Judge: Trooper Can Keep Job After Handcuffed Suspect Drowns
The head of the Missouri State Highway Patrol went too far in firing a trooper after he was convicted of a misdemeanor in the drowning death of a handcuffed Iowa man, a judge has found.
Cole County Judge Patricia Joyce ruled Wednesday that Col. Sandra Karsten, the patrol's superintendent, can't go beyond the recommendation of a disciplinary review board that found Anthony Piercy should be reinstated as a trooper and transferred. Joyce sent the case back to the patrol for consideration of a lesser punishment, The Kansas City Star reports.
Piercy pulled 20-year-old Brandon Ellingson over on the Lake of the Ozarks for suspicion of boating while intoxicated in May 2014. He was taking Ellingson, who was from the Des Moines suburb of Clive, for a breath test when the Arizona State University student tumbled into the water. Piercy had cuffed Ellingson's hands then put a Type III, ski-vest style life jacket on him, which doesn't have straps that go around the torso. Witnesses have said Ellingson's arms weren't in the life jacket's arm holes and that the safety device came off when he fell into the water.
Piercy pleaded guilty last year to negligent operation of a vessel for using the wrong type of life jacket. He was sentenced to two years of supervised probation and 10 days in jail.
Joyce's ruling was made the same day Piercy appeared before the director of the Missouri Department of Public Safety, who is deciding whether the former trooper's peace officer license should be revoked. No timeframe has been provided for a decision on the licensing issue.
Craig Ellingson, Brandon's father, said at the licensing hearing that he was "shocked and upset" by Joyce's ruling and that Piercy should be barred from working in law enforcement. Ellingson's family has received a $9 million settlement from the state and won a lawsuit in which a judge found that the patrol violated the state's open records law by not handing over some information or delaying the release of other documents.
"If you're on the blue line team you're safe," Craig Ellingson said. "You can kill anyone you want. ... He gets his job back and my son is dead."
When reached Wednesday evening about the judge's decision, patrol spokesman John Hotz said: "We are reviewing the ruling and evaluating next steps."
Tim Van Ronzelen, Piercy's attorney, declined to comment.