MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) - Tony Tague said he's approached his job as Muskegon County prosecutor with one thing in mind: "What is the right thing to do?"
After 24 years as prosecutor -- and 30 as a prosecutor in general -- Tague is retiring at the end of the year.
"You may not always agree with me, but you know that the reason for the decision is that I felt it was right, that it was in the best interest of the victim, and in the best interest of the community," he told 24 Hour News 8.
His father was a Grand Haven police officer. Tague spent two years as an assistant prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney's office, then four years as an assistant prosecutor in the Muskegon County Prosecutor's office, before running and winning the lead job in 1988.
"The first case I tried as a prosecutor was an elderly couple that was killed in the peacefulness of their home by a person who was trying to get money for crack cocaine," he told 24 Hour News 8. "And seeing that scene really had an impact on me, saying we really need to do something to change the culture, saying that an elderly couple can't live the end of their lives in peace in their own apartment."
He also vividly remembers the Seth Privacky, who murdered his own family in 1998. Tague went to that crime scene and was "astounded how anyone could commit such a crime."
Tague's first felony case was a case of sexual assault against a child. He still has a small duck given to him by the young victim. He keeps it on his desk right next to his computer.
"We're all human beings, and I think seeing tragedy often has an dramatic impact on people," he said. "After the conviction I recieved that gift and it's just something that sticks with you for the rest of your life."
During the 1980s and '90s, he battled drug crime in the area and is proud of his fight to keep Detroit drug gangs out of Muskegon County.
There's been controversy during his tenure. In the 1990s he was involved in a very vocal fight over the county jail that ended up in court. Also in the '90s, he brought charges against a new mother who admitted using crack before she gave birth. The court of appeals ruled against Tague, who now says that fight brought attention to the issue of expectant mothers and drugs.
In 2011 he forced state inmates in a Muskegon prison to submit to DNA tests they had been refusing to give under a loophole in the state law -- a law that was later changed.
But the one thing he has never lost sight of, he said, is that his job is to look out for the victims. Tague sees himself and his office as the victim's hired attorney, and wants to give them the best representation possible.
"Although you can never make a victim whole, you can make them feel like they were well represented and that some justice was accomplished." He said he wants a victim to "see in you that you have passion to make sure that the right thing is done in their case."
He thinks Muskegon is safer than when he started. But the big issue now, he said, is young people and guns. Tague is part of a large group of law-enforcement officers and community leaders who have stepped forward over the past few years to get the community more involved in public safety.
The role of a prosecutor has changed over the years into being more active in the community.
"A prosecutor is a community leader who has to reach into the community and make the community realize that we are in this together, that we are a team and together we can make our community safer."
But he's ready to move on, though.
"I feel that I have put in my time, hopefully made this community a better place," he said. "But often times I feel that this is a young man's job. I'm looking for an energetic replacement, and I think Muskegon has one."
DJ Hilson, who has worked in the Muskegon County prosecutor's office for 14 years, will take over. Hilson won the August primary and ran unopposed in November, and has spent the past four months learning from Tague the specifics of the job on a day-to-day basis.
He may end up seeing his old boss in the courtroom sometime.
Tague plans to now become a defense attorney.
He isn't sure if he will start his own firm or join another. He admits it will be a little odd going against his old office, but he strongly feels justice is best served when both the prosecution and defense have strong and passionate representation.
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