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By Art Holliday

BELLEVILLE, Ill. (KSDK) - The local law enforcement community has lost a legend.

Longtime St. Clair County Sheriff Mearl Justus who mentored many of our areas most senior officers, died today, just a week after stepping down from the job he held for three decades.

Justus. The perfect last name for a legendary law man.

The former police chief and Sheriff resigned last week after a prolonged recovery from gall bladder surgery

Mearl Justus served eight terms as St. Clair County sheriff.

"This guy has probably touched so many lives you could fill Busch Stadium with 'em. That's the kind of person he was," said St. Clair County Sheriff Richard Watson.

For Sheriff Watson the passing for Mearl Justus is personal. Justus hired Watson in 1979 when he was the Cahokia police chief.

"He wasn't only my mentor, he was my friend, and we did several things together. Camped together, vacations together," said Sheriff Watson.

The 81-year-old Justus served as the sheriff of St. Clair County for more than 30 years. Overall, his law enforcement career spanned more than six decades.

Part of his legacy is out-of-the-box thinking.

Justus created a program called "The Exterminator," a surveillance-filled armored truck parked in front of houses to shame trouble makers into behaving.

In 1990 Justus sent out more than 1,000 notices to county fugitives in promising free sneakers.

"Then you would get arrested if you had a warrant on you. Believe me, it only worked one time but it worked very well," said Sheriff Watson.

Justus served on the Major Case Squad since it was founded in 1965. He also served as president of the Illinois Sheriff's Association and on the Board of Directors of the National Sheriff's Association.

"He was just a great all-around individual and a great law enforcement officer," said Sheriff Watson.

The wake and viewing for Sheriff Justuswill be held Thursday, December 20 from 4:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. and Friday, December 21 from 3:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at Holy Family Church, 15East Church Street, Cahokia, IL

The funeral will be held Saturday, December 22 at 10:00 a.m. at Holy Family Church. A procession will follow to Valhalla Cemetary, 3412 Frank scott Pkwy west, Belleville, Illinois.

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