VERSAILLES, Mo. – A Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper was charged Friday with involuntary manslaughter in the drowning death of an Iowa man who fell from a patrol boat while he was handcuffed at the Lake of the Ozarks.
Special prosecutor William Camm announced the charge Friday against trooper Anthony Piercy in the May 31, 2014, death of Brandon Ellingson, 20, of suburban Des Moines. Piercy, 44, was placed on leave without pay, the patrol said in a statement Friday.
Piercy had arrested Ellingson for boating while intoxicated and was taking him to a patrol zone office. Witnesses have said Piercy placed an already buckled life vest over Ellingson's head and didn't property secure it. Ellingson's life vest came off shortly after he went into the water, and Piercy eventually jumped into the water but was unable to save Ellingson. His body was recovered the next day from the lake bottom.
Piercy's actions on the day Ellingson died were reckless, Seay said.
"I have reviewed boxes and boxes of reports and records in regard to Mr. Piercy's training and experience and everything that was done in the investigation," he said. "I have charged him (Piercy) with recklessly causing the death. ... It relates to an unjustifiable risk being taken."
Piercy turned himself in Friday on the Morgan County charge and he was released on $50,000 bond. Online records do not show that Piercy has an attorney to speak for him and no phone number was listed for his home address in Versailles.
The drowning led to legislative hearings about the decision to merge the state's water and highway patrols into one unit. A legislative report found that the merger resulted in less training for troopers working on state waterways, The Kansas City Star reported.
Piercy, who had previously patrolled roads, told jurors during a coroner's inquest in September that he hadn't received the proper training to handle what happened the day Ellingson drowned. Jurors found the death to be accidental, and special prosecutor Amanda Grellner did not file criminal charges against Piercy. In January, Grellner reopened the investigation but Seay, a city attorney in Salem, Missouri, took over the case in March after Grellner said she had a conflict.
A movement began after his death called Justice for Brandon and Ellingson's parents, Sherry and Craig Ellison, of Clive, Iowa, have pushed hard to have Piercy held accountable for their son's death.
Craig Ellingson said Friday that he was happy Piercy was charged.
"But it should have been a lot earlier," he said. "I think it has been a cover-up from the beginning. They had everything. They knew what Piercy did to my son."
Patrol Sgt. Randy Henry, whom Piercy called the night of the drowning, testified during legislative hearings that road troopers who help at the lake on a part-time basis receive little field training. After he retired earlier this year, Henry said several things went wrong the day the younger Ellingson died and he contended the patrol covered up the problems, in part to shield Gov. Jay Nixon from criticism for pushing the merger of the two patrol units.
A special House committee in January urged the state to correct problems created by the 2011 merger, suggesting overhauling training for troopers for the water and recruiting specialized officers to patrol by boat. The committee was told last month that some of the changes had occurred.