Wayne County Sheriff’s Commander Donafay Collins dies of coronavirus


Darcie Moran
Detroit Free Press

Published 12:31 AM EDT Mar 26, 2020

A Wayne County Sheriff’s Office commander died from the novel coronavirus pandemic Wednesday.

Cmdr. Donafay Collins died due to COVID-19 after being hospitalized for nearly two weeks, Sheriff Benny Napoleon said Wednesday evening. Collins had underlying medical conditions.

He was 63 years old, a husband and a father of four.  

The long hospitalization made the news less of a shock, Napoleon said. It didn’t dull the blow.

“It was like someone put an anvil around my neck and just dropped it,” Napoleon said. “And I’ve been feeling very heavy since all of this transpired because I know that this is not the last of it.”

Napoleon said it’s a hard time to be at the frontlines trying to protect the community.

Eighteen members of his office have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. They are in isolation and others have self-quarantined due to close contact with those infected. Still, there are likely others infected that are unknown, Napoleon said.

Collins was commander of the Division II jail on Clinton Street in Detroit.

Not all of the infected employees work at the jails, but most of the staff does, Napoleon said. To Napoleon’s knowledge, there were no pending or positives cases in any of the 1,138 inmates between the three jails, he said.

Collins was a member of the department for nearly 30 years, but he and Napoleon go way back, growing up in the same neighborhood on the eastside of Detroit, Napoleon said.

Napoleon laughed when asked if the two went to high school together. Collins went to Kettering High School while Napoleon went to Cass Technical High School, he said.

It was a running joke.

Collins was a well-respected, hardworking member of the force and mentor, Napoleon said. He was a role model, a mentor, and was always trying to be a better manager, ready to speak up for his staff. He got a master’s degree in recent years from the University of Michigan.

Collins was also deeply involved in the community, the first to volunteer for community-based assignments and a radio DJ at FM 92.3 before he retired from the role in late March 2019, police said. 

Napoleon appreciated the importance Collins placed on representing the agency well. He also appreciated his counsel.  

Collins was a direct, but kind communicator — firm, but fair, Napoleon said. 

“He was very respectful of my position as the leader of the agency, but he was always quick to remind me that he knew me when,” he said with a laugh.

Collins was a likely candidate for future promotions, Napoleon said. He also was also a fun-loving person, who liked to organize gatherings for a large group of friends.

Though funeral services amid the coronavirus outbreak are complicated, Napoleon said any funeral for Collins would likely be the largest he’s seen in attendance.

“It’s going to be a great loss for this agency — and for the whole community,” he said.

The coronavirus pandemic feels almost like living in a disaster movie, Napoleon said.

It’s not like tracking down a burglar or murderer, he said. The enemy is unseen, and the department is short on supplies. 

There aren’t enough masks for people coming in and out of the jails, they don’t have test kits, the department struggled to find thermometers to test inmates before they are admitted, and now they have less staffing due to quarantines, Napoleon said.

“We don’t have any of that stuff, yet people still come to work,” he said. “They still do their job. Nobody’s shying away from their responsibilities to the citizens of this community.”

He said he’s worked to reduce the inmate population in past years but is looking to reduce the number of inmates even more during the pandemic.

Only remote visitation and lawyers are allowed at the jails right now, he said.  

Making more tests available for use would be an aid in the department’s fight against the spread of the virus, he said. 

“Certainly, we were ill-prepared as a community for this kind of eventuality and we’re still not up to speed with it,” he said.

Contact Darcie Moran: dmoran@freepress.com.

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