A Missouri state trooper has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in the drowning death of a handcuffed man in his custody, KMBC reports.
Trooper Anthony Piercy was charged with the 2014 death of Brandon Ellingson, who drowned in the Lake of Ozarks. Ellingson was a college student on break. Piercy stopped him for driving a boat while intoxicated. He placed the man in his own boat, handcuffed, with a life vest plopped over his head. When Ellingson fell into the water, the unsecured vest quickly fell off.
Ellingson's body was found at the bottom of the lake the next day.
“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,” special prosecutor William Camm Seay told the Kansas City Star. “I have charged him (Piercy) with recklessly causing the death. ... It relates to an unjustifiable risk being taken.”
Piercy could spend up to seven years in prison, a year in county jail or a fine of $5,000 as punishment, or any combination of those, if convicted.
Craig Ellingson, Brandon's father, accused authorities of trying to cover his son's death up, though he said he was happy the trooper was finally charged with a crime.
“But it should have been a lot earlier,” he told the Star. “I think it has been a cover-up from the beginning. They had everything. They knew what Piercy did to my son."
The death was ruled accidental, and special prosecutor Amanda Grellner had declined to file charges. But pressure continued to mount, with the assistance of retired patrol Sgt. Randy Henry. After blowing the whistle on what he called the "litany" of things that went wrong after Piercy pulled Ellingswood over, Henry was demoted and reassigned.
Henry said authorities wanted to "paper over" the problem to shield Gov. Jay Nixon from criticism after he had pushed for a merger between the state's water and highway patrol agencies.
“There’s been a cover-up from the beginning,” Henry told the Star. “They wanted to protect the governor and the merger and protect Piercy from criminal charges because criminal charges would be a black eye for the patrol.”
Piercy did jump in the water to try and save Ellingson, but not immediately. Henry criticized that as cowardice.
“If I threw somebody out and he was handcuffed and I see the life vest come off, you jump in now," he said. "You go in immediately.”