July 15, 2024 Donate

Chelsea, Dexter, Milan, Saline, Washtenaw County

Washtenaw County Sheriff Candidates Debate in Dexter

Photo: (L-R) Sun Times News Owner moderating and sheriff’s candidates Derrick Jackson, Alyshia Dyer, and Ken Magee. Photo by Lonnie Huhman.

The Sun Times News hosted Washtenaw County’s three candidates for sheriff – Alyshia Dyer, Derrick Jackson, and Ken Magee – in a lively debate on Thursday, July 11, 2024, at the newspaper’s office in Dexter.

About 60 people from the greater Ann Arbor area attended to hear what the Democratic candidates had to say before the Aug. 6 election. The two-hour event gave attendees a glimpse into each candidate’s experience, background, and personality.

Dyer has been a lifelong county resident. After studying criminal justice at Washtenaw Community College and Eastern Michigan University, she worked as a road patrol officer for 10 years. In 2022, she graduated from the University of Michigan with her master’s in social work and currently works as a therapist.

“I am not your typical Sheriff candidate. I would be the first democratic woman sheriff in Michigan and first female sheriff in Washtenaw,” Dyer said. “I’m also younger than your average Sheriff candidate… I’ve worked as the deputy there and I was in the road patrol division for almost seven years and I was in the Marine Division for almost three years… I also have been a part of Law Enforcement Action Partnership where I worked with the national leaders to further policing policy.”

Jackson[1] , a UM social work master’s graduate, has been the director of communications at the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office under current Sheriff Jerry Clayton since 2009. Prior to that he was the deputy clerk for the county and worked as the program director at Ozone House with homeless youth.

“My entire career has been in leadership, Jackson said. “I think leadership, supervising people, managing budgets, bringing folks together, all those skills are really, really important at the sheriff’s office.”

Magee has 30 years of law enforcement experience including serving as UM’s chief of police, working as a Drug Enforcement Agency special agent, and starting his career as a police officer in Jackson. A Michigan State University Master’s graduate, he currently works as a criminal justice consultant.

“I’ve been blessed with having an incredible career of over 30 years, capturing some of the world’s worst criminals (and) creating some of the best strategies and policies to combat crime,” Magee said.

Sun Times News Publisher Chuck Colby moderated the debate and asked each candidate six questions. The candidates got two minutes each to answer and one minute to rebut. The last 20 minutes were reserved for public questions, with a one-minute answer from each candidate.

When the candidates were asked about the biggest crimes affecting the county, Magee said gun violence with drug crime at a close second. He broke gun violence into four categories– street violence, domestic violence, accidental shootings, and suicide– and plans to address each of them differently.

Connecting guns and drugs, Magee said, “I don’t want to lock up people who have a drug problem. I will give them the help that they need. But I do want to hold drug dealers accountable… guns and drugs run in the same circles, and right now, there are no strategies to combat criminals that are dealing drugs and guns in our neighborhood.”

Dyer said the worst thing she saw as a road patrol deputy was domestic abuse. She would look to combat it by bringing in a domestic violence detective in the detective bureau and creating a survivors-based justice fund.

“This survivors-based justice fund can help with relocation when people need to leave for safety reasons,” Dyer said. “There was times I would talk to survivors and they ended up going back to their abuser because they didn’t have a way to get out.”

Jackson agreed those were large problems. He said many shootings in the county are retaliatory and the Sheriff’s office addressed that by adding people to work with survivors.

“Roughly 70 to 75% of those who are perpetuating serious violence were also victims of serious violence,” Jackson said. “I’m running for not small policy changes and these little programs that we’ve done. It’s about changing the soil. If we do not invest in our neighborhoods differently, we will continue to call on police to deal with things after the fact. We have to have the courage to invest in dealing with the root causes.”

Throughout the debate, Jackson emphasized his work with Clayton, who is retiring this year at the end of his fourth term as sheriff. During Jackson’s time working on staff, the department was featured in an article from NYU’s Policing Project and various policing reformation institutes have worked with Washtenaw County.

“The reason when the Department of Justice was looking for four jails in America to run a program around innovative reentry strategy, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office jail was selected because our policing agency and our jail is more than just about holding people, it’s also about making sure people leave better than when they got there in the first place,” Jackson said.

Dyer became a police officer because of a negative experience she had with police at 17 being falsely arrested.

“I still remember this day like it was yesterday,” she said. “It caused me a lot of trauma, and that experience led me to become a police officer because I wanted to be an officer in our community that led with compassion, that actually really cared. While I was on patrol, what I learned is, even with the best of intentions, if you don’t have the right leadership at a law enforcement agency, it’s really hard to actually build trust in the community.”

Magee focused on his experience throughout the debate.

“You’ve got three candidates here. One of them is executive law enforcement, who’s done a lot in 30 plus years, and then you have two other candidates, mostly with the social worker background, with a tad bit of law enforcement experience,” Magee said.

Jackson said the sheriff’s department hires convicted felons to help prevent future crimes. Dyer wants to better the education available in jails and help felons return. Magee felt it was inappropriate to hire felons in the sheriff’s office.

“It waters down the values of the sheriff’s department in and of itself as a law enforcement agency,” Magee said. “Do I believe in second chances for returning citizens? Absolutely. Do I believe they should be able to get jobs in the community? Yes, and I will work hard to do that. But it sends a very mixed message when you have convicted felons (working) at the Sheriff’s Department.”

Jackson said he thinks a key to being sheriff is being able to handle tense situations and stay focused.

“Even in this debate when folks take pop shots and get upset, for me, you just dust it off and keep forward focused. You stay intentional. You stay courageous, and you stay focused on keeping the community of Washtenaw County safe because that’s our job,” he said.

Dyer said she hopes to make the community safer by improving the mental health and wellness of the deputies and other staff working for the sheriff.

“The morale is low. Their mental health is not being taken care of. There are times when I was working on patrol that I was working 16 hours, back-to-back-to-back, have a gun on my hip, trying to stay awake, answering domestic violence calls homicides, you name it, we responded to it, and there was no focus in the current administration on our mental health and wellness,” Dyer said. “I’m running to make sure that we prioritize that because if you don’t take care of your workers at the office, you can’t be a transformative agency.”

All three candidates supported the second amendment and owned guns themselves.

The full debate is available on The Sun Times News Facebook page. More information about Dyer can be found at dyer2024.com. Info on Magee is at magee4sheriff.com. Derrick’s info is on jackson4sheriff.com.

The primary election will take place on Aug. 6. Check out your voting place for information on early in-person voting and mail-in ballots.