“So, just as we were about to grab the target to place handcuffs on him, which looked like it was going to be pretty routine since the target was standing there motionless with his hands up, the target quickly reached into the waistband of his pants and…pulled a gun out, placed it under his chin and blew his head off!!’
Yes, that is a true story. And one of many that I experienced during my 29-year career with the Drug Enforcement Administration or better known as the DEA. My name is Keith Leighton. I signed on with the DEA in 1991 out of the Springfield, Massachusetts office. I had just finished my Masters Degree at Springfield College in Health Fitness (I had already received a Bachelors Degree in Physical Education). Why the drastic change in career paths? To be honest, I am not totally sure. Some of the factors included the following: I had never wanted a career in physical education or health fitness. I remember before starting college I decided on that major since I enjoyed working out and I was going to play college football. Like so many teenagers at that age I was “going to figure it out later.” Also, I had always been interested in law enforcement. I grew up watching tv shows like Barney Miller, Hill Street Blues, Kojak, Barretta, Starsky and Hutch, NYPD Blue and, of course, Miami Vice. I was also bored. I wanted an adventure and not just a career. Law Enforcement excited me. I also wanted to make a difference. I know that sounds cheesy but it’s the god’s honest truth. And, finally, my dad had served honorably in the US Air Force for 26 years. I saw first-hand how good the benefits are in the federal government. If you combine all those factors, it equals a career in federal law enforcement. At least it did for me
So, we are talking 1990-1991.
This time frame was pre-internet and pre-cell phone. One day I simply walked into the federal building in Springfield and went to every federal law enforcement branch in the building and obtained what is called a SF-171. This is basically a fancy name for an application in the federal government. When I left I had applications for the FBI, US Customs (now Homeland Security/TSA), US Secret Service, Border Patrol (no longer in existence), ATF, US Marshal’s, INS (Immigration) and, obviously, the DEA. I was off and running. I then proceeded to spend the next 13 months obsessed with my new career path. I spent every free moment I had banging out these applications on a typewriter with white out by my side. Only old-timers like me know what this is! I digress. After a tumultuous time where some agencies turned me down because I didn’t have the necessary qualifications to others that wanted to hire me but I decided the job just wasn’t for me ($18,000 a year to patrol the Southwest border with the Border Patrol just didn’t appeal to me) or the simple fact that some just weren’t hiring, it came down to two – the US Secret Service and the DEA. I was sure that I wasn’t going to hear from either one of them. And, then one day, out of nowhere, I got a phone call. I was off and running.
From the mean streets of Miami to the US Embassy in Brussels to the Pill Mills in Southern Ohio to dismantling the Short North Posse in Columbus, Ohio, I had quite the ride.
I retired in 2020 after 29 years of dedicated service. I was ready. 29 years is a long time to do anything. I wanted something different. I was tired of working nights, weekends, holidays, and traveling. This was in the middle of the pandemic where everyone had a lot of free time to kill while being sequestered to their homes. So, after much thought, I decided to write a book, my memoir. My children had always wanted me to write a book as they were very young during the wild and crazy times in Miami. My wife did not know me for most of my career, so I wanted to share these stories with her. I wanted to give the public a peek into the life of a Special Agent, our title within the DEA. We do so much in secrecy and in the shadows of society, that I wanted to pull back that curtain a bit. But just a bit as I still needed to protect my fellow agents and the informants that I worked with. And, finally, to honor the fallen men and women in the DEA. These are true American heroes. So, I did it. It was hard and tedious but in May, 2021 my book was published. Please check it out on Amazon. I’m sure you will like it. The link is below. I would like to thank “ReadersMagnet” and “Authors Lounge” for allowing me to write this article for their forum. And thank you all for taking the time to read this article and taking a few minutes out of your day. I truly appreciate it. As we always said in the DEA, take care and be safe.