Image via Brody Baumann
Brandon Ellingson (left) drowned in 2014 in the Lake of the Ozarks after a Missouri trooper handcuffed him while boating.
A Missouri state trooper was charged on Friday in the drowning of a handcuffed college student, who tumbled off his patrol boat 18 months ago in the Lake of the Ozarks.
A special prosecutor slapped Trooper Anthony Piercy with involuntary manslaughter in the death of 20-year-old Brandon Ellingson.
“I have charged him with recklessly causing death,” Special Prosecutor William Seay told reporters outside the Morgan County courthouse.
The charge was a breakthrough in the controversial case that the dead man’s family had called a cover up. Ellingson, who was from Iowa, was boating with friends in May 2014 near his family’s Ozarks vacation home when Piercy pulled them over. Ellingson allegedly failed a sobriety test, and the trooper handcuffed him and hauled him away — supposedly to issue him a citation at a patrol station.
SEE ALSO: Drowning of Handcuffed Suspect Still Baffles Family, Friends and Witnesses
Witnesses later claimed they saw Piercy speeding across the water. They said the trooper did nothing as Ellingson, hands locked behind his back, dropped into the lake. Later Piercy admitted using the wrong lifejacket when he took the young man into custody.
The case was the subject of a Riverfront Times cover story in February
Piercy’s supervisor, Sergeant Randy Henry, who spoke out against him, was later demoted and claimed the state police were retaliating against him for blowing the whistle
A coroner’s inquest previously found the death was accidental, and a prosecutor who handled the case before Seay had said she didn’t plan to file any charges. Seay eventually took over the investigation because of a conflict of interest.
He told reporters on Friday investigators examined “boxes and boxes of reports" during the probe before ultimately charging Piercy.
Ellingson’s father, Craig Ellingson, welcomed the news after more than a year of calling for justice.
“But it should have been a lot earlier,” he said, according to the Kansas City Star
. “I think it has been a cover-up from the beginning. They had everything. They knew what Piercy did to my son.”
Piercy has been suspended from the state police. The involuntary manslaughter charge, a felony, could land him behind bars for as long as eight years and cost him $5,000 in fines.
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