DENVER (KMGH) – A 33-year-old deputy with the Denver Sheriff Department died of COVID complications Wednesday night – the second deputy with the department to die from the virus this month.
The DSD said Deputy Daniel “Duke” Trujillo, 33, died with his family by his side. He had been a deputy in Denver for 7 years and worked at the Downtown Detention Center. He also served in the U.S. Marine Corps.
“We ask that you keep his family in your thoughts and prayers and respect their privacy during this difficult time,” the sheriff’s department said in a statement. “We also ask that you pray for the members of our Department as well.”
The Denver Sheriff Latino Organization said Trujillo had recently been appointed vice president of the organization.
“We had big plans and they were taken away so swiftly from the Members and Community that we will now serve in your honor,” the group wrote. “You will be loved and missed for eternity.”
Late Thursday evening, the Denver Sheriff Elisa Diggins announced Trujillo's passing would be considered a line of duty death.
Trujillo is the second DSD deputy to die from COVID-19 this month. On May 16, 51-year-old Deputy James Herrera also died from COVID. He was also assigned to the Downtown Detention Center and was a 25-year veteran of the department. Sheriff Diggins said Herrera's passing would also be considered a line of duty death.
The past president, and now spokesman, of the Fraternal Order of Police - Lodge 27, said both deputies worked in the intake area of the facility.
"For us to have two deaths in ten days is shattering to the department," Mike Britton said.
Britton added that he'd received a number of texts from deputies in the intake area, who said it hadn't been "deep-cleaned" in two months.
Sheriff Department spokeswoman Daria Serna said it was deep-cleaned this morning and sprayed down.
She said it is regularly cleaned four times a day.
Facebook posts made by Trujillo show he was opposed, or at least hesitant, to getting vaccinated. He added a temporary profile picture that said, “I don’t care if you’ve had your vaccine,” on April 23.
He posted on April 26: “I’ll get it later on after y’all start growing apendages [sic] out of y’all’s foreheads.”
Another temporary profile picture updated on May 7 says, “I have an immune system.”
And on May 17, just 10 days ago, Trujillo updated his cover photo on Facebook to be a photo of Herrera. He wrote in the comments, “[H]e was my brother and coworker and he passed away Sunday.”
At the time of Herrera’s death, the Denver Sheriff Department Lodge 27 of the Fraternal Order of Police said every member of its executive board except one had been infected with COVID and that some “are still suffering serious effects and complications,” but the Herrera was the first to die from COVID.
"We don't ever really complain unless there is something to complain about, and right now we're complaining because you know what? We have two officers who died of COVID and they both work in intake," Britton said,
Herrera's son, Andrew Herrera, told Denver7 that his father treated everyone equally and fairly at the department.
"He made sure that the people who were visiting, or that were in there, he made sure they felt like a person as well," he said.
Both Andrew, and his brother Stephen said the department needs to do more to protect staff.
"The department is understaffed," Stephen said. "They're working these huge amounts of hours in a day, like 12-hour shifts, 16-hour shifts... and you're keeping them in an environment like that for a long period of time. It makes it very difficult to stay safe around COVID."
On Thursday afternoon, the brother said their father's death still hasn't been declared a "Line of Duty" death. The sheriff made this declaration late Thursday evening.
"He was in the line of duty when he contracted it. Same with the officer that fell yesterday. They were forced to work through it and didn't really have an option to not do it," Andrew said in the afternoon.
Former State Rep. Debbie Stafford wants to make sure the designation happens.
"It's so important for us to remember that first responders, law enforcement, all of those on the front line are impacted every day on the job by a invisible enemy," she said. "We train law enforcement to be prepared for an enemy that they see, but when an invisible enemy has the power to come in and take out a member of our law enforcement, or a first responder, we must give them every bit of equipment, honor and respect to make sure that we prevent this in the future."
Stafford said she's encouraging state lawmakers to support a "late-request" by Rep. Naquetta Ricks, for a proposed "COVID-19 Presumptive Pandemic Care Act," which would say, "if you contract COVID while you're in the line of your work, it will be presumed that's where it came from."
Line of Duty designation provides extra death benefits.
Serna said, "the primary decision about whether any injury or death is determined to be line of duty is made by Risk Management. Risk makes an independent determination whether an incident results in a compensable workers’ compensation claim under the Colorado Workers’ Compensation Act."
"There are other benefits that a deputy may be entitled to under the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) if a death is deemed to be a line of duty death. Because these benefits are not subject to the same rules regarding how that determination is made as those under the Workers Compensation Act, the sheriff can make the determination of the related to those benefits, specifically funeral costs and one year of medical and dental insurance to the surviving spouse and children. Services and honors bestowed upon the deputy is also determine by the sheriff (casket watch, honor guard, deployment etc.)," she said.
"Other determinations, such as whether the death is deemed an 'accidental death or dismemberment' qualifying for double indemnification under the life insurance provided to deputies, would be made by the insurance provider," she added.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s outbreak map showed there were 1,261 total cases, including 107 staff members, who had contracted COVID-19 at the Downtown Detention Center in an outbreak reported in late April.
The Colorado Department of Corrections started offering a $500 incentive for its staff members to get vaccinated in late March, as only about 44% of staff within the prison system – which does not include the county jail – had been vaccinated at the end of March.
The city is not tracking how many of its deputies receive the vaccine.