Metro Detroit political, law enforcement leaders mourn passing of Sheriff Benny Napoleon

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Tributes poured in from across the region after the death Thursday of Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon amid his battle with COVID-19.

From the governor's office in Lansing to Oakland and Macomb counties, civic leaders and politicians expressed sorrow over his loss, with one police agency calling out the "horrible disease that has taken that has taken so many good people." Others remembered him as a figure of strength in fighting on the frontlines of COVID-19.

Longtime law enforcement official Benny Napoleon died December 17, 2020 at Henry Ford Hospital after battling with COVID-19.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said: “I cannot even begin to imagine a world without Benny in it. He was a beloved, iconic, and respected law enforcement official," said Worthy. "He was progressive and he was old school. He was tough and he had a heart of gold. But most of all, he was a genuine, caring, and loyal friend and colleague. I will miss him forever.”

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said: "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."

Michigan House Democrats Detroit Caucus said the city and Wayne County "have lost an exemplary public servant who dedicated his life to protect and serve his community and inspired others to join the law enforcement profession."

"It is with tremendous sadness and gratitude that we offer our heartfelt sympathy and condolences to his family and loved ones,” said state Reps. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, Tenisha Yancey, Joe Tate and Tyrone Carter on behalf of the caucus.

More:Wayne Co. Sheriff Napoleon dies after contracting COVID-19

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow called Napoleon "an incredible man who loved Detroit and everyone he served in Wayne County."

Others pointed out that how cruel that the county lost a frontline fighter just as medical teams began administering COVID-19 vaccines. "The vaccine came too late for justice warrior and public servant @BennyNapoleon. Deepest condolences. #RestinPower," tweeted Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter.

U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said, “I always enjoyed spending time with Benny. We worked together closely on law enforcement matters to protect the families and neighborhoods of Wayne County. Through those challenging times, Benny’s smile always brightened our days.”

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, noted “the passing of Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon has brought deep sadness to our entire community."

"Sheriff Napoleon was a son of the city of Detroit and Wayne County and dedicated his life to service. We will forever have the photos and memories of him smiling with so many of our neighbors and his heroic actions in protecting us, especially children," she said.  

​The Metro Post of the Michigan State Police tweeted: "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon and the entire Wayne County Sheriff's Office. This is such a horrible disease that has taken so many good people from their friends and family."

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, a former Macomb County sheriff, said Napoleon was "truly a gentleman in every sense of the word."

"I'm saddened by the loss of a man who spent most of his life serving others as a "Peace Officer" and leader in the law enforcement community," Hackel said. "I am grateful to have been his friend."

Napoleon's counterpart in Oakland County said he was "at a loss for words in finding out about the passing of a dear friend and law enforcement partner."

"I was privileged to work with him on policy issues at both the state and federal level that made a difference for law enforcement across the country," Sheriff Michael J. Bouchard said. "It was comforting to know that our county partner to the south was always a phone call away and Benny always stepped up if we needed assistance." 

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said: "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.

"Benny was beloved by so many in the Wayne County community and around the state," she 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. I could always count on Benny for his support, his input and his cooperation." 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she was "heartbroken at the news."

 “Sheriff Napoleon’s love for the people he served was returned many times over. His quick laugh, eager partnership, and candid counsel is what I will miss most. He was a truly special person,” she said. 

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist called Napoleon's death a "tremendous loss" for Detroit, Wayne County and the state.

Benny Napoleon gives his concession speech at his election night party at the Roostertail in Detroit, Nov. 5, 2013.

“Benny was a pillar in the community — a model public servant who led by example through conscientious words and selfless service," Gilchrist said. "All throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Sheriff Napoleon stood tall on the frontlines alongside members of his department to ensure that our community had what it needed to get through this crisis together.

"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.” 

Condolences also came from the UAW.

“Detroit lost a friend and protector this evening who loved his town, his family and his community and the UAW," said President Rory Gamble. "Benny Napoleon dedicated his life to making the lives of the people of Wayne County safer and better for his service. For Benny, public service was about duty and justice and policing that both was protective and fair in its administration. He rose from the police beat, to Police Chief, to Assistant County Administrator and County Sheriff, breaking barriers and creating goodwill."

Wayne County Commission Chair Alisha Bell called Napoleon an "iconic figure" respected by law enforcement "across the nation."

''He was a great friend who served our communities courageously ... Chief Napoleon, you will be missed, but never forgotten.”