Posted by Doreen Higgins on Oct 16, 2017
We listened to a story of a battle against crime in our city last Wednesday morning as we welcomed Meg Heap to our meeting.
Meg Heap has served as the District Attorney for Chatham County since she was first elected in November 2012; she has recently been elected for a second term. She has a law degree from Mercer University, was raised in Savannah, and began her career in the Victim-Witness Assistance program in the Savannah District Attorney’s office. In 1995 she became an assistant DA in Chatham County handling State Court misdemeanor cases, moving to Superior Court to handle felony cases in 1997. She was the Chief Assistant District Attorney in 2009 and 2010. She is the current president of the District Attorney’s Association of Georgia.

In a short rapid-fire presentation, Meg told us of the things that happen in Chatham County and efforts to stop it. As an example, Meg cited a week in September 2000 – Hectic? Crazy? Bloody? Deadly? In less than three hours, a 19 year old was killed, a 17year-old boy, a 23 year old man, and two 27 year old men were injured. As police worked the scene, another call came in for a shooting, and as they struggled to deal with that, another came in for a triple shooting. Are things getting better? Well, in a ten day period in September 2017, a 21 year-old double murderer gets life in prison, a Savannah teen gets life for a “cold-blooded slaying”, a Savannah man is convicted on all counts in a 2015 “botched robbery” slaying, and a Savannah teen gets 35 years in prison for attempted rapes.

Gangs are a part of the problem. In 2016, a gang leader was sentenced to 22 years for drug trafficking; further indictments occurred in the same year for murder and heroin dealing by gang members. Juvenile crime is a further, major problem. “Teens with guns are killing teens,” Meg told us, and gave us a run-down of some 2016-2017 events: 15 year-old arrested in a shooting, three teens in a gas station robbery, three teens found guilty in murder of a 15 year old, and the list goes on.

Obtaining evidence to prosecute crimes is a further issue. In gang related crime (and many other circumstances), there are witnesses and individuals asked to tell their stories; but relying on what is said is problematic. There is commonly a problem with the influence, threats and intimidation from peers; relying on such testimony is often hopeless. And, of course, crime does not stop at the state line; “we share criminals” with South Carolina, Meg said, as well as our database, and we coordinate our efforts to catch criminals and reduce crime. Gangs are even run from prison; headlines from the local paper in 2015 reported, “White supremacist prison gang operation busted by Savannah Drug Agents.”

Meg went on to describe the efforts of her staff and others in stopping this senseless litany of murder, maiming, and injuries. There are some key “weapons” she said, including cooperation with other police forces, federal counterparts, open records, and “touch DNA,” an enhanced DNA recognition capability which can link criminals with evidence. Cooperation with others such as the U.S. Marshall’s Office and regular meetings with all concerned are key in moving strategically against these serious crimes. Gang databases and money confiscated are maintained with the latest technology and dedicated personnel. Federal grants help to establish and keep current such necessities as area specs and crime locations, and the police work very closely with neighborhood associations. Money legally confiscated from drug dealing is used to assist these efforts. There are, sadly, victims from all these crimes. Meg concluded her presentation with acknowledgement of the work done by individuals and groups in the alleviation of suffering among victims of rape, elder abuse, child abuse, vehicular homicides, and domestic violence.
 
Below is a photo of President Toni and Meg Heap.