FARGO – Former Fargo Police Chief Chris Magnus is one of the law enforcement officers participating in a U.S. Department of Justice civil rights investigation in Ferguson, Mo., where an unarmed black man was shot to death by a while police officer.
Magnus, who was Fargo chief from 1999 to 2006, is now police chief in Richmond, Calif. He is on a federal panel investigating the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown on Aug. 9.
Brown’s shooting death prompted weeks of protests and controversy over the Ferguson Police Department’s handling of the investigation and how its officers interact with the public.
Magnus is touted as an active leader and agent of change by former colleagues and leaders in Richmond.
Richmond City Councilman Jael Myrick said Magnus is a rock star.
Richmond police and the community, which is more diverse than Fargo, have not always had a great relationship, Myrick said.
“He’s probably the best police chief in the country when it comes to community policing,” Myrick said.
He said Magnus turned around the perception of police in Richmond and created a situation where the community has more trust in law enforcement. Violent crime has fallen significantly since he took over, statistics from the department show.
An article in the Richmond Confidential said Magnus’ leadership has resulted in a significant drop in the use of deadly force by police.
Magnus was the subject of controversy in 2007 when claims of discrimination and harassment surfaced. He was one of the parties sued by high-ranking black officers for allegedly passing them over for promotions and harassing them.
Magnus denied the allegations and in 2012 a jury rejected the claims of racial discrimination.
Magnus could not be reached for comment. The Richmond Confidential said he declined comment on his role with the DOJ panel.
“I think he brings a wealth of experience. He’s always been a really socially active person,” said former Fargo police Capt. Tod Dahle, a criminal justice Ph.D. student and instructor at North Dakota State University.
Dahle said Magnus doesn’t hesitate to suggest changes or make changes.
“He has the kind of experienced background that applies itself well to what’s happened in Ferguson,” Dahle said.
Magnus made a number of changes to speed up Fargo’s transition to a more community-oriented department.
“He was sensitive of trying to make sure minorities were treated fairly,” Dahle said.