Missouri House committee opens hearing into Water Patrol merger

Missouri Highway Patrol Sgt. Randy Henry (left) testified Wednesday alongside patrol superintendent Col. Ronald Replogle at a Missouri House committee hearing in Jefferson City.
Missouri Highway Patrol Sgt. Randy Henry (left) testified Wednesday alongside patrol superintendent Col. Ronald Replogle at a Missouri House committee hearing in Jefferson City. The Kansas City Star

During a five-hour committee hearing Wednesday in the basement of Missouri’s capitol, Brandon Ellingson’s name wasn’t spoken. Neither was Anthony Piercy’s.

But the dozens of people inside Hearing Room 3, many of them uniformed state troopers and retired Water Patrol officials, knew that the two were the catalyst for the special committee.

Four months have passed since Piercy, a Highway Patrol trooper, arrested Ellingson for boating while intoxicated. A short time later, Ellingson was dead, his handcuffed body at the bottom of the Lake of the Ozarks.

Yet when the House committee hearing began Wednesday, Rep. Diane Franklin, a Camdenton Republican, reminded everyone that the committee needed to focus on its purpose: analyzing the effectiveness of the 2011 merger of the Missouri Water Patrol into the Highway Patrol.

Members homed in on the number of officers patrolling the waterways since the merger and the training of troopers who now work the water. They questioned whether it was too much to ask troopers to work both the road and the water.

“I think it’s putting road officers and water officers in a terrible position when they’re doing both jobs,” said Rep. David Wood, a Republican from Versailles.

Sgt. Randy Henry, whom Piercy called in the hours after the drowning May 31, told members that road troopers who helped out on the lake part time received four weeks of classroom training.

“The field training of the (part-time officer) was very, very minimal,” he said.

When later asked what that training was, he was guarded.

“I was given a set of parameters they had to meet,” Henry said.

“Where would we find these parameters?” Franklin asked.

“It’s an email I have,” Henry said without elaborating.

At another time, when asked about road officers working part time on the water, Henry said he had been instructed by legal counsel not to answer further.

Matt Boles, attorney for Ellingson’s estate and family, attended the hearing with Brandon’s father, Craig Ellingson. He took note of what Henry, the only Water Patrol veteran currently working in the field to speak Wednesday, was able to say.

Capt. Greg Kindle said no road officers have been assigned part time to the Lake of the Ozarks this summer. Those working the lake now either are full-time officers with lengthy field training or road officers who used to work the water full time.

In previous stories, The Star quoted officials saying that since May 31, all road officers working part time on the Lake of the Ozarks no longer patrolled the waterways by themselves.

Piercy is an 18-year road trooper who began his marine operations training in March 2013. The patrol has not disclosed the amount of field training he had before he worked the lake by himself.

That information didn’t come Wednesday, either.

“It doesn’t escape us that they’re not answering that question on training,” said Franklin, chairwoman of the House committee. “You just keep pressing on it and eventually….”

Her voice trailed off.

None of the nine commanders over the nine troops have had marine operations training, officials said.

Jody Hughes, a retired major with the Water Patrol, told committee members that can pose a problem, not only for officers in the field but for the commanders themselves.

“They have no knowledge on how to teach, train or command on the waterways, if they hadn’t been there,” Hughes said. “When it comes to water, they need to be trained.”

After the hearing, Franklin agreed.

“You wouldn’t do that in a business, in a hospital, with doctors,” she said. “You don’t do that.”

Kindle addressed that issue when he spoke to the committee.

“I haven’t had any formal training, no,” he said. “But I have been on the water.”

Kindle said he’s ridden along with his officers many times and early in his career worked a boating crash.

The committee plans to have at least three more meetings. The next one is Oct. 14 in Osage Beach.

To reach Laura Bauer, call 816-234-4944 or send email to lbauer@kcstar.com.

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