Vests, Lies and Videotape: The Cover-Up of Brandon Ellingson’s Murder

After the Coroner’s inquest concluded Thursday Sept. 4 in Versailles, Craig Ellingson, father of drowning victim Brandon Ellingson, called the jury’s decision a “hometown verdict”. The Morgan County jury was seated to review the death of Brandon Ellingson, a 20 year-old native of Clive, Iowa and Arizona State University student, who died while in custody of the Missouri State Water Patrol on May 31 at the popular Midwest tourist destination, the Lake of the Ozarks. The Ellingson family was disappointed in the jury’s determination that Brandon’s death by drowning while handcuffed and in custody of Missouri State Highway Patrolman Anthony Piercy was ‘accidental’.

Brandon Ellingson, native of Clive, IA and Arizona State student murdered on the Lake of the Ozarks.

Brandon Ellingson, native of Clive, IA and Arizona State student murdered on the Lake of the Ozarks.

“I still think the inquest was a joke.” Craig Ellingson said following the decision Thursday. “Basically what they were trying to do was get Piercy off the hook so he wouldn’t get any criminal charges. “

“They’re just telling one side of the story.”

Craig Ellingson, addressing reporters after jury announced  Brandon's cause of death as 'accidental'.  Craig called the verdict a 'hometown decision' and a 'joke'.

Craig Ellingson, addressing reporters after jury announced Brandon’s cause of death as ‘accidental’. Craig called the verdict a ‘hometown decision’ and a ‘joke’.

On May 31st, a Saturday, Brandon was with friends at the Lake of the Ozarks. According to a June article from the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Brandon and his buddies were planning on doing what thousands of Midwestern college kids do each summer at the Lake of the Ozarks.

‘It was supposed to be one of those epic weekends college kids have: good times, old friends, the water and the beach.

The Thursday before he died, Ellingson, 20, retweeted a message from a friend:

“This weekend is gonna feel like something out of Entourage.”
The “Entourage” referenced was an HBO series about a celebrity and his childhood friends. Ellingson didn’t need a celebrity to draw a crowd. He was the kind of young man who could command an entourage all of his own. His buddies called him “Swells”.‘

The Lake of the Ozarks has been a destination for tourists since it was formed after the completion of Bagnell Dam. It has traditionally been a place for Midwesterners to vacation and was built on a reputation of friendliness and a laid-back atmosphere. For many second home owners, like the Ellingsons, this was part of the attraction of the Lake.

In recent years however, the Lake of the Ozarks has become a magnet for police officers of multiple agencies, causing many local residents to question what many believe is an over-saturation of police. Concerns over the escalating police presence at the Lake of the Ozarks have been the subject of repeated comments from Lake residents, who see this overwhelming law enforcement presence as a threat to tourism. The Osage Beach PD, Lake Ozark PD, Camdenton PD, Camden County Sheriff Department, the Missouri State Highway Patrol and Water Patrol have converged on the Lake in growing numbers, becoming a very real threat to the economic health of the area.

The merger of the Water Patrol and Highway Patrol in 2011 led to Piercy's being in a boat on Memorial Day weekend.

The merger of the Water Patrol and Highway Patrol in 2011 led to Piercy’s being in a boat on Memorial Day weekend.

Nor is it simply the sheer numbers of law enforcement officers that concern residents. The increasingly hostile attitude of these agencies, the predatory practices that have become the established norm and the for-profit private probation companies that have sprung up in their wake have created a real blight on the Lake of the Ozarks landscape.

Compounding these issues is the lack of trust the community has in these agencies. The lack of transparency and accountability has created a very real mistrust between the community and these departments. Simply put, these law enforcement agencies have continued to act with impunity and without fear of retribution or consequences. The refusal to prosecute illegal behavior by these ‘officers of the law’ has served to place them above the law.

This prompted a recent protest in Camden County to ‘Shine The Light on Dwight’, a reference to the dozens of cases of police brutality, inaction and selective targeting. Local residents of the Lake of the Ozarks have seen a transformation of local law enforcement in recent years that has abandoned the ‘protect and serve’ motto.

