Monroe County’s sheriff ordered one of his top deputies to turn in her badge and gun on Friday following an internal affairs investigation into an audio tape on which she is heard telling a subordinate to act like a racist cop to pressure a black man suspected in a 2017 Key West murder for information.
Sheriff Rick Ramsay stated in a memo to Capt. Penny Phelps that she has until next Friday to argue against her termination. In the meantime, she was ordered to turn in her sheriff’s office credentials, weapons, uniforms, business cards “and any other Sheriff’s Office property issued to you at once.”
She was also placed on administrative leave without pay, according to the memo.
Phelps was not available for comment Saturday.
Adam Linhardt, spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said Saturday that neither he nor Ramsay will comment on the case until Friday, instead letting the memo speak for itself.
Phelps made the comments on Nov. 20, 2017, three days after the so-called “tree house murder” of Matthew Bonnett, who was stabbed to death in a tree house in a Laurel Avenue trailer park on Stock Island. A woman, Paula Belmonte, 55, was slashed in the throat, but she lived.
While sitting in an interrogation room that continuously records, Phelps told one of her deputies in a phone call to make a traffic stop of one of the two suspects, Rory “Detroit” Wilson, who is black, and act like a “white supremacist cop” to get information from him.
“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 the 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.”
Specifically, Phelps wanted a photo and thumbprint from Wilson.
Ramsay pulled Phelps from the case in October when he was made aware of the recordings, he said earlier this month. She was relieved of her command of both the Major Crimes and Narcotics units Dec. 4, according to sheriff’s office documents provided to the Herald.
Ramsay also ordered an internal affairs investigation into the remarks, the results of which he said in the memo led to his decision to seek her termination.
“After careful consideration of your conduct and the effect it has had on this agency and our community, I cannot, and will not, defend your actions,” Ramsay wrote. “The allegations are sustained and I am unable to allow you to return to your post. Accordingly, it is my intention to withdraw your appointment to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.”
Investigators say the tree house killing was a crack cocaine burglary that turned violent. They say Wilson, 52, and another man, Franklin Tyrone Tucker, 48, burglarized Belmonte’s tree house, armed with a knife. The burglary turned into an attack on Belmonte, who was stabbed in the neck.
Police say Bonnett ran to the tree house to help Belmonte after hearing the commotion and was fatally stabbed by Wilson and Tucker. Both Wilson and Tucker are charged with his murder.
Another man, John Travis Johnson, 41, was also arrested and is accused of being the getaway driver that night.