Missouri

Dad reacts to ex-trooper’s second appeal in handcuffed drowning: ‘Pretty disgusting’

Craig Ellingson: Ex-trooper violated every core value of Highway Patrol

Craig Ellingson, father of drowning victim Brandon Ellingson, argued at a hearing Wednesday, June 27, 2018, that former Highway Patrol trooper Anthony Piercy's license as a peace officer should be revoked.
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Craig Ellingson, father of drowning victim Brandon Ellingson, argued at a hearing Wednesday, June 27, 2018, that former Highway Patrol trooper Anthony Piercy's license as a peace officer should be revoked.

Saying he hasn’t been given due process and was treated more harshly than other officers, former trooper Anthony Piercy has yet again appealed a ruling to revoke his certification.

Late last week Piercy — a former Missouri Highway Patrol trooper — filed a petition in Cole County Court asking a judge to review the recent decision to take away his peace officer license. He wants a hearing in which the judge “hears and considers evidence” and “renders a decision in his favor.”

This is the second time Piercy has appealed a revocation. The former trooper was disciplined for his actions the day five years ago that Brandon Ellingson, a college student from Iowa, drowned in handcuffs while in Piercy’s custody.

“They really need to quit,” said Craig Ellingson, Brandon’s father. “(Piercy) just can’t take no for an answer. ... Brandon didn’t have a chance to appeal his treatment.”

Piercy had appealed last summer’s decision by the director of public safety to revoke his peace officer license, which he must have to be a law enforcement officer in the state. In May, a Cole County circuit judge ruled in Piercy’s favor and reversed the revocation, sending the decision back to the department of public safety.

In mid-June, the deputy director of that agency issued his ruling, again revoking Piercy’s license to be an officer in Missouri.

“In addition to violating Missouri law, Mr. Piercy’s actions violated the policies of his commissioning agency,” wrote Kenny Jones, deputy director of Missouri’s Department of Public Safety. “... An individual in custody is entitled to safe treatment from his arresting officer.”

Piercy pulled over Brandon Ellingson, 20, on May 31, 2014, on 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 put 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 and the patrol put the trooper on leave without pay. Piercy later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.

After Piercy was sentenced for misdemeanor negligent operation of a vessel in September 2017, Craig Ellingson 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 last year that the patrol’s leader overreached her authority when she fired Piercy. Once his license had been revoked, it’s a moot point. All officers must carry a POST license to be employed as an officer or trooper.

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.

In this recent petition to appeal his revocation, Piercy contends that other officers who were convicted of or pleaded guilty to Class B misdemeanors or more serious offenses were not disciplined as severely as he was.

The former trooper has asked that his attorneys’ fees and court costs be paid for by the Department of Public Safety and “for such other relief as the Court shall order.”

Last month, the attorney general’s office warned Brandon’s father that Piercy could again appeal the revocation. Ellingson said Monday that he wasn’t surpised by the new court filing, but found the move — five years after his son’s death — to be “pretty disgusting.”

“It’s agonzing,” Ellingson said. “How far can it all go?”

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