Wayne County deputy sheriff dies after inmate assault at downtown jail

Detroit — A deputy sheriff for Wayne County was beaten to death Wednesday night by an inmate at one of its downtown jail facilities, police said.

Cpl. Bryant Searcy, 50, joined the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office in November 2002, said Sheriff Benny Napoleon.

Cpl. Bryant Searcy

It was about 10:15 p.m., on the fourth floor of the “division two” jail facility on 525 Clinton, when Searcy was making sure cell doors were closed. This was a solo-cell unit. He pulled one of the doors behind him, thinking it was locked.

But it wasn’t. 

“He took a few steps past the inmate, and the inmate pushed the door open and attacked him,” Napoleon said. “We’re reviewing to find out if our procedures were followed,” Napoleon said.

That inmate, a 28-year-old man, was arrested and has been transported to the Detroit Detention Center, pending charges, said Sgt. Nicole Kirkwood, a Detroit Police Department spokeswoman. He was not identified by police. 

Kirkwood said there is no indication at this time that the inmate had a weapon.

After the assault, employees called 911, and Detroit Fire Department medics arrived. They transported the victim to Detroit Receiving Hospital, performing CPR along the way, said Dave Fornell, a deputy commissioner of the fire department.

But he died from his injuries. Searcy is survived by his wife and 21-year-old daughter.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Corporal Searcy’s wife, Sherry, and their daughter during this horrific time,” said Wayne County Executive Warren Evans in a statement. “Words cannot express the magnitude of the loss and pain we feel today.”

Evans, formerly Detroit’s chief of police, added that “the attack on and homicide of Corporal Searcy is a jarring reminder of the danger the men and women in law enforcement face on every shift.”

Napoleon and Evans spoke briefly Thursday morning during a press conference outside of the sheriff’s office headquarters on Woodward. The investigation into the incident has been handed over to the Detroit Police Department. 

Napoleon said that when the suspect is charged and after he’s arraigned, he will return to jail, but “it won’t be a Wayne County Jail facility.”

“Jail is a dangerous place,” Napoleon said. He described the roughly 850 remaining inmates — about 450 fewer than on March 10, when the virus hit — at the jail as “among the most dangerous people in America.”

The suspect himself has a “long history” in crime, Napoleon said. But he did not share the man’s name or go into detail, other than to say the alleged fatal assault is “not his first time involved in a serious crime.”

“This could have happened to any of us,” Evans added.

In recent years, the city of Detroit has begun paying for the funerals of police officers who die in the line of duty. It is too early to say if Wayne County would do the same. 

“That has not historically been the case in Wayne County,” said Evans, the county executive. “But it could be.”

Napoleon had deferred the question, noting that he has “no control over money.” 

But he also noted Wayne County hadn’t been in this position in decades.

Michigan State Police in the Metro Detroit will wear mourning badges through Searcy’s funeral, Lt. Mike Shaw, a spokesman and commander, wrote on Twitter. That’s a black band covering a portion of the badge.

The Wayne County Commission observed a moment of silence for Searcy during Thursday’s full board meeting.

“Our hearts go out to Corporal Searcy’s family and to all members of the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department at this tragic time,” commission chairwoman Alisha Bell said in a statement. “This horrific event reminds us again of the challenges of law enforcement officers face, and the sacrifices they make, in protecting us all.”

She said the commission’s Public Safety, Judiciary and Homeland Security Committee is expected to discuss the incident with the sheriff’s department during a Zoom meeting at noon Sept. 9.

Searcy is the second person to be killed in an inmate assault at the division two facility in the last year. Division two, Napoleon said, houses the “most serious” inmates in Wayne County.

The first, Antonio James, 29, was an inmate just days from extradition to Ohio when he died in a fight with another man in October 2019. 

More:Man slain in Wayne County Jail was 2 days from extradition to Ohio

An Oak Park man, Carl Smelley Jr., 38, has been charged in James’ death. Smelley is due for his preliminary examination on Sept. 18, before Judge Roberta Archer of Detroit’s 36th District Court. 

Despite police announcing an arrest of a 37-year-old man the morning after James’ death, it took almost six months for formal charges to be brought against him.

Another recent killing

Wayne County has three adult jail facilities. Division 1, the Andrew C. Baird Facility, is a high-rise building at 570 Clinton. Division 2 is the old jail, at 525 Clinton. Division 3 is the William Dickerson Detention Facility in Hamtramck.

The Dickerson facility is named in honor of Sgt. William Dickerson, who on Sept. 11, 1991 was killed in the line of duty. He was 52.

Dickerson was shot dead with a smuggled-in gun held by a 22-year-old man, Darren Paige, The News reported at the time. On Sept. 10, just a day prior, Paige had been sentenced to life in prison.

Paige, 51, is serving his life sentence at the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility in Adrian, according to Michigan Department of Corrections records.

Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon discusses the line of duty death of Cpl. Bryant Searcy during a press conference, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020.

Wayne County Sheriff’s Office has had deputies die of heart attacks and from COVID-19 infections owing to their work, Napoleon said. But this is only the second time in history one has died in a confrontation with an inmate.

Searcy’s death comes as the Wayne County Jail population has reached historic lows, below 900, due to COVID-19 health concerns. At one point in April, the only people left at Wayne County Jail were those facing felony charges.

While Wayne County’s inmates have mostly been spared from the virus, two deputy sheriffs, including the former commander of the division two jail, were killed by it. Along with two contract employees.

New jail offers hope

The three Wayne County Jail facilities will be replaced, in about two years, with the still-in-progress Criminal Justice Center being built off Interstate 75 at East Warren. 

Napoleon believes the new facility will be safer and more efficient. Transport is easier when inmates live on the same campus as the courthouse.

And the new design for living quarters, he hopes, will improve behavior at the jail while giving deputies the ability to punish individual offenders.

May:Forced work stoppage adds cost, time to build of new Wayne County Jail

There will be 64-person pods at the jail. That breaks down into eight, eight-cell suites per pod. The belief is that the pods are a more humane way to jail people, one that offers a social environment they’re afraid to lose. 

Suites can be isolated, and cells within the suite can be isolated. It would be possible for seven inmates in a suite to be playing cards and one locked up in their cell, watching it all, Napoleon said.

Napoleon doesn’t believe the choice will be his as to whether the Dickerson name from the division 3 facility is continued. But on Thursday he argued the name should carry over.

“My recommendation: Call it the Dickerson-Searcy facility,” Napoleon said.

jdickson@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @downi75