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Las Vegas officer who died of COVID-19 remembered as hero, loving father

Updated June 4, 2022 - 6:26 pm

Family and friends wearing yellow shed tears and shared hugs and doughnuts Saturday for a Metropolitan Police Department officer who died of COVID-19 in August.

Phil Closi’s funeral began with an escort by the Nevada Highway Patrol, Clark County School District police and local motorcycle clubs including the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association and Patriot Guard Riders.

“He gave me a beautiful life full of love and laughter, and I will forever be grateful,” Jenn Closi said in a video played during the funeral. “He was more than a husband, he was my home. I love you so much, Phil. Half of my heart is missing. I look for you everywhere. I find you in butterflies and songs on the radio but mostly in our children’s eyes.”

Closi, a father of two, worked for Metro for 21 years until his death on Aug. 11 at 48. He had been fighting for medical retirement for four years because of severe asthma, but continual appeals filed by Metro delayed the case even after his death.

The foyer of Life Baptist Church in Las Vegas had a wall with Pinkbox Doughnuts hanging on it. His son, Jacob Closi, showed the crowd his dad’s special way of eating a doughnut to avoid getting sprinkles on his uniform.

Pastor Chuck Williams explained that family and friends were asked to wear yellow not only because it was Closi’s favorite color, but because he would often enter rooms and announce, “The sunshine has arrived.”

Before joining Metro, Closi was a firefighter, a paramedic and worked security at the Rio, according to a eulogy delivered by retired Metro officer Bartholomew D’Angelo. D’Angelo and Closi worked with students as part of the D.A.R.E. program and gave an anti-hate presentation that received accommodation from former Gov. Brian Sandoval.

“The reason why you have the strength and the tools to be where you are right now is because he’s a fighter and he taught you guys how to be,” former co-worker and retired Metro officer David Garris told Closi’s children, who sat in the front row.

In a video message played at the funeral, Nicola Closi, 17, said her dad was the life of the party and an avid baker.

“The most important lesson he taught me is that sometimes life isn’t fair and that every moment counts, so live life to the fullest,” she said. “That is exactly what he did. He touched so many lives and helped so many people. My dad truly was a hero.”

Jacob Closi, 15, said his dad was always passionate about any sport the teen wanted to pick up. Closi coached his son’s hockey team and was always willing to play catch in the yard.

“With his tenacity for work, he was telling me in a way to never give up no matter how hard something was,” Jacob Closi said. “I was always the apprentice to all his projects.”

The funeral ended with a 21-gun salute, bagpipes and the Metropolitan Police Department Honor Guard folding and presenting the flag. None of Metro’s executive staff was present at the ceremony, so the flag was given to Gov. Steve Sisolak, who presented it to Jenn Closi.

Line-of-duty death?

Closi was one of at least three Metro officers who died while on active duty but were not considered line-of-duty deaths. In a statement last month to the Review-Journal, Metro said contact tracing indicated Closi did not get COVID-19 while at work, and Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo made the decision not to rule his death in the line of duty.

Jenn Closi disagreed, arguing her family contracted the virus from her husband, and Metro did not take precautions to protect her immunocompromised husband from the virus that could be deadly for him.

Because Closi’s death was not considered a line-of-duty death, the family lost their health insurance the night he died, Closi’s casket was not escorted by any Metro vehicles, the department did not announce his “end of watch call” over the radio, planes did not fly overhead Saturday, and his name will not go up at Metro headquarters, Police Memorial Park or in Washington, D.C.

After the service, Sisolak said he has urged Lombardo to reconsider this decision.

“I wish he would be honored in the appropriate way as a line-of-duty death,” Sisolak said. “I would ask the sheriff to reconsider his decision. It would show some real leadership to admit sometimes when you get some new information that things should change. The family clearly deserves it as well as the other officers who died with COVID. The family has suffered tremendously and to have your name on the wall in Carson City would mean a lot to this family.”

Contact Sabrina Schnur at sschnur@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0278. Follow @sabrina_schnur on Twitter.

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