This problem is not exclusive to local departments. As the case of Brandon Ellingson continues to illustrate, the codification of reckless, criminal behavior by law enforcement goes all the way to the top in Missouri, as Governor Jay Nixon’s office has played a predominant role in the cover-up that followed the death of this young man.

There is a desire on the part of elected officials to absolve themselves from responsibility for this downward spiral of law enforcement agencies across the state. Nixon himself merged the Highway and Water Patrols, creating the conditions for what would later be described by Water Patrol veteran officer Sgt. Randy Henry as a ‘perfect storm’. Combining these agencies and the decision to have road officers work our waterways is directly responsible for Brandon’s death.

This provides some context for the cover-up that has ensued after the avoidable death of Brandon Ellingson, but it only tells part of the story. The actions taken by Anthony Piercy, both on May 31st and beyond, speak to a larger problem that is endemic in these agencies: The belief that officers are above the law has led to them acting more and more like the criminals they are supposed to apprehend. The case of Brandon Ellingson could easily be compared to the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. Police across our state have the mentality they are judge, jury and executioner. This institutional failure is not the exception, it is the rule and unless citizens reassert their control over these departments, it will only get worse.

Tomorrow, your child could be a victim of these conditions. Certainly the Ellingson family did not expect that their son, at the Lake of the Ozarks for vacation, would wind up dead, a victim of police out of control, their actions protected by a system rife with corruption.

As Craig Ellingson said, regarding the family’s decision to sell their Lake home:

“It’s the atmosphere with the lake patrol. I didn’t think it was a safe atmosphere to be in.”

“Anyone who has kids down there needs to be careful.” He said. “I wouldn’t let my dog go out in a boat down there.”

IMPROBABLE CAUSE

At approximately five on that Saturday afternoon, Missouri State Trooper Anthony Piercy took Brandon into custody on suspicion of boating while intoxicated. As reported by the Waynesville Daily Guide, and their Gatehouse partner the Lake Sun, Piercy claimed that a beer can fly off the boat near the lake front establishment, Coconuts. This observation led him to approach the boat Brandon and his friends were on.

Piercy’s claim of simply being in the area and observing the beer can fall off the boat, is the first of many lies in the case of Brandon Ellingson. As Laura Bauer of the Kansas City Star reported, Piercy’s actions that day, before he came into contact with Ellingson, had already caused concern and prompted phone calls to his superiors, 911 and an area state representative. The predatory behavior he had displayed on Saturday, May 31 sounds very much like he was stalking prey.

From the Kansas City Star:

‘Piercy told Johnson (Sgt. Jeff Johnson, investigator for MSHP Troop F) that he was just passing by Coconuts Caribbean Beach Bar & Grill on May 31. As he was idling through that area, Piercy said he noticed Ellingson’s boat.

That contradicts what the owner of Coconuts told The Star last month. Owner Timothy Vogel said Piercy had been spotted outside Coconuts for several hours that day. Because he thought the trooper was “harassing” his customers, Vogel called Piercy’s commander to complain, as well as 911 and an area state representative.

Vogel told the newspaper he even spoke to Piercy and asked him why he was sitting out there all day. The owner said Piercy told him that he was responding to complaints.‘

This would appear to be the beginning of Piercy’s trail of lies. He was obviously not ‘just passing by’ Coconuts. Instead, he appeared to be loitering like a dime store thug, waiting for his next victim. When the boat Brandon and his friends were on left Coconuts, they were clearly targeted by Piercy.

Piercy made the following claim, reported by the Kansas City Star:

‘Piercy told Johnson he noticed Ellingson’s boat had no visible registration numbers. He idled toward the boat to investigate. He said he eventually saw a Bud Light can tossed from the boat’s passenger side.

“I saw it hit the water, but I wasn’t for sure which one threw it,” Piercy told Johnson. “Or I guess that would be the left side of the boat that it came out of.”’

