The family of a man who fell off a police boat while handcuffed and allowed to drown by the Missouri state trooper operating the boat will receive a $9 million settlement, attorneys announced Thursday.
And there is still a chance the cop will be convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Brandon Ellingson, a 20-year-old college student from Iowa who had been arrested for boating while intoxicated.
Missouri Highway Patrol officer Anthony Piercy is scheduled for a hearing Monday for his upcoming trial.
The only reason the case came this far is because of another Missouri Highway Patrol officer named Randy Henry, who blew the whistle, only to face retaliation from his superiors. The sergeant was forced into retirement last year, ending a 29-year career.
According to the Kansas City Star:
A spokesman for the patrol released a statement to The Star Thursday morning.
“The mission of the Missouri State Highway Patrol is to serve and protect all people, and any loss of life is a tragedy,” said Capt. John Hotz. “With this case now settled through the court system, the patrol will have no additional comment on this matter.”
The Missouri attorney general’s office, which represented the agency and troopers, did not immediately return requests for comment.
The Ellingson family — his parents and older sister Jennifer — filed the lawsuit in federal court on Dec. 5, 2014, two days before Brandon would have turned 21. The suit initially named the patrol and several top commanders and troopers, as well as Piercy, who stopped Ellingson on May 31, 2014 for boating while intoxicated.
Piercy’s actions and inactions that day caused Ellingson’s death, according to the lawsuit. The state and patrol were also responsible, the suit alleged, because of a lack of training for troopers after the 2011 merger of the Missouri Water Patrol into the Highway Patrol.
As the civil case played out in federal court, the judge dismissed several counts and claims against multiple defendants. Only three counts — including conspiracy and negligence — remained, all against Piercy.
The incident took place on May 31, 2014 when Piercy arrested Ellingson for boating while intoxicated at the Lake of the Ozarks.
Piercy, having spent years as a patrol officer on the highways, was not properly trained to operate a boat with a person in custody as a result of a 2011 merger between the Missouri Highway Patrol and the Missouri Water Patrol that was not followed up by proper training.
After handcuffing Ellingson and placing him in the boat, he slipped a life jacket over his body, which made it impossible for him arms to be placed through the sleeves.
Obviously, even the most fundamental tasks that should take basic common sense cannot be performed by cops without specialized training.
Piercy then throttled the boat to 46 mph, striking a wave, which caused Ellingson to fall into the water.
Once in the water, the life vest slipped off, leaving Ellingson unable to swim because he was handcuffed.
Piercy, meanwhile, hesitated to jump into the water to save him, and when he eventually did, it was too late.
The Missouri Highway Patrol then tried to coverup for Piercy, which was when Sergeant Henry blew the whistle, leading to the department to suspend him.