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Details emerge of how sheriff's deputy was fatally attacked in Detroit

Detroit — A sheriff's deputy was making his rounds about 10:15 p.m. Wednesday on the fourth floor of the Wayne County Jail, checking cell doors to make sure they were closed as he passed some of the county's "most serious" inmates.

One cell after another, Cpl. Bryant Searcy locked down the floor of the jail at 525 Clinton St. At one single-cell unit, he closed a door thought to be locked and walked on.

Cpl. Bryant Searcy

It wasn't, and he paid for that misbelief with his life, according to authorities Thursday. 

Searcy, 50, was choked and beaten by an inmate, authorities said. The inmate suspected in the fatal assault had planned the attack in an attempt to escape, another inmate told police, a source with knowledge of the investigation told The Detroit News. He had jimmied the lock of the door to his cell, grabbed the keys from Searcy and attacked him, the source said. 

The inmate, a 28-year-old man, was arrested and held at the Detroit Detention Center, pending charges, said Sgt. Nicole Kirkwood, a Detroit Police Department spokeswoman. He was not named by police Thursday. Kirkwood said there is no indication the inmate had a weapon.

"(Searcy) took a few steps past the inmate, and the inmate pushed the door open and attacked him," said Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon. "We're reviewing to find out if our procedures were followed."

The suspect himself has a “long history” in crime, Napoleon said. The fatal assault allegedly by the suspect is “not his first time involved in a serious crime,” he said.

The source said the inmate was incarcerated for a carjacking.

That division of the jail houses some of the "most serious" inmates in the county, said Napoleon, and it's only the second time in thejail'shistory that an officer has died in a confrontation with an inmate.

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, a former Detroit police chief and county sherif, added it was "a jarring reminder of the danger the men and women in law enforcement face on every shift."

“This could have happened to any of us,” Evans said.

After the assault, employees called 911, and Detroit Fire Department medics arrived. They transported Searcy to Detroit Receiving Hospital, performing CPR along the way, said Dave Fornell, a deputy commissioner of the Fire Department. Searcy died of his injuries.

Searcy joined the Sheriff's Office in November 2002 and is survived by his wife and 21-year-old daughter.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Corporal Searcy’s wife, Sherry, and their daughter during this horrific time," Evans said in a statement. "Words cannot express the magnitude of the loss and pain we feel today."

Napoleon and Evans spoke briefly Thursday during a press conference outside of the Sheriff’s Office headquarters on Woodward. The investigation into the incident will be handled by the Detroit Police Department. 

Napoleon said when the suspect is arraigned in the incident, he will return to jail, but “it won’t be a Wayne County Jail facility.”

“Jail is a dangerous place,” Napoleon said.

Napoleon described the roughly 850 remaining inmates — about 450 fewer than on March 10, when the coronavirus hit the state — at the jail as “among the most dangerous people in America.”

In recent years, the city of Detroit has begun paying for the funerals of police officers who die in the line of duty. It is too early to say if Wayne County would do the same. 

“That has not historically been the case in Wayne County,” Evans said. “But it could be.”

Napoleon deferred the question, noting he has “no control over money.”  He said Wayne County hadn’t been in this position in decades.

Michigan State Police in the Metro Detroit will wear black mourning badges through Searcy's funeral, said Lt. Mike Shaw, a spokesman and commander, on Twitter. 

The Wayne County Commission also observed a moment of silence for Searcy during Thursday's board meeting.

“Our hearts go out to Corporal Searcy’s family and to all members of the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department at this tragic time," commission chairwoman Alisha Bell said in a statement. "This horrific event reminds us again of the challenges law enforcement officers face, and the sacrifices they make, in protecting us all."

She said the commission's Public Safety, Judiciary and Homeland Security Committee is expected to discuss the incident with the sheriff’s department during a Zoom meeting at noon Wednesday.

Searcy is the second person to be killed in an inmate assault at the division two facility in the last year.

The first, Antonio James, 29, was an inmate just days from extradition to Ohio when he died in a fight with another man in October 2019. 

More:Man slain in Wayne County Jail was 2 days from extradition to Ohio

An Oak Park man, Carl Smelley Jr., 38, has been charged in James' death. Smelley faces a preliminary examination on Sept. 18, before Judge Roberta Archer of Detroit's 36th District Court. 

Despite police announcing his arrest the morning after James' death, it took almost six months for formal charges to be brought against him.

Another recent killing

Wayne County has three adult jail facilities. Division 1, the Andrew C. Baird Facility, is a high-rise building at 570 Clinton. Division 2 is the old jail, at 525 Clinton. Division 3 is the William Dickerson Detention Facility in Hamtramck.

The Dickerson facility is named in honor of Sgt. William Dickerson, who on Sept. 11, 1991, was killed in the line of duty. He was 52.

Dickerson was killed with a smuggled gun held by a 22-year-old man, Darren Paige, The Detroit News reported. On Sept. 10, just a day prior, Paige had been sentenced to life in prison.

Paige, 51, is serving his life sentence at the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility in Adrian, according to Michigan Department of Corrections records.

Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon discusses the line of duty death of Cpl. Bryant Searcy during a press conference, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020.

New jail offers hope

The three Wayne County Jail facilities will be replaced, in about two years, with a Criminal Justice Center being built off Interstate 75 at East Warren. 

Napoleon believes the new facility will be safer and more efficient. Transport is easier when inmates live on the same campus as the courthouse.

And the new design for living quarters, he hopes, will improve behavior at the jail while giving deputies the ability to punish individual offenders.

May:Forced work stoppage adds cost, time to build of new Wayne County Jail

There will be 64-person pods at the jail. That breaks down into eight, eight-cell suites per pod. The belief is that the pods are a more humane way to jail people, one that offers a social environment they're afraid to lose. 

Suites can be isolated, and cells within the suite can be isolated. It would be possible for seven inmates in a suite to be playing cards and one locked up in their cell, watching it all, Napoleon said.

Napoleon doesn't believe the choice will be his as to whether the Dickerson name from the division 3 facility is continued. But on Thursday, he argued the name should carry over.

"My recommendation: Call it the Dickerson-Searcy facility," Napoleon said.

jdickson@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @downi75