News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

August 25, 2011

VIDEO: Six to face federal charges in Officer Long shooting

U.S. Attorney Hogsett set to announce indictments this morning

TERRE HAUTE — Six individuals accused of complicity in the death of a police officer face federal charges as law enforcement hopes to foster a sense of justice.

Joseph Hogsett, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, will announce today the federal indictment of six Wabash Valley residents for their actions in connection with the shooting death of Terre Haute Police Officer Brent Long.

Those indictments, Hogsett said, convey the message that people who enable acts of violence will be held responsible.

For five of the accused — Heather Elkins, 23, Charles Elkins, 23, Roberta Utterback, 51, Jenny Torres, 23, and Jesse Padgett, 21, all of Terre Haute — the federal indictments come on top of state charges, ranging from assisting a criminal to possession of controlled substance, filed July 15.

“While the person responsible for killing Officer Long is dead, the legacy of Brent Long must not end there. I will not stand idly by and tolerate law enforcement officers being targets while they perform their sworn duty to protect us all,” Hogsett stated in a media release.

“People who are complicit with a senseless act of violence should also be held accountable.”

As part of the indictment, Scott Griffy, 40, Terre Haute, faces allegations of unlawful sale of a firearm to a prohibited person; unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon; and unlawful possession of firearm ammunition by a convicted felon. If convicted, all counts are punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, according to information provided by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Heather Elkins, Charles Elkins, Utterback, Torres and Padgett each face an allegation of making a material false statement. A conviction carries a potential sentence of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. These five also face felony allegations in the state court.

“Too many police officers are being killed in our communities by individuals who have no legal right to possess a firearm,” Hogsett stated in the media release. “While in the abstract, the charge of making a false statement may seem trivial and insignificant, the circumstances of this case demonstrate the value of this federal prosecutorial tool in assisting our state and local law enforcement partners.”

Terre Haute Police Chief John Plasse expressed the sense of reclaimed justice with the handing down of the indictments.

“Nothing will bring Brent back, but at least they’ll have to pay for having a part in what happened to him,” Plasse said.

And according to Hogsett, that’s largely the point.

“The reason why this case is important is that the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Department of Justice is sending a message that anyone dealing in violence, particularly against police officers, if you have any association with the senseless act of violence, you’ll be held accountable,” he said in a telephone interview with the Tribune-Star.

Long was shot to death while assisting in the service of a warrant on Shaun Seeley for a felony probation violation.

The incident occurred July 11, in the 1800 block of North Eighth Street, and involved members of the Great Lakes Fugitive Task Force, comprised of Deputy U.S. Marshals, Indiana State Police and the Terre Haute Police Department. Officers reportedly approached the residence and found it to be occupied by several individuals, while Seeley, himself, did not appear to be present.

According to information used in the indictment, the five defendants facing an allegation of making false statements were removed from the residence and questioned about Seeley’s whereabouts. Three, according to the release, allegedly told police Seeley was not inside.

Long and his K-9 partner, Shadow, reportedly entered the residence to search for Seeley and the dog indicated that someone was inside a closet. Officers outside the residence reportedly heard gunfire erupt and an unknown person allegedly continued firing at officers from inside. Law enforcement officials, including the Terre Haute Special Response Team, converged on the residence, eventually entering to recover Long, who had been shot multiple times. Responders made efforts to resuscitate Long at the scene, but were unsuccessful..

K-9 Shadow, who also was shot in the exchange, recovered from his wounds. He has since been retired from service and given to the care of Long’s family.

Seeley was reportedly found dead in the residence from what was determined at autopsy to have been a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Seeley was in possession of Long’s firearm and ammunition when his body was discovered by police, according to the release.

Further investigation involved interviews with Torres and Padgett. During the interviews, Torres allegedly falsely claimed that she and C.J. Elkins were asleep and unaware of Seeley’s presence inside the house. Padgett is alleged to have falsely claimed that a witness, Cyrus Mitchell, was not present at the residence prior to the officers’ arrival to serve the warrant.

The investigation showed Griffy allegedly sold a 9 mm handgun to Seeley in June. Griffy, according to information provided by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, is a convicted felon and cannot legally possess a firearm. According to the federal indictment, Griffy knew Seeley to also be a convicted felon, yet allegedly sold him the weapon anyway. That 9 mm handgun, prosecutors say, was the weapon used in the fatal shooting of Long.

Hogsett said this case is unique because Long’s killer is dead and the question lingers concerning justice. Offering the example of the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, he pointed out that the individuals who made weapons available to the teens were held accountable. Like Seeley, the teenaged shooters took their own lives, and left the community without a sense of justice, the U.S. Attorney said. Going after the individual who sold them the weapons helped heal that, he stated.

“We are alleging that Mr. Griffy should be held accountable,” Hogsett said.

Hearings for the accused are being scheduled, and the government will argue they need to be detained. When considering bail for accused suspects, the judge must take into consideration public safety as well as flight risk, Hogsett said, noting both lean toward keeping them behind bars.

Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or brian.boyce@tribstar.com.

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