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Community honors Benny Napoleon for second day at Detroit visitation

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — Mourners continued saying goodbye Tuesday to Benny Napoleon, who headed two of Michigan's largest law enforcement agencies in a career that spanned more than 40 years.

The former Wayne County sheriff and Detroit police chief died Dec. 17 at Henry Ford Hospital about three weeks after he was placed on a respirator while fighting COVID-19.

Visitation is from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday in Greater Grace Temple on Seven Mile, following Monday's visitation in the Swanson Funeral Home on East Grand Boulevard in Detroit.

As was the case Monday, there were dozens of mourners waiting in line outside the church Tuesday before the doors opened.

Among them: Detroit resident Joe Blair, who said he waited in the queue for about a half-hour before church ushers opened the doors.

A Westland police officer stands near a Detroit Police Department dress uniform of Benny Napoleon's during visitation for Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon at Greater Grace Temple in Detroit on Dec. 29, 2020.

“A life well-lived,” he said when asked about Napoleon. “I knew him through his brother (Hilton Napoleon.) We played golf together.

”Benny was a great man, and I’m finding out more about him now, through all the stories people are telling,” Blair said.

Police officers from agencies across Michigan were present, including the Westland Police Honor Guard, whose members served as ushers inside the church.

After the early line dissipated, dozens of people continued trickling in to view Napoleon, who lay in a casket in the spacious church lobby.

Rhonda Douglas of West Bloomfield was among the mourners. She said she was classmates with Napoleon at Cass Technical High School in Detroit, and later knew him when they served together as Detroit police officers.

”I knew him before he became chief and he was a great police officer, and then he was a wonderful chief,” said Douglas, who teaches a youth class at Greater Grace Temple.

”When he was chief, I went on maternity leave, and they give you six months,” Douglas said. “I wanted more time off to spend with my baby, and (Napoleon) gave me another six months off.

”I knew Benny Napoleon as a great friend; I knew him as a great classmate; and I knew him as a great boss,” said Douglas, an educator who spent 15 years on Detroit’s police force.

Tiffani Jackson, facing, hugs mourners during a visitation for her father, Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, at Greater Grace Temple in Detroit on Dec. 29, 2020. Napoleon died Dec. 17.

”This is still surreal,” she said. “I can’t believe he’s gone.”

Detroit resident Ethel Thomas said she didn’t know Napoleon personally but wanted to pay her respects Tuesday anyway.

”He just always seemed so upbeat; he was always smiling,” she said. “He did some great things for Detroit.”