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Detroit chief who died of COVID-19 remembered as ‘extraordinary leader’

Capt. Jonathan Parnell, the commanding officer of the Detroit Police Homicide Section, died Tuesday night


Capt. Jonathan Parnell during an interview with Fox News.


George Hunter
The Detroit News

DETROIT — Capt. Jonathan Parnell, the commanding officer of the Detroit Police Homicide Section, died Tuesday night after contracting the COVID-19 virus, police Chief James Craig said, describing him as “an extraordinary leader.”

Parnell, a 31-year police veteran who was known throughout the department as “Recon,” is the second Detroit police employee to die of the virus this week. A 38-year-old civilian 911 dispatcher died Monday after suffering bronchitis-like symptoms, Craig said.

In addition to the two deaths, 18 Detroit police employees have been diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus, while 331 uniformed officers and 70 civilian employees are quarantined. Craig said he expects 135 officers to return to duty by this weekend.

Parnell, 50, went to the hospital after becoming ill, Craig said Wednesday.

“He was off (work), and he did visit the hospital, and at some point was released home,” Craig said during a press conference at Public Safety Headquarters.

“Yes, we are family and when we lose a member of our family, we all feel it,” the chief said. “Jonathan was an extraordinary leader.”

Mayor Mike Duggan, who also attended Wednesday’s press conference, added: “Our hearts are broken ... today, coming a day after the loss of one of our 911 call-takers. And we’re losing more members of our community. This is going to be hard. We’re going to lose a lot more of our citizens.”

After the dispatcher was confirmed to have contracted the virus, Craig said he ordered employees in the department’s communications operations and Real Time Crime Center to temporarily set up shop in a back-up dispatch center on Lyndon Street on Detroit’s west side.

The fourth floor at Public Safety Headquarters remains evacuated as crews give it a deep cleaning. Craig said he expected the cleaning to last “a few days” before communications and crime center employees could return.

Craig said losing Parnell is tough on a department that’s already struggling.

“I cannot thank enough our police officers and our civilian employees for their continuing bravery,” he said.

Parnell’s previous commands included the Commercial Auto Theft, Narcotics and the 10th Precinct.

Craig said when he promoted Parnell to lieutenant, his crew at auto theft didn’t want him to leave.

“His entire team came to my office and said, ‘Chief, we love him ... please don’t move him,’” he said. “But it was important for his career development to move to another assignment.”