Does theater count as community service? It did for former Mo. trooper in drowning case

Former Missouri Trooper Anthony Piercy completed the community service he was given after he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in the drowning case of an Iowa man.

But there's lingering frustration — from the family of the drowned man, Brandon Ellingson, to the special prosecutor — after learning what he got credit for doing.

Records show that Piercy helped create the set of the musical "Moses and the Burning Within" for the Royal Theatre in Versailles, Mo. He did some acting. And the trooper who had dabbled in the town's community theater before Ellingson's death also helped tear down the set after the musical's run.

"I thought it was a joke," said Craig Ellingson, whose 20-year-old son died nearly four years ago in Piercy's custody at the Lake of the Ozarks. "He had been in plays before, that was his hobby. That would be like me working at my company for community service. ... Basically, it was a picnic for him."

In September, a judge sentenced Piercy to 50 hours of community service and 10 days in the Morgan County jail, which he served over five weekends. Piercy avoided an involuntary manslaughter trial by pleading guilty to a misdemeanor boating violation. Piercy faced up to six months in jail and/or a $500 fine on a charge of negligent operation of a vessel.

The judge didn't specify where the community service had to be completed. But once it was done, court records show that Piercy's probation supervisor signed off on the work at the theater.

Special Prosecutor William Camm Seay, who initially charged Piercy in December 2015, said helping out with a community play isn't what he thinks community service should be. Especially when the person has been a part of the theater in the past.

It is like a member of the Eagles Club getting community service hours for tending bar at that same club, Seay told The Star.

"What good is that?" Seay said. "I think it's totally inappropriate. He shouldn’t be given credit for something that he’s a part of anyway. I don’t think that’s what is intended."

Piercy completed 52 hours of community service over 15 days in September and October, according to a report filed with the Morgan County court.

Cindy Davenport, executive director of the Royal Arts Council Inc. in Versailles, signed off on Piercy's hours. In a typed note, which is part of the court file, she said Piercy assisted with the production and performances of the play.

"The hours were compiled from set production, live performance acting, and set demolition at the conclusion of the final performance," Davenport wrote. She described the theater as a "non-profit organization that specializes in promoting the arts in Morgan County and the surrounding areas."

A call and email to the Royal Arts Council were not returned.

According to the court record, a supervisor with the probation office in Camdenton signed off on Piercy's service. Messages were left with that office to determine what qualifies as community service and who decides. Those calls were not returned.

Piercy pulled Brandon Ellingson, 20, over May 31, 2014, on the Lake of the Ozarks for suspicion of boating while intoxicated. During the stop, Piercy handcuffed the 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 Brandon Ellingson’s head.

On the way to a field office for more testing, Piercy traveled at speeds of up to 46 mph. At one point, after the boat hit a wave, Ellingson was ejected. While in the water, his improperly secured life vest soon came off. Piercy eventually jumped in to try to save him, but couldn’t.

Four months ago, the leader of the Missouri Highway Patrol fired Piercy for his actions the day Brandon died. In response, Piercy sued the patrol to get his job back. That lawsuit continues.

Judge Roger Prokes, who sentenced Piercy in September, said he wasn't aware of what community service the former trooper completed. Probation offices take care of that area, he said.

"No motion has been filed by the prosecutor or nothing brought up to me by the probation office that this is a concern," Prokes said. "This is the first I’ve heard of any possible issue."

As Piercy fights to get back his job with the Missouri Highway Patrol, the special prosecutor and father of Brandon Ellingson say it's bogus that Piercy got credit for helping with the Moses musical.

"I’m a believer that when you have suffered the consequence, a judgment is rendered against you and you do your time, then you are looked at differently," Seay said. "But I don’t feel like in this instance, I don’t feel like he had done what he should have done. ... Did he get what he deserved? No."