(WXYZ) — Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon has died at the age of 65 after a battle with COVID-19, 7 Action News has learned. Napoleon was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Nov. 19 and hospitalized two days later.
He was born in Detroit in 1955 and was entwined with Wayne County long before his public service. A Cass Tech grad, Napoleon received degrees from Detroit Mercy and Detroit College of Law before the start of his tenured law enforcement career in 1975.
A Detroit police officer, Napoleon would work his way from the streets to the gang squad and through the Nancy Kerrigan assault investigation, to the top spot some 23 years later.
He was the Detroit police chief from 1998 to 2001. He landed in his current role 11 years ago, appointed as sheriff in 2009 to replace now-County Executive Warren Evans. He was elected with 75% of the vote in 2012 and a year later, he would target the highest political office in Detroit as the city faced bankruptcy, running for mayor to replace Dave Bing.
Napoleon would go up against a write-in candidate, Mike Duggan. Remaining as sheriff and re-elected in 2020, Napoleon was known as a tough enforcer, but a leader with a soft side.
At times, a counselor in chief, as was the case during one of his final public appearances in September when Cpl. Bryant Searcy was killed in the Wayne County Jail. Three members of the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office would succumb to COVID-19, and Napoleon’s brother, Highland Park’s Police Chief, spent 75 days in the hospital with the virus.