KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The state of Missouri will pay $9 million to the family of an Iowa man who drowned while he was in custody of a state trooper.
The settlement announced Thursday ends a civil lawsuit filed by the family of Brandon Ellingson after he died in May 2014 on the Lake of the Ozarks. Ellingson, an Arizona State University student from suburban Des Moines, Iowa, was arrested on suspicion of boating while intoxicated. While in a boat with Trooper Anthony Piercy, Ellingson fell into the water while wearing handcuffs and an improperly secured life vest.
Ellingson’s family alleged in the lawsuit that Piercy, the state and the Missouri Highway Patrol were liable in Brandon’s death.
The accounts of what happened differ, but Ellingson either fell or jumped overboard from a Missouri State Highway Patrol boat that was transporting him from the Lake of the Ozarks on suspicion of boating while intoxicated. The patrol says Ellingson stood up on the moving vessel before going into the water at 5:23 p.m. on that Saturday. A patrol dive team recovered his body around 11:30 a.m. Sunday, June 1, 2014.
The investigation has been long and had several delays. In August 2014, a special prosecutor was appointed and conducted a coroner’s jury on the matter. That jury ruled the death an accident in September 2014 and an investigation cleared Piercy of criminal negligence. Then, the special prosecutor asked to be excused citing a conflict of interest. Another special prosecutor, William Seay, was appointed in March 2015. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, asked the U.S. Department of Justice to review the matter for violations of federal civil or criminal laws when he felt the process might be stalled.
In December of 2015, Piercy was charged with involuntary manslaughter in Ellingson’s death, a Class C felony, which punishable by up to seven years in prison.
Seay alleges that Piercy ‘recklessly caused the death of Brandon Ellingson by handcuffing him behind his back while intoxicated and not properly securing his flotation device, thereby causing his death when he fell in the water.’
Some claimed a merger between the Highway Patrol and Marine Patrol in 2011 led to inadequate training.