Navajo Police Department officer dies of COVID-19, marking department's 1st line-of-duty death from pandemic

BrieAnna J. Frank
Arizona Republic
Officer Michael Lee

The Navajo Police Department announced on Friday that one of its officers, a 29-year veteran of the department, died from COVID-19. His death marks the first line-of-duty death from the outbreak for the department.

The family of Officer Michael Lee notified the department of his death early Friday morning, the department said.

Navajo Police Chief Philip Francisco said the department was "devastated and heartbroken," and described Lee as a "husband, a father, a son and a protector of his community." 

Francisco asked the public to remember Lee's "commitment and contribution to his community" and keep his family in their thoughts and prayers.

Lee started his law enforcement career in 1990 as a recruit at the Navajo Police Academy in Toyei, the department said.

In his 29 years with the department, Lee worked as a patrol officer, a Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act officer, supported the department's IT arm, and "worked closely with the community."

He started his career in the Window Rock community, where he served for seven years before dedicating himself to the Chinle community.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer offered their condolences to Lee's family on Friday afternoon, with Nez saying he and Lizer would be issuing a proclamation to order all flags on the Navajo Nation be flown at half-staff in Lee's memory.

"His steadfast commitment to protect and serve will be remembered and honored," Nez said.

Lizer said it's a "sad time" for the Navajo Nation and offered his prayers to Lee's family.

He called Lee a "truly honorable and distinguished person" and said the Navajo Nation would also keep the people of Chinle and surrounding communities in their prayers.

"Take comfort in knowing that your loved one is now in our Creator's hands," Lizer said.

Lee leaves behind a wife and children, the department said.

The department is working with state and local law enforcement to arrange a procession from Banner University Medical Center in Phoenix to Rollie Mortuary in Gallup, New Mexico.

The Navajo Nation has been a center for cases of COVID-19. The Navajo Epidemiology Center Coronavirus Response Hub reported 6,824 confirmed cases and 322 deaths from the virus as of June 17.

57-hour weekend curfew was restarted for the Navajo Nation, beginning at 8 p.m. Friday. The curfew is in place for two weekends.

Reach the reporter at or 602-444-8529. Follow her on Twitter @brieannafrank

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