A Missouri state trooper will see jail time for the drowning death of a handcuffed man in his custody who fell off the back his patrol boat at the Lake of the Ozarks. His sentence? A whopping 10 days behind bars.
On the afternoon of May 31, 2014, trooper Anthony Piercy had pulled over 20-year-old Brandon Ellingson of Clive, Iowa, on suspicion of boating while intoxicated on the Lake of the Ozarks. A major Mid-Western vacation destination, the man-made reservoir stretches over 92 miles of central Missouri and was recently featured as the location of the Netflix original crime drama "Ozark."
While Piercy was an 18-year veteran of Missouri State Highway Patrol, he had recently been transferred to the Missouri State Water Patrol as part of an inter-departmental merger. He received only two days of field training before being cleared for “solo boat time,” according to The Kansas City Star. The Star says that previously Water Patrol recruits were required to complete at least two months of field training.
Witnesses say Piercy handcuffed Ellingson’s hands behind his back. He then tried to pull a life vest, which was already buckled, over his head. As quoted in The Kansas City Star, Ellingson’s friend Myles Goertz told patrol investigators, “It clearly was not the proper way to wear a life jacket. It was not how the life jacket was designed to be worn.”
Piercy then sped off to a field office to administer a breathalyzer test. It was later determined he may have been driving his patrol boat at up to 46 mph. When the boat hit a wave, Ellingson was ejected from his seat and fell into the water. Piercy jumped in to the lake at one point to try to retrieve him, but was unable to. Ellingson’s life vest slipped off, and he eventually sunk to the bottom of the lake. It took divers 18 hours to recover his body.
After three years of legal wrangling, Anthony Piercy was sentenced Tuesday to 10 days in jail, two years of supervised probation, and 50 hours of community service.
In a brief statement, Piercy said “I would like to apologize for the loss I've caused the Ellingson family. I know that nothing I will say will ease the pain or the guilt. I will never forget that I'm the cause of that pain. I am truly sorry for that. Brandon should be here with them today.”
Ellingson’s father Craig was also in court. He read a statement saying "Anthony Piercy, it has been three-and-a-half years that I waited to tell you face-to-face that you're the reason why my son is dead," he then stared directly at the disgraced trooper and proclaimed, "I will forever hold you responsible."
The Ellingson family filed a civil lawsuit against the Missouri State Highway Patrol in December 2014, and accepted a $9 million settlement in November. Asked about the Piercy’s sentence, Craig Ellingson later said, “I guess if you kill somebody in Missouri you get 10 days of vacation,” according to Des Moines CBS affiliate KCCI.