VERSAILLES, Mo. – A Missouri state trooper accused in the 2014 death of an Iowa man who fell from a patrol boat while handcuffed has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor boating violation, meaning he won't face an involuntary manslaughter trial in the case.
Trooper Anthony Piercy entered the plea Tuesday to negligent operation of a vessel, The Kansas City Star reported
Piercy stopped 20-year-old Brandon Ellingson at the Lake of the Ozarks in May 2014 on suspicion of boating while intoxicated. While riding in a patrol boat driven by Piercy, Ellingson fell into the lake while handcuffed and wearing a life vest improperly secured by Piercy.
Ellingson's family fought for three years to uncover what happened, alleging the state and the patrol initially covered up the drowning by claiming an intoxicated Brandon may have jumped into the water. His family received a $9 million settlement from the state last year and earlier won a lawsuit over the patrol's initial handling of the case.
Ellingson's parents plan to speak at the sentencing on Sept. 8, though Piercy's attorneys have asked that the trooper be allowed to withdraw his plea if he could face more than probation.
"I don't really give a care what his punishment is, but I wanted his record to say manslaughter," said Ellingson's mother, Sherry Ellingson. "If anyone says that justice has now been served, you have got to be kidding me. In what way?"
An investigation into the death by The Star discovered that some road troopers weren't adequately trained to work on the water after the Missouri Water Patrol merged with the Highway Patrol in 2011. Piercy had worked on the state's roads for 18 years but received just two days of field training before he was cleared to patrol the water alone.
Before the merger, Water Patrol recruits received at least two months of field training.
Piercy, who has been on administrative leave since being charged, left the court Tuesday with his attorneys, who all declined to comment. Piercy's trial had been scheduled to start next month in Versailles.
Ellingson's father, Craig Ellingson, said a trial would have been risky because Piercy lives in the small Missouri town, his wife is a teacher there and the trooper was on the local school board before he was charged in December 2015.
"It would have been a hung jury or he would have gotten off," Craig Ellingson said. "I didn't want to risk the chance we wouldn't get the opportunity to see him face to face and say what we want to say. Now we get that."
Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com