‘Rest in Power:’ Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon Dies From COVID-19, Community Mourns

Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon lost his lengthy battle with COVID-19 due to complications from the virus in the late evening hours on Dec. 17, officials confirmed. 

Napoleon, 65, described as a pillar in the community, a devoted public servant, family man, and friend, was diagnosed with COVID-19 last month. According to a published report, the sheriff’s office announced Napoleon’s diagnosis on Nov. 19, and he was hospitalized the following day.

According to the report, the sheriff was placed on a ventilator on Nov. 27 to keep his energy as he was having difficulty breathing. 

Officials locally and statewide immediately upon hearing of his death sent a flood of responses expressing their grief and how much Napoleon meant to them and others, and how he helped protect and lead the county.

 “I am heartbroken at the news of my dear friend Benny’s passing,” said Governor Gretchen Whitmer in a press release. “Sheriff Napoleon’s love for the people he served was returned many times over. His quick laugh, eager partnership, and candid counsel [are] what I will miss most. He was a truly special person. Sharon, Tiffani, and his whole family are in my prayers.” 

 Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II said that Napoleon’s passing is a “tremendous loss for the city of Detroit, Wayne County, and the entire state of Michigan.” 

“Benny was a pillar in the community—a model public servant who led by example through conscientious words and selfless service,” said Gilchrist, adding that throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Napoleon “stood tall” on the front lines alongside members of his department to ensure that the community had what it needed to get through this crisis as one. “He was a progressive ally and champion for changing the justice system to better serve society. And he offered himself as a mentor at every opportunity, so that young leaders, like myself, can be, believe in, and become our greatest selves. Benny’s loss hits hard in the soul of so many people in southeast Michigan who had a chance to connect with him over his decades of service, and his legacy leaves our lives better because of his presence. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. Rest in power.”  

Mayor Mike Duggan’s said that he is “shocked and saddened” at the loss of one of the city’s greatest public servants and native sons.  

“I cannot think of a leader in this town who has been more loved and admired than Benny. He was born in the city, served our community courageously his entire adult life, and loved Detroit as much as anyone I’ve ever known,” Duggan said. “Please keep his daughter Tiffani, his family and friends, and the entire Wayne County Sheriff’s Office in your prayers as they struggle with their painful loss.”

Rev. Dr. Wendell Anthony, president, Detroit Branch NAACP, mourns the loss of the local giant as well.

“Our hearts are saddened and our gratefulness has been strengthened because of the life of Sheriff Benny Napoleon. Benny was not just a sheriff. He was a [watchman] who loved and protected this community,” Anthony said. “He was a selfless warrior for peace through justice. God’s infinite blessings upon Tiffani and his family as we embrace the men and women of the Wayne County Sheriff Department.”

Wayne County Executive Warren C. Evans expressed that the pain of Napoleon’s loss is palpable.

“Words cannot begin to convey the pain we all feel tonight with the passing of Sheriff Benny Napoleon. We have lost a true pillar in our community. He was a dedicated public servant, a loving father to his daughter Tiffani, and a life-long friend to many. My heart aches as Renata and I send out our prayers and condolences to the family,” Evans said, adding that he and Benny were more than colleagues. “We were close friends. Benny shared a love for Wayne County—especially for the city of Detroit—and that love showed in his passion for making our lives better and our community safer and fairer.”

He also shared his condolences with his brothers and sisters in the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office and the Detroit Police Department, who served with and under Napoleon. 

“Benny had such a strong bond with the men and women who put on the uniform every day. I know he was strengthened by your thoughts and prayers in these last weeks,” Evans said. “It seems like we have had to say too many goodbyes since COVID-19 hit our community. Benny’s passing reminds us of the short time we have to make the world a better place. I can honestly say the world is a better place because of my friend Benny, and I will miss him dearly.”

Attorney General Dana Nessel also expressed sorrow.

“I am heartbroken to learn of the passing of my friend and colleague Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon. I have long admired his work at the department and was honored to have an opportunity to partner with him as a colleague,” Nessel said. “We enjoyed a close relationship since the time I took office, including working feverishly together last spring to bring much-needed PPE to his department to protect his deputies, who he cared so deeply for.”

Nessel added that one could always count on Napoleon for his support, input, and cooperation. 

“He was a wonderful man and his passing is a loss not only for his family but also for his many friends and co-workers. Benny had so much life yet to live; our community has once again lost someone larger than life to this vicious pandemic. My heart goes out to Benny’s family,” Nessel said. “It was an honor and a privilege to call him my sheriff.”


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