Warren Evans: Sheriff Napoleon was 'always affable, always smiling, but always serious'

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Wayne — As Wayne County grapples with the loss of its top cop, Executive Warren Evans shared memories Friday, saying longtime friend County Sheriff Benny Napoleon was a "consummate Detroiter with the love of Detroit."

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans briefly addresses the media about the death of his friend, Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, Friday morning, December 18, 2020, before members of the Wayne County Public Health Division begin administering the COVID-19 vaccine to front-line county employees in Wayne, MI. Benny died Thursday night from COVID-19.

Napoleon died Thursday night at Henry Ford Hospital about three weeks after going on a ventilator with COVID-19.

"Tremendously sad day, actually tremendously sad week for Wayne County for burying one of our long-serving and great commissioners today," Evans said. "Obviously the surprise with Benny's death is really significant."

The undersheriff, Daniel Pfannes, is performing the duties of the sheriff until an appointment is made, the department said. By state law, an appointment must be made by Chief Wayne County Probate Judge Freddie Burton Jr., County Clerk Cathy Garrett and Prosecutor Kym Worthy.

The three-person committee is expected to make an appointment by Jan. 15. Napoleon was reelected by voters in November for another term running through 2024.

Napoleon's daughter, Tiffani Jackson, confirmed her father died shortly after 10 p.m. Thursday. He was 65.

"A lot of people loved and cared about him," she said. "It extends far beyond our family."

Jackson said she last spoke with her father three weeks ago as he went on the ventilator. She said, "He knew that his body needed to rest and conserve energy." He was hospitalized Nov. 20 for the coronavirus.

She said funeral arrangements should be firmed up by this weekend as the family works around COVID restrictions.

Napoleon served as the county's second-in-command until 2009 when then-Wayne County Sheriff Warren Evans resigned to take over as Detroit police chief. A panel composed of Chief Probate Judge Milton Mack, Clerk Cathy Garrett and Worthy appointed Napoleon as sheriff in July of that year.

Evans and Napoleon knew each other for more than 30 years. They attended law school together at Detroit College of Law and in ways, their careers mirrored each other.

"We both served as police chief, we both served as sheriff. He was just the kind of person I'd always want in a dispute resolution," Evans said. "Always affable, always smiling, but always serious. Anywhere you go in the city of Detroit, people say, 'Hey Benny,' not out of disrespect for his office but out of a real warmth for you feel like you've known him a long time."

Evans said Napoleon could be counted on to balance the needs of his office and the county.

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, left, attended a prayer vigil Nov. 29 for Sheriff Benny Napoleon at the sheriff headquarters.

"He could be a separate elected official, strong and doing what it was he needed to do for the sheriff's office, but he also understood, there's a Wayne County Executive, and there's only one pot of money... and when you have that cooperation at both ends, you can be successful."

Evans said he will miss having beers each week with his friend, adding: "He's the kind of person you'd like to go to war with him on your side."


Twitter: @SarahRahal_

Staff Writer George Hunter contributed.