Craig Ellingson: Ex-trooper violated every core value of Highway Patrol
Former state trooper Anthony Piercy, who pleaded guilty to negligent boating after a handcuffed Iowa man drowned while in his custody, may never be a law enforcement officer in Missouri again.
Piercy’s peace officer license was revoked after the director of Missouri’s Department of Public Safety reviewed all the information and testimony about the day Brandon Ellingson died at the Lake of the Ozarks. An official with the DPS called and told Ellingson’s father, Craig Ellingson, the news Tuesday morning.
“It’s a good day for Brandon and it’s a good day for Missouri,” Ellingson said. “I think people may take a deep breath today and say, ‘Hey they did something right. They did the right thing.’ ”
Mike O’Connell, communications director for the public safety department, confirmed to The Star on Tuesday that Piercy’s Missouri license has been revoked.
Piercy’s lawyer, Tim Van Ronzelen, said in an email Tuesday afternoon that he and his client will appeal the decision. He added: “I don’t have anything else to offer at this time. “
Since September, when Piercy was sentenced for misdemeanor negligent operation of a vessel, Ellingson has pushed for Piercy to lose his Peace Officer Standards and Training license for life. Ellingson said he didn’t believe 10 days in the county jail, two years of supervised probation and 50 hours of community service were enough punishment for the trooper.
Piercy also had lost his job with the patrol, but a Cole County judge ruled late last month that the patrol’s leader overreached her authority when she fired Piercy. Now that his license has been revoked — which is permanent — it’s a moot point. All officers must carry a POST license to be employed as an officer or trooper.
Piercy pulled over Brandon Ellingson, a 20-year-old college student, on May 31, 2014, on suspicion of boating while intoxicated. During the stop, Piercy handcuffed the 20-year-old Iowa man’s hands behind his back. Witnesses told authorities that the trooper then stuffed an already-buckled life vest — the wrong one for a handcuffed person — over Ellingson’s head.
On the way to a field office for more testing, Piercy traveled at speeds up to 46 mph. At one point, after the boat hit a wave, Ellingson was ejected. His improperly secured life vest soon came off. Piercy eventually jumped into the lake to try to save him but couldn’t.
Though a coroner’s inquest ruled Ellingson’s death an accident in September 2014, a special prosecutor charged Piercy with involuntary manslaughter in December 2015. He later pleaded to the lesser charge of negligent boating.
On June 27, Piercy had a hearing in front of Drew Juden, the public safety department director, and told his version of what happened that May day four years ago. Some information was different from what Piercy had said in the past or didn’t match what witnesses have said.
Ellingson’s friends, who watched the arrest from Ellingson’s boat, said Piercy put an already-buckled vest over Ellingson.
Yet Piercy told the DPS director and others last month that he put a vest around Ellingson and tightly buckled the three buckles.
The former trooper also described at length how he eventually jumped in the lake to try to save Ellingson. Piercy didn’t mention that passengers on a party barge, who didn’t know the man in the water was handcuffed, loudly pleaded several times for Piercy to get in the water to help the young man.
A witness at the scene in May 2014 has said that once Piercy got out of the water, he commented on how his fanny-pack flotation device didn’t work. Retired Sgt. Randy Henry also has said that Piercy told him that May night that his fanny pack didn’t auto-inflate. Henry told Piercy that he had to pull the ripcord to inflate the device.
Since then, Piercy has talked about the ripcord and how he didn’t want to pull it because he would go to the surface without the college student.
Ellingson said he credits Henry for speaking out and “telling the truth” after Brandon’s death.
“I’ve just been tired of (Piercy) lying all the time,” Ellingson said. “He knew the truth. He knew what happened all along.”
At the end of last month’s hearing, Ellingson handed Juden two thick binders full of depositions taken during the civil lawsuit where the family received a $9 million settlement from the state of Missouri. Juden said before he made a decision, he would read the depositions.
“When he read all of those, he saw the truth,” Ellingson said Tuesday. “I want to thank him for taking the time.”
Days after Ellingson’s death in the Gravois Arm of the lake, The Star began investigating. Through interviews and records requests, the newspaper discovered that after Missouri merged the Water Patrol into the Highway Patrol in 2011, some road troopers weren’t adequately trained to work on the water.
Piercy — who at the time of Ellingson’s death was an 18-year veteran of the road — received just two days of field training before he was cleared for “solo boat time.” Before the merger, Water Patrol recruits were required to receive at least two months of field training.
Since Ellingson’s death, the patrol has increased training for troopers who work the water.
Brandon Ellingson’s family members have said they’ve waited four years for Piercy to face strong consequences for what happened on May 31, 2014.
“It just kind of puts to rest what we knew all along, that Brandon didn’t deserve this,” Ellingson said. “It kind of validates everything and what happened on that day. They tried to make it sound like Brandon jumped and there’s no way.
“(Piercy) violated all the core values of the highway patrol, and that’s why he doesn’t deserve to be a highway patrolman.
“They are there to protect and serve; that’s their job. And on that day, he did not do that for Brandon.”
Craig Ellingson said he goes to his son’s grave every day and plans to go Tuesday evening. He said he won’t need to share the news with Brandon that Piercy will no longer be able to be a Missouri cop again.
“He knows,” Ellingson said. “I truly believe that.”