For Elontrai Ali Glenn, stealing guns, armored vests and badges from some of South Carolina's top cops was easy.
It was night, and Glenn was looking for action. So the ex-con broke into the marked police cruisers of two S.C. sheriffs and other state law enforcement officers who were attending a conference in Columbia. Glenn made off with thousands of dollars' worth of guns, bullets, ballistic vests, handcuffs, badges, credit cards and even a citation book.
Lee County Sheriff Daniel Simon, Marlboro County Sheriff Charles Lemon and other police officers who were staying overnight at the Columbia Embassy Suites hotel for a training seminar last January lost four Glock pistols, three other handguns and other gear.
Glenn, 23, of Rock Hill, pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court in Columbia to one count of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, court records said.
Glenn faces various state weapons and other charges. However, assistant U.S. Attorney Alyssa Richardson is prosecuting him under a joint federal-state program that puts convicted felons with new gun violations on trial in federal court, when the penalty is more severe than in state courts.
Under federal gun laws, a convicted felon caught with a gun can face a prison term of 15 years to life, depending on the severity of his or her past criminal record. U.S. District Judge Mary Geiger Lewis will sentence Glenn at a later, unspecified date.
Glenn's criminal record includes convictions for car theft, assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, shooting into an occupied property and possession of a weapon by a felon, according to court records.
Reached at his Marlboro County office Friday, Lemon said he already has his handgun back. He expressed sadness that someone brazenly would break into a law enforcement officer's locked car.
"It's a sad day in America — I've been in law enforcement 31 years — when you get these young guys, they are strung out on drugs, for whatever reason, it's their choice, but they see no danger, they have no fear, and they pretty much go ahead and do it," Lemon said.
The sheriff said he had concealed the gun in his car. "It wasn't like it was laying there in plain sight on the dashboard or something."
Simon, the Lee County sheriff, said he's gotten back a gun, two ammo pouches, three Glock clips and a small badge — "everything but two holsters."
Glenn and his two alleged accomplices — Morgan Fowler and Santario Washington, both of Charlotte — also broke into cars parked at two other Columbia area hotels just off Interstate 26, on the west side of town.
After stealing the guns from police cars in the Embassy Suites parking lot, just off Interstate 77, Glenn and his friends sped up the highway toward Charlotte.
But at 6:30 a.m. on Jan. 26, a half hour or so before dawn, S.C. Highway Patrol trooper Cpl. Chad Thompson’s radar clocked Glenn’s 2005 Chrysler 300 traveling at 91 mph, according to court records.
Thompson gave chase — siren wailing and blue lights flashing — at speeds of up to 120 mph as Glenn, flashing his high beams, made other drivers pull off the road. Troopers finally made Glenn pull over, but not before he rammed two police cars.
Glenn's alleged accomplices face state charges in Chester County.
Jarrod Bruder, executive director of the S.C. Sheriffs' Association, said his members have had conversations about ways to beef up security at future law enforcement meetings.
One possibility? Hire off-duty deputies to watch parking lots, Bruder said. "It's just the environment we're living in now."