The Missouri Highway Patrol may not complete its investigation into the recent drowning of a handcuffed suspect for several days, but the trooper involved is already back at work.
Anthony Piercy returned to regular duty Friday, six days after a handcuffed Brandon Ellingson drowned in the Lake of the Ozarks while in the trooper’s custody.
“He followed the post-critical incident procedure,” said Lt. John Hotz, a spokesman for the state patrol. “Basically he’s been advised of stress management things.”
Piercy is an 18-year veteran of the Missouri Highway Patrol who has spent almost all his career as a road trooper. In early 2013, he started to receive training to patrol the lake during summer months and busy weekends.
The agency began cross-training officers after the Highway Patrol merged with the Missouri Water Patrol in 2011.
Piercy stopped the boat the 20-year-old Ellingson was operating on the evening of May 31 and arrested him for boating while intoxicated.
Friends in Ellingson’s boat told his family, who live in Clive, Iowa, that Piercy handcuffed Ellingson and later put a life vest over his shoulders but did not appear to secure it.
According to initial Missouri Highway Patrol reports, the trooper was taking Ellingson toward the shore for a breath test when Ellingson stood up from a seat alongside the trooper and “stepped to the edge … and fell or jumped overboard.”
The patrol is still investigating the incident, Sgt. Paul Reinsch said Tuesday.
“They were still interviewing witnesses yesterday,” he said.
Lingering questions center on when and how the life vest was placed on Ellingson and whether the trooper followed the patrol’s procedures for securing someone in custody.
Jim Bascue, who came up behind the trooper and saw him turn the boat around to help Ellingson, told The Star he could see the young man in the water with an orange life jacket around his head. Bascue then saw the man and the jacket separate and the jacket float away.
Piercy and Bascue tried to help Ellingson as he struggled to stay above the surface of the water. At one point, Piercy dived in to help the college student, who would have been a junior at Arizona State University this fall. The trooper was able to grab him, but Ellingson slipped through his hands and never resurfaced.
On June 1, divers found Ellingson’s body under 80 feet of water in the main channel of the lake’s Gravois arm.
Since then, patrol investigators have tried to find witnesses who saw Ellingson go into the water. Reinsch said Tuesday he did not know whether anyone had been located.
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