July 17, 2024 Donate

Chelsea, Chelsea Government

Former DEA Agent Seeks to Bring Experience to Sheriff’s Office

Retired DEA agent Ken Magee (L) and other leaders on the day their team took down the notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar. Photo courtesy of Ken Magee.

In an evocative conversation, retired DEA agent Ken Magee took the Sun Times News through his life, from his roots in Ann Arbor to his distinguished career in law enforcement.

He begins the conversation by poking fun at himself, saying, “I did not get my dad’s intelligence, but I definitely got my mother’s compassion for life and caring about other individuals.” This sentiment foreshadowed his character throughout law enforcement despite the hard-bitten nature of the job and the equally hard nature of those who uphold the law.

The harsh realities of Magee’s profession also came early in his career when he found a state trooper shot by the roadside. It was a pivotal moment for Magee. “The time of innocence was over,” Magee solemnly remembers. “People die immediately.” He had to toughen up more than the crime and criminals he opposed.

Magee made headlines with one of Michigan’s largest drug busts – 570 kilograms of cocaine and nine tons of marijuana with a street value of $45 million. Photo courtesy of Ken Magee.

His subsequent roles, from a police officer in Jackson, Michigan, to a DEA agent, showcased his adaptability and commitment to making a significant impact. Magee’s DEA career is a highlight reel of substantial accomplishments, including capturing one of the DEA’s most wanted fugitives and orchestrating one of Michigan’s largest drug busts by convincing Colombians to deliver a considerable drug shipment to Grosse Ile. Reflecting on the operation, Magee says, “I convinced the Colombians with my FBI undercover agent partner to deliver us 570 kilograms of cocaine and nine tons of marijuana.”

Perhaps one of the most remarkable chapters of Magee’s story is his involvement in the Pablo Escobar search team. Magee recalls being called into his supervisor’s office one day and hearing, “Ken McGee. You’re being transferred from Operation Backlash. And you are now assigned to the Pablo Escobar search team as the backup supervisor.”

Magee left the room stunned, thinking it was a punishment. However, a supervisor informed him that it was his prior victories against drug trafficking that vaulted him to the Escobar search team, culminating in a pivotal role in the takedown of one of the world’s most notorious drug lords.

In the hit Netflix series Narcos, the DEA team that pursues Escobar and brings him down is based on Magee’s real-life squad.

Ken was in the headlines again for his help in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing. He was off duty when it happened but rushed into the scene quickly giving life-saving aid and working with local police. Photo courtesy of Ken Magee.

Such was Magee’s success against drugs he was presented with an American Flag flown over the U.S. Capital by U.S. Congressman Greg Walden of Oregon’s 2nd District. The award reads, “This flag was flown in honor of Special Agent Kenny Magee’s outstanding commitment to the war on drugs in Oregon and around the world.”

“That was for my work to combat methamphetamine and the methamphetamine crisis the Pacific Northwest faced,” he explains.

But Magee’s narrative isn’t just about triumphs. It’s also about humanity and the complex morality often at play in law enforcement. He shares an account of purchasing a burger and fries for a criminal arrested for thirty murders. When questioned by his partner, Magee replied, “He’s going to jail cell in Puerto Rico. It’s going to be six feet by four feet with a hole in the ground to (relieve himself). And once a week, they’ll walk in with a power hose and shower him and the floor down. That’s where he’s going to spend the next 50 years. Show a little compassion. Buy the guy his last supper.”

Such was Magee’s success against drugs he was presented with an American Flag flown over the U.S. Capital by U.S. Congressman Greg Walden of Oregon’s 2nd District. Photo courtesy of Ken Magee.

In retirement, Magee’s dedication to service continues, working with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. He continues to exemplify the impact one individual can have through a commitment to justice, mentorship, and compassion.

Ken believes his work is far from over. He is running for Washtenaw County Sheriff and relies on his experience to outline a forward-thinking approach to law enforcement that intertwines rigorous crime fighting with a profound understanding of social justice issues. For a guiding principle, he leverages Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Magee doesn’t shy away from identifying law enforcement’s current challenges, particularly staffing shortages and burnout among officers. With a focus on public safety, Magee vows, “I will analyze each and every problem. Do people want to feel safe? Absolutely. Are they safe? Absolutely not.”

Ken’s career has brought him in contact with U.S. presidents and other notable dignitaries. Here he is with John Walsh of “America’s Most Wanted.” Photo courtesy of Ken Magee.

His approach is multi-faceted, addressing not only the tangible aspect of safety but also the perception and feeling of security among community members. Magee argues for a more aggressive stance on crime, especially in ferreting out drug dealers.

The former DEA agent proposes innovative solutions to longstanding issues, like transitioning from punitive traffic enforcement to educational initiatives. “I created a program called Traffic Enforcement versus Traffic Education,” he explains, aiming to alleviate the financial burdens traffic violations can have on marginalized communities and instead foster a learning environment.

Acknowledging the intersection of civil rights and law enforcement, Magee envisions a policing model that mirrors the community’s diversity, “I believe as a leader, your law enforcement agency should have a mirror image of the community it represents.” He advocates for recruitment strategies emphasizing diversity and inclusion, reinforcing the importance of representation within the force.

Addressing mental health, Magee proposes a radical transformation of the penal system. “I want to take half that jail and turn it into a recovery unit,” he says, emphasizing treatment over incarceration for individuals with substance use disorders.

Magee is critical of the current leadership, firmly believing in a comprehensive overhaul to address the intertwined issues of drug abuse, gun violence, and systemic injustices. “It’s not the war against drugs,” he asserts. “It’s a battle to save lives.”

Magee encapsulates his holistic approach to fostering a safer and more equitable society, saying, “Progressive police reform with common sense.”