Named 2019 District Attorney of the Year
by the District Attorney's Association of Georgia
A POSITIVE TRACK RECORD OF SUCCESS
Who cares matters most and Meg Heap is a devoted prosecutor who is innovative, relentless and a true voice for victims and their families.
In the past eight years as District Attorney, Meg Heap has:
Restored collaboration with local criminal justice agencies
Collaborated with law enforcement on numerous projects, including End Gun Violence
Worked closely with SPD Cold Case Unit to close a number of decades-old murders
Successfully recruited mid-career prosecutors from all over the United States
Introduced hardware and software to increase productivity throughout the Office
Developed courtroom audio and visual technology that is among the most advanced in the state.
Hired Courtroom Technology Engineer who uses advanced software to analyze digital evidence
Obtained over $1,000,000 in federal grants for intervention and innovative programs
Created new Grand Jury process to make public corruption cases more transparent
Brought therapy dogs to the District Attorneys Office and Juvenile Court.
Created Special Victims Unit.
Created Early Notification Prosecutor to make early outreach to victims of domestic violence
Created Family Justice Center: a multi-agency resource center for domestic violence, child abuse, and elder abuse victims.
Expanded programs for at-risk youth
Summer Law Program Mentorship Project
RESTORED COLLABORATION WITH LOCAL CRIMINAL JUSTICE AGENCIES
Previous administration had closed the office to police officers. They felt alienated from the District Attorney and prosecutors. One of Meg Heap's first actions was to reopen the office to officers. Additionally, Meg worked closely with the Chiefs of the various police departments to identify areas of concern and develop projects that addressed those areas.
END GUN VIOLENCE
When the Downtown Business Association proposed David Kennedy’s Ceasefire model to the city, Meg Heap worked with City Officials and then SCMPD Chief Lumpkin to support the initiative that was named End Gun Violence. Members of the District Attorney's office staff attended trainings in New York and Birmingham and also developed projects that worked with the initiative. The DA's office wrote and received a federal Smart Prosecution grant that paid for a gun prosecutor who specialized in gun crimes. The project started in a specific geographic region of the city, and was eventually expanded to the entire community.
Worked closely with SPD Cold Case Unit to close a number of decades-old murders including:
Victim Scott Corwin
Victim Rebecca Foley
Victim Lawrence Bryan IV (Timone Hooper)
Samuel Little (case is on-going)
Earl Waggy (case is on-going)
Office recruits for specialized prosecutors through prosecutor organizations such as the National District Attorney Association, the Prosecuting Attorney’s Council of Georgia and National Black Prosecutors Association. Prosecution is a very special type of law. District Attorney prosecutors are not paid at the level of their private sector peers. Many prosecutors graduate with six figure debt. Once they begin to marry and have children, we lose them to the private section—generally around the time they have experience and begin to excel in their experience and careers.
It is important that Chatham County recruits mid-career prosecutors who have dedicated their careers to criminal law. Meg Heap has been able to recruit choice prosecutors who are at the top of their game. They are among the best in the field.
"If your son or daughter has been victimized, you want the best prosecutor to try the case. Every time I interview a candidate, I think about what skills are important and those are what I seek. I always want to be able to tell a victim’s mom that my prosecutor is at the top of their game."
-- Meg Daly Heap, Chatham County District Attorney
In today’s world, jurors have been exposed to television shows such as Law and Order and CSI. Jurors expect that DNA is always available and always points to the suspect. They expect technology that rivals what you see at NASA. In reality, when I took office, the equipment in the office was antiquated, and the courtroom equipment which is owned by the courthouse, was notorious in its unreliability. To solve this issue, I hired a courtroom technology engineer, one of the first positions of its kind in the country. His first priority was to purchase equipment that my office owns that can move from courtroom to courtroom. He has created touch screen monitors that allows my prosecutors to display evidence (including anything from photos, maps and videos to cell phone data) in an organized fashion – and in a way that they expect to see it. Additionally, he works closely with prosecutors to develop Power point presentations and materials for their courtroom trials. Additionally, he is an expert in video and audio. In one recent case, he was able to take very dark video and amplify the video so that the viewer could see what was happening. In that case, the Secret Service worked on the same video. My engineer’s video rivaled that of what the Secret Service did.
I don’t believe in recreating the wheel when looking for solutions to problems. I have instructed my staff to look across the country for ideas that we can adapt to our office. Each year, I prioritize areas that are most important to me. My grant writer will look for projects that fit those areas of priority and looks for grants to fund them.
