Patrick Griffin — a quadriplegic only able to move his head and neck — avoided prison in 2016 after pleading guilty to extortion for trying to squeeze money out of Akron native and former Ohio State football star Beanie Wells.
A federal judge at the time decided that the costs and hurdles of sending Griffin to medical care in a prison were too great and instead sentenced him to house arrest and a fine.
Now Griffin, 31, is in trouble again.
Federal prosecutors last week said Griffin was running a pipeline of methamphetamines and heroin between California and Akron in a conspiracy that began before his house arrest in the Beanie Wells case and continued until his indictment Sept. 11.
Seven other Akron residents — including the mother of Griffin’s child, Natorria Clark, 33 — were also indicted in the case. Griffin was the primary conduit, but Clark “coordinated drug distribution and deliveries for Griffin” when he was unavailable, the indictment said.
The others indicted are accused of traveling to pick up the drugs or selling them to people in and around Akron.
What could happen to Griffin if he or Clark is convicted is not clear. In recent years, Clark split Griffin's around-the-clock care with in-home nursing.
The complicated case last week began to unfold in U.S. District Court as the latest Summit County Public Health report showed that 25 residents sought emergency room treatment after overdosing on drugs between Sept. 14 and Sept. 20.
That’s 10 fewer overdoses than were reported the previous week and a return to an encouraging local trend this year showing sharp declines in overdoses and drug-related deaths in Summit County since the opioid crisis walloped the area in 2016 and 2017.
Role of drugs
Court records show that drugs have shaped much of Griffin’s life — sometimes making him a victim, other times a victimizer.
Griffin was born in Akron and tragedy struck when he was 2 years old and sitting on his pregnant mother’s lap.
His father shot his mother and “dumped mom and child at hospital and fled,” according to a memo filed by Griffin’s lawyer in the extortion case.
Griffin’s mother survived, but was herself paralyzed by the bullet, the memo said. She gave birth and put the child up for adoption because she was struggling to care for Griffin and an older sibling, the memo said.
“She both used and sold drugs to survive,” the memo said, and ultimately lost custody of Griffin and a sibling, who went to live with relatives.
By the time he was 13, Griffin was running the streets, the memo said.
In coming years, he was picked up on robbery and drug charges, court records show.
Then, when he was 24, Griffin was caught in another domestic shooting.
It happened 10 days before Christmas on Grant Street. A judge later said Griffin was at the wrong place at the wrong time when Dawud Spaulding went looking for the mother of his children, Erica Singleton.
Spaulding found Griffin instead and shot him. About six hours later, he returned to the same spot on Grant Street and found Singleton, killing her and her uncle, Ernie Thomas. Spaulding was later convicted and sentenced to death.
Griffin spent 13 months in the hospital after the shooting, fighting off infections and undergoing numerous surgeries, his lawyer said in a 2016 memo filed in court.
When he was released, he moved in with longtime girlfriend Clark, who bought a handicap-friendly house.
“He must be lifted, bathed, fed and dressed by someone else,” the memo said.
Griffin — who depends on a ventilator and respirator — spent time in either a hospital bed or wheelchair, which he was unable to use on his own, the memo said.
“His only entertainment is television and visits from friends or family.”
One of those friends was Frank Conley.
In 2015, the FBI said Griffin and Conley threatened former Arizona Cardinals running back Beanie Wells and his family unless they paid them up to $175,000.
The money was to make up for what they lost to a Mexican drug dealer they met through Wells’ brother, the FBI said.
Conley went to trial and was convicted of extortion and other crimes. He was sentenced to nearly 10 years in prison.
Griffin took a deal and pleaded guilty to extortion. Sentencing guidelines in court records showed he could have spent 33 to 41 months in prison. Only one federal prison in North Carolina could care for his medical needs.
Prosecutors wanted him to go, saying there would otherwise be no punishment for the extortion, freeing Griffin to deal heroin in Akron during the opioid epidemic.
“Although this defendant can’t physically [go out and sell drugs], it doesn’t mean that he can’t get the heroin and provide it to others or help others profit from that,” a prosecutor told the judge.
But the judge in the case thought otherwise.
She mentioned Griffin’s dad not only shot his mother, but also later went to prison for killing someone. Griffin's sister was in prison, too, though the judge didn’t say for what.
Griffin, she said, was shot only for being at the wrong place at the wrong time, and putting him in prison medical care would cost taxpayers a lot of money.
In the end, the judge sentenced Griffin to home confinement and ordered him to donate $10,000 to charity over three years from his Social Security benefits.
At “some point in time, with all the tragedy you’ve experienced,” the judge told Griffin, “you have to understand that you cannot be the one who perpetrates the wrongs and the injuries."
Reporter Amanda Garrett can be reached at 330-996-3725 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @agarrettABJ.