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Navajo police officer who contracted coronavirus dies from illness

Michael Lee served 29 years with department

FARMINGTON – The Navajo Police Department reported its first officer line-of-duty death related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lee

Michael Lee, who served 29 years with the Navajo Police Department, died Friday morning, according to the department’s announcement.

“We are devastated and heartbroken,” said Phillip Francisco, Navajo Police Department chief. “Officer Lee was a husband, a father, a son and a protector of his community. We ask the public to join us in remembering his commitment and contribution to his community and to keep his family in your thoughts and prayers today.”

The police department said it was working with state and local law enforcement partners to organize a procession for Lee from Banner University Medical Center in Phoenix to Gallup, New Mexico, and a memorial service.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez announced Friday afternoon he would order all flags to fly a half-staff in honor of Lee.

“Officer Lee fought on the front lines to combat coronavirus, and we are grateful for his dedication to our community. His steadfast commitment to protect and serve will be remembered and honored,” Nez said in a statement.

Lee was a police recruit in 1990, worked in the Window Rock, Arizona, community for seven years and spent the rest of his service years in the Chinle, Arizona, community, according to the department. Lee was a patrol officer and a Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act officer.

“Our police department lost a truly honorable and distinguished person,” said Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer.

On Thursday, the Navajo Nation Department of Health and partner organizations reported 85 new COVID-19 cases and two more deaths. The total number of deaths is 324, and there have been 6,832 positive cases on the Navajo Nation, with 11 health care units reporting 3,414 people have recovered. The health organizations are reporting 47,039 people have been tested for the coronavirus.

Although the number of cases has slowed in the last week, Nez and Lizer continue to urge Navajo citizens to remain home as much as possible, especially with cases spiking in parts of Arizona.

To prevent another spike on the Navajo Nation, Nez announced the 57-hour lockdown would return this weekend. The Navajo Police Department and county sheriff departments are charged with establishing road checkpoints throughout the nation. The curfew will close all businesses on the nation and all Navajo tribal parks will be closed to visitors. Violators could receive a criminal nuisance citation and be fined up to $1,000, according to Nez’s announcement.

lweber@durangoherald.com

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