The grants that we have received included a Department of Health and Human Services grant to reduce Minority Youth Violence. The grant was used to pay for the Youth Intercept program which works with youth between the ages of 12 and 25. The program included at-risk youth in the school system, and youth who were the victims of violent intentional injuries such as gunshot and knife wounds. Youth Intercept enrollees are required to either re-enter school or obtain a job skill. Most Individuals enrolled in Youth Intercept are less likely to be re-injured or become involved in the criminal justice system, their grades go up, truancy goes down. Finally, parents and teachers report an improvement in the student’s behavior.
Additionally, the grant paid for the Summer Law program which provided a two-week intensive mock trial project that also supplied life skills classes and mentoring opportunities. Students from both Youth Intercept as well as at-risk students identified by the school system were enrolled in the summer program. Prior to attending the program, most students had mostly negative interactions with law enforcement and the criminal justice systems. The students enrolled in the program were surveyed at the beginning and ending of the two week period. They were found to have more positive thoughts of law enforcement and the criminal justice systems, they were more likely to express interest in careers in law enforcement and criminal justice, and were more outgoing and interactive with figures of authority such as the District Attorney and Police Chief.
The Smart Prosecution grant we received, paid for a gun prosecutor to focus on gun charges in a specific geographic region. We did see a reduction in crime in the area that was chosen for this grant. The success of this program caused the gun prosecutor’s role to be expanded throughout the county.
Another grant my office received was the Stop Violence Against Women grant that paid for a domestic violence Early Notification Prosecutor. This prosecutor makes outreach as soon as possible after an arrest in a domestic violence case. The idea is to provide the victim with referrals to services and to develop a rapport with the victim—to try to reduce the recantation of victims, linking them to services to break the DV cycle and ultimately reduce the number of DV homicides in our community. In the two years of this grant, the prosecutor has met with hundreds of women and provided them access to services to break the cycle.
The first officer-involved case that I handled was less than 30 days after Ferguson. Riots were stopped by then mayor, Edna Jackson. I didn’t want to have another Ferguson. I wanted to make my process transparent. By utilizing the current process, after the initial Grand Jury hearing, if there are to be no charges filed, the entire file—including any videos and photographic evidence that is presented to the Grand Jury becomes part of the file that is put into the public record in the clerk’s office. Any citizen may request a copy of the file, grand jury findings and the transcript that is taken during the proceedings may be requested from the court reporters. I want the community to be able to see what the Grand Jury decided and why.
My office had one of the first therapy dogs in the state to be used in a prosecutor’s office. Cheryl Rogers, the Director of my Victims-Witness Assistance Program adopted Buddy, our first therapy dog, through the Sheriff Department’s Operation New Hope. Then several years later, our second therapy dog, Cookie, was also adopted through Operation New Hope for use in my Juvenile Court Division. We were able to work with the program to make sure that our dogs were trained in the things that were most necessary to the victims they would be assisting. These dogs started in my office with the intention of working with children and the victims of crime to make the courthouse a less scary place. What has blossomed as a result is quite special. Both Buddy and Cookie work with child victims but also with victims with trauma. Often, victims who will not open up to our advocates, are more willing to share their stories with advocates and attorneys when the dogs are available. Buddy is often in the courtroom during trial. The judges and staff frequently request a few minutes of therapy with the dogs, too. Additionally, judges who work on adoption cases, will request the dogs be in court or in chambers during those proceedings.
SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT
The D.A.’s Special Victims Unit was established in 2018 with Lindretta Grindle Kramer as the Assistant Chief ADA of the Division. We have hundreds of cases in this division.
In 2013, after I took office, the Violence Intervention Program that was located at Memorial Hospital, was renamed Youth Intercept and expanded to include the at-risk youth program through the school system. As I mentioned in my grant notes, we received a DHHS grant for Minority Youth Violence Prevention. This grant fully funded the Youth Intercept program for three years and allowed my office to develop the Summer Law program. (see notes above). As a part of all grant applications, my office works with Georgia Southern to do research and evaluation on the programs that we implement. This allows outside evaluation of the data to determine the effectiveness of our projects. Georgia Southern reviewed the Youth Intercept program for effectiveness and efficacy during this time frame as part of the federal requirements for the grant.
My office has been involved in the development of the Front Porch, the Multi-Agency Resource Center developed by the Juvenile Court to work with at-risk youth. Youth Intercept staff is frequently called to work with some of the clientele at the Front Porch.
PRETRIAL AND PRE-WARRANT DIVERSION PROGRAMMING
Shortly after taking office, I established both felony and misdemeanor pre-trial programs for youthful, non-violent offenders. These programs have had incredibly high success rates for those completing the process—success rates of over 95%. More recently, I worked with the City of Savannah and the Savannah Police Department to develop a pre-warrant diversion program. These programs are designed to help at-risk youth put their lives on the right track so that they can become productive members of society.