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County prosecutor set to retire

{jcomments off}Gerald Heaton’s replacement will be named in August

Gerald Heaton believes illegal drug activity now accounts for 90 percent of the crimes in Logan County.

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Logan County Prosecutor Gerald E. Heaton will retire July 31 after 22 years in office. (EXAMINER PHOTO | JOEL E. MAST)

“It really started getting bad in 2000,” said the 22-year Logan County Prosecutor. “It is so extremely difficult to stop because it is so lucrative.

“You put away one drug dealer and another pops up to take his place.”

Heroin and prescription drug abuse are the “mainstays,” he says, so much so that he cautions everyone to watch how much they use prescription painkillers even under a doctor’s care.

“You can become addicted before you know it,” he said, “so I would advise anyone, ‘Try not to take them for any length of time.’ ”

As he prepares to retire July 31, Mr. Heaton sees a new scourge hitting the area — “bath salts.”

Sold for around $20 in convenience stores, the product is currently legal. But it is more addictive than methamphetamine and can cause delusional behavior similar to LSD.

Legislators are acting to classify it and other synthetic drugs as narcotics which will open the door for prosecutors and lawmen to go after the  sellers, he said, but it will take months to finalize the bill.

In the meantime, municipalities may want to go after the drugs as public nuisances.

Mr. Heaton first began working as an assistant prosecutor under Doug MacGillivray. He lost his post when C. Douglas Chamberlain, now a Logan County Family Court judge, unseated Mr. MacGillivray.

Four years later, Mr. Heaton ran and won against Mr. Chamberlain. Dennis Day Lager ran against Mr. Heaton twice in the general election, but the prosecutor has been uncontested since.

He built the office from a part-time position into an office with six full-time employees and four part-time workers. At one point, his office employed 13 full-time staffers, including an investigator to help finalize case preparation.

Criminal cases continue to increase and civil matters for the county and townships are plentiful enough to keep one attorney busy every day.

Under his leadership, the office has developed a diversion program for first-time offenders and a victim advocate office.

Mr. Heaton said changes in the state retirement system are part of the reason he is leaving now with 27 years of public service. While his future is not set, Mr. Heaton is open to taking a position in higher education at some point, just not right away.

When asked why he chose a life as a prosecutor, Mr. Heaton said, “You feel like you’re giving something back to society. As a prosecutor, you’re not seeking to win a personal victory as much as you are seeking justice for victims and society.

“You’re trying to benefit the system. It isn’t perfect, but it is better than the alternatives.”

And the burgeoning drug problem shows the imperfections.

Mr. Heaton wonders if the penalties are enough in some cases, especially in narcotics trafficking.

Sentencing guidelines inform criminals of the penalties they could face if caught, he noted, and for some, a couple years in prison is simply part of the cost of business.

Locally, he hopes the county’s two major departments can set aside past differences and begin working together.

Already, Mr. Heaton said detectives with the Bellefontaine Police Department and Logan County Sheriff ‘s Office are meeting at least weekly to share information.

That can lay the groundwork for an effective countywide approach to the problem which leads to property crimes and attacks on individuals, he said.

While not an advocate for drug legalization, Mr. Heaton said something else needs to happen in the nation’s approach to drugs and addiction.

“What we’re doing now is not working,” he said. “I know the problem. I just don’t know the answer.”

Logan County Republican Party Chairwoman Renae Lentz said today...

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