Chinle, Ariz. • A Navajo Nation police officer has died at a Phoenix hospital, becoming the first officer on the tribal police force to die from COVID-19 in the line of duty, according to tribal officials.
Officer Michael Lee, 50, died Friday at Banner-University Medical Center Phoenix, the Navajo Police Department said in a statement.
Police Chief Phillip Francisco said the department was “devastated and heartbroken” by the death of Lee, whom Francisco called “a husband, a father, a son and a protector of his community.”
Francisco asked that the public remember Lee for his commitment to his community and extend prayers to his family.
Tribal President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer said in a statement that Lee “fought on the front lines to combat coronavirus and we are grateful for his dedication to our community.”
Gov. Doug Ducey tweeted that flags at all Arizona government buildings would be lowered to half-staff Saturday from sunrise to sunset.
Lee served 29 years with the tribal department, beginning his law enforcement career as a police recruit with the Navajo Police Academy in October 1990.
He initially worked in the Window Rock area and later in Chinle.
Survivors include Lee's wife and children, the department said.
His body was taken in a procession Friday from Phoenix to a mortuary in Gallup, New Mexico.
Nez said information on memorial service details will be forthcoming.
The Navajo Nation, which includes parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, has been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak. Tribal officials Thursday night reported 85 additional COVID-19 cases and two additional deaths, increasing the total number of cases to 6,832 with a death toll of 324.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
In other developments:
The Navajo Times newspaper has temporarily closed its office after two employees tested positive for COVID-19. CEO/Publisher Tommy Arviso Jr. said in a statement Friday that all staff members at the Window Rock, Arizona, office have been tested and are awaiting their results. Meanwhile, the office will be sanitized by a professional cleaning company and reopen July 6. The staff will work remotely and continue putting the newspaper out online.