(WXYZ) — Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon passed Thursday evening surrounded by family after battling COVID-19 for several weeks.
The life-long Detroiter began his career in public service as a city police officer, eventually working his way up to county sheriff.
Many in Wayne County, the city of Detroit and throughout the state honored Napoleon for his service.
“I cannot even begin to imagine a world without Benny in it," said Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy. "He was a beloved, iconic, and respected law enforcement official. 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.”
Mayor Mike Duggan also releasing a statement expressing that he's "shocked" and "saddened" by the sheriff's passing.
"I am shocked and saddened at the loss of one of our city’s greatest public servants and native sons, Benny Napoleon," Duggan said in the statement. "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.
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."
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist released statements on the passing of Napoleon.
“I am heartbroken at the news of my dear friend Benny’s passing," Gov. Whitmer said. "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. Sharon, Tiffani and his whole family are in my prayers.”
I am heartbroken at the news of my dear friend Benny’s passing. 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. Sharon, Tiffani and his whole family are in my prayers.— Governor Gretchen Whitmer (@GovWhitmer) December 18, 2020
“Sheriff Benny Napoleon’s passing is a tremendous loss for the city of Detroit, Wayne County, and the entire state of Michigan,” Lt. Gov. Gilchrist II said. “Benny was a pillar in the community—a model public servant who lead by example through conscientious words and selfless service. All throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Sheriff Napoleon stood tall on the front lines 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.”
Wayne County Executive Warren Evans: "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.
Benny and I 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.
I also want to share my condolences with my brothers and sisters in the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office and the Detroit Police Department who served with and under Benny. 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.
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."
So sad to learn that we’ve lost Sheriff Benny Napoleon to #COVID19. Grateful for his grace, kindness and steadfast commitment to serving and protecting the citizens of Wayne County and the City of Detroit.— Jocelyn Benson (@JocelynBenson) December 18, 2020
U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider released a statement saying, "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."
Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon passed away today. This is a hard one for our Wayne County community. He had a big heart just like his smile. I pray for his children and family during this difficult time. Rest in peace, Sheriff. pic.twitter.com/kM7ute9ZKF— Rashida Tlaib (@RashidaTlaib) December 18, 2020
Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said, “Benny Napoleon was truly a gentleman in every sense of the word. I am 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. I am grateful to have been his friend.”
Sen. Debbie Stabenow responded to Napoleon's passing saying, "I’m very sad to hear that Sheriff Benny Napoleon has died of COVID-19. He was an incredible man who loved Detroit and everyone he served in Wayne County. I'm thinking tonight of his family and his many friends and sending my love."
AG Nessel remembers Benny Napoleon: "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. 1/4— Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (@MIAttyGen) December 18, 2020
Rev. Dr. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit Chapter NAACP released this statement: "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 Watchmen who loved and protected this community. He was a selfless warrior for peace through justice. Gods infinite blessings upon Tiffany and family as we embrace the men and women of the Wayne County Sheriffs Department."
Oakland County Sheriff Michael J. Bouchard: “I am at a loss for words in finding out about the passing of a dear friend and law enforcement partner, Sheriff Benny Napoleon. Benny led the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office with professionalism and provided excellent leadership for his agency. 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. 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. My heart goes out to his family and the men and women of the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office during this difficult time. Sheriff Napoleon will be deeply missed and I am saddened to lose a close member of my law enforcement family.”
On behalf of the Detroit Police Department, we offer our prayers to our brothers and sisters of the Wanye Co. Sheriffs, the family and friends on the loss of Sheriff Benny Napoleon. A long time friend from our days at Cass Technical High School and the DPD.— James E. Craig (@ChiefJECraigDPD) December 18, 2020
Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones released this statement:
It is a dark time in our city as one of our most humble and iconic leaders has returned to God's loving arms. I am speaking of Benny Napoleon. Benny, as he was affectionately known by everyone he met, was the true essence of a Detroiter.
A product of Detroit Public Schools, Benny rose through the ranks of the Detroit Police Department to become its Chief. Later, he ran successfully several times as Wayne County Sheriff. I first met Benny in the 70's, as we both attended Cass Technical High School.
Benny was the star point guard of the basketball team and I cheered his actions from the stands as a member of the Pep Club. Even back then, everyone could see Benny was destined for greatness. And he didn't disappoint. Beneath all his successes was a deep and abiding faith in God.
Benny possessed a strong religious foundation and was never shy to let others know of his love for Jesus Christ. Benny came from the Napoleon family whose members believe in faith, treating people fairly and lending a hand to those in need. Along with all Detroiters, I express my love and condolences to them during this time of great loss.
Benny made our city better and we will miss him. His smile sparkled and led us through rough times. His calm demeanor reassured us that, no matter the problem, we would make it through. Benny inspired all those around him and leaves scores of colleagues that he taught, guided and mentored.
The cliché saying, "He will truly be missed," takes on a whole new meaning today. Thank you Benny for loving us. Thank you Benny for protecting us. Thank you Benny for showing us that the best of humanity could come from the city of Detroit. We are forever grateful for you.
Watch Wayne County Executive Warren Evans' comments on the passing of Benny Napoleon below: