VERSAILLES, Mo. – More than three years after an Iowa man fell out of a Missouri State Highway Patrol boat and drowned while handcuffed and wearing an improperly secured life vest, the trooper who was driving the boat was sentenced Tuesday to 10 days in jail and two years of probation.
Trooper Anthony Piercy will serve the "shock time" in the Morgan County jail for the May 31, 2014, death of Brandon Ellingson, 20, an Arizona State student who was pulled over for suspicion of boating while intoxicated while partying on the Lake of the Ozarks.
His father, Craig Ellingson, of Clive, Iowa, read a statement at the sentencing while several family members looked on, The Kansas City Star reported .
"Anthony Piercy, it has been almost 3½ years that I've waited to tell you face to face that you're the reason why my son Brandon is dead," the father said. "You had no compassion for my son."
Piercy later apologized for "the loss I caused the Ellingson family."
"Brandon should be here with them today," he said.
During the stop, Piercy handcuffed Ellingson's hands behind his back and placed a buckled life vest — the wrong one for a handcuffed person — over his head. Ellingson was thrown from the boat when it hit a wave, and his improperly secured life vest came off. Piercy jumped in the water and unsuccessfully tried to save him. Ellingson's body was recovered 18 hours later.
Piercy avoided an involuntary manslaughter trial by pleading guilty in June to a misdemeanor charge of negligent operation of a vessel.
The special prosecutor wanted Piercy to be barred from law enforcement for life, but Judge Roger Prokes said that decision is up to the state.
Nearly four months after Ellingson drowned, a coroner's inquest determined the death was accidental and the special prosecutor declined to file charges. The case was later reopened and Piercy was charged with involuntary manslaughter.
An investigation by The Star found that some troopers who patrolled the state's roads 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.
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.
Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com