to be perfect,” Ramsay said. “When we do something wrong, we do whatever we can to hold ourselves accountable.”
Phelps has a Ph.D in organizational management and leadership from Capella University. She has taught at the local community college corrections and basic law enforcement academies.
Her other duties with the sheriff’s office include heading officer training, a position she still holds, said agency spokesman Adam Linhardt.
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