TERRE HAUTE —
A man who traded drugs and money for a gun that was used in the 2011 shooting death of Terre Haute Police Officer Brent Long has been sentenced to 57 months in federal prison, but he could be serving an even longer sentence behind bars.
Scott Griffy, 42, still faces criminal charges in a Vigo County court related to dealing methamphetamine and possession of precursors at the time of his arrest in late July.
On Wednesday, District Judge William T. Lawrence ordered that Griffy’s federal sentence of four years and nine months be served consecutively to any penalty he might receive in Vigo Superior Court 3 on the drug charges. A July 9 trial date is set on those local charges.
Lawrence also ordered three years of supervised release for Griffy, and recommended substance-abuse and mental health treatment. In announcing the sentence, Lawrence noted Griffy’s lengthy criminal history dating to his teenage years and past felony convictions that restricted him from possessing a gun.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthias Onderak, who prosecuted the case for the government, had requested an 84-month sentence for Griffy, asking the judge to send “a loud and clear message” to the community that violent crime will not be tolerated.
The time that Griffy has spent in a federal detention facility will be counted toward any sentence he receives on the Vigo County charges, Onderak stated in a news conference after the sentencing. That is because Griffy was in state custody on the meth-related charges when the federal charges were filed.
Meanwhile, two others involved in the July 11 shooting death of Long at an apartment on North Eighth Street were also sentenced in separate hearings Wednesday morning:
n Heather Elkins, 23, was sentenced to 12 months in prison and two years of supervised release.
n Roberta Utterback, 52, was sentenced to 21 months in prison and two years of supervised release.
Both women were inside the Eighth Street apartment the day a federal fugitive task force attempted to serve an arrest warrant on Shawn Seeley, a convicted felon, who was wanted in Sullivan County.
Long and his K-9 partner, Shadow, entered the residence and located Seeley hiding behind a false wall in a closet. Seeley and Long exchanged gunfire, and Long was mortally wounded. After law enforcement officers re-entered the house, Long’s body was recovered and Seeley was found dead of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Elkins and Utterback, along with Charles Elkins, 24, Jesse Padgett, 21, and Jenny Torres, 23, have all pleaded guilty to making a false material statement to police when asked if Seeley was inside the apartment.
Additional sentencing hearings are set for today in Terre Haute for Charles Elkins and Jesse Padgett. Other sentencing hearings are set next week for Torres and Brad “Pappy” Keller, who was charged in connection with selling the gun to Griffy that, in turn, Seeley used in shooting Long.
Griffy had pleaded guilty to charges in connection with the illegal possession and sale of the weapon used in the shooting. A third federal charge of illegally possessing ammunition was dismissed in the plea agreement.
Long’s family and members of the Terre Haute Police Department attended Wednesday’s sentencing hearing.
Cheryl Long, mother of Brent Long, said after the sentencing she is grateful for community and police department support since her son’s death. But she said the sentencing offered little closure for her.
“I wasn’t real pleased with some of the reaction of the defendants,” Long said. “I don’t think they were really sorry. I think they were told to say they were sorry, but I don’t think they meant it.”
Police Chief John Plasse said he has been pleased with the efforts by federal investigators to hold Seeley’s cohorts responsible for their part in Long’s death.
“At least the people who had any part in the death of Brent are paying for it,” Plasse said. “They have been [taken] off the streets of Terre Haute.”
U.S. Attorney Joseph Hogsett said prosecuting seven people connected to Long’s shooting death is “cutting new ground” by holding those people collaterally responsible, even though it was Seeley who shot Long.
“Ten months ago, seven people who directly contributed to the murder of one of Terre Haute’s beloved police officers walked the streets of this city without fear of punishment,” Hogsett said. “Today, after tireless investigative work, these sentencing hearings can begin to close this tragic chapter in Terre Haute’s law enforcement history.”
Since Seeley killed himself, Hogsett said, “it seemed important to take these rather unique steps.”
He said the use of the federal law against lying — known in legal circles as “1001” — makes it a crime to make a material false statement in matters of federal jurisdiction, as the Seeley cohorts admitted to doing in their plea agreements.
After discovering that state law did not provide an effective path of prosecution against those involved in the killing, Hogsett’s office helped open a federal investigation into Long’s death that included the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“These prosecutions should serve as a powerful warning as to how seriously federal criminal justice takes the protection of our law enforcement officers and the safety of our neighborhoods,” Hogsett added. “As Mr. Griffy has learned, if you assist the ‘worst of the worst’ – if you lie or provide help in any way to these criminals – you are going to face the full force of this office.”
Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or firstname.lastname@example.org.