This claim by Piercy is one that immediately raises eyebrows, particularly when one considers the calls made by the owner of Coconuts. The excuse of not having visible registration numbers leading to ‘eventually’ seeing a beer can come from the boat very clearly indicates that Piercy had targeted the boat and was looking for an excuse to stop them.

In fact, Brandon was onboard a boat that was a USCG documented vessel. These boats, with names displayed on the back along with ports of call, are not required to have registration numbers. They instead have color-coded stickers on the front of each side of a boat. They function much like license plate stickers on a vehicle. This calls into question the legality of the stop in the first place. Piercy’s claim of a beer can going over the side, when paired with the other lies he has told, is not reliable.

According to Piercy’s interview with Sgt. Johnson, he performed field sobriety tests on Brandon, cuffed him and put a Type 3 jacket on him after arresting him for suspicion of boating while intoxicated.

In relaying this to Johnson, Piercy said that he “put the life jacket around his shoulders” but “didn’t zip it because of his shoulders, but I secured it around him tight, clasped the three straps and buckled him, or I guess tightened them on him.”

From the KC Star’s Laura Bauer:

‘ The friends watching the arrest from Ellingson’s boat, however, have said Piercy took a prebuckled Type III vest and tugged it over Ellingson’s head, getting it only partially down his torso. They said Ellingson’s chin touched the top buckle as Piercy sped away toward the zone office for a breath test. ‘

Brandon Ellingson with Tony Piercy.

Brandon Ellingson with Tony Piercy.

In an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Brandon’s grandmother repeated the observations of the other occupants of the boat:

‘“The other boys with him said they put on a life jacket but didn’t secure it,” Gloria Ellingson said. “They handcuffed him and then put the life jacket on.”’

These witnesses, who were on the boat at the time Brandon was taken into custody, stand in complete contradiction to the story presented by Piercy. Investigators conducted separate taped interviews with these witnesses. While these were given to the jury to consider during deliberations, their accounts were not presented to the jury paneled during the Coroner’s inquest.

Piercy told Sgt. Johnson during two interviews, conducted June 2 and 5, the following, as reported by the KC Star:

‘Piercy told Johnson he was in a hurry because one of Ellingson’s friends had jumped in the water during a sobriety field test and swum toward his boat to give Ellingson a card with personal rights. Piercy said he wanted to “wrap it up, get out of there,” before anything escalated.’

Water Patrol veteran Sgt. Randy Henry was interviewed on June 19 by MSHP Troop F investigators Stacks and Harris about a phone call he had with Piercy the evening of the drowning. Henry offered insight as to the events that followed Brandon’s being arrested.

When Henry asked Piercy about the use of the Type 3 jacket, Piercy indicated that he was in a ‘hurry’. The reason Piercy gave for his rush: One of the boat’s passengers had jumped into the water and was swimming approximately 15-20 feet from the Donzi. The young man was giving Brandon advice regarding his rights. Piercy confirmed the swimmer was not acting in a threatening manner.

As Henry recalled, Piercy indicated that the swimmer had ‘gotten under’ Piercy’s skin and that he wanted to ‘get out of there’.

Piercy’s comments to Henry that evening make no mention of Myles Goertz approaching his boat to hand Brandon a card, as Piercy would claim later in talking to investigator Johnson.

This is yet another lie, told by Piercy.

Sgt. Henry asked Piercy during their phone call if he had given sobriety tests to the passengers in Brandon’s boat. Piercy said that he had not given any sobriety tests and that he instead asked the passengers if anyone was sober. The swimmer, Myles Goertz, said he was sober. That was enough for Piercy, who then sped away, by his own account, at approximately 30-35 MPH.

Jurors at the inquest were unable to review camera footage of the stop Piercy conducted.

The onboard cameras the Water Patrol’s Donzi was equipped with were conveniently not operational during that Saturday shift. The SD card was pulled from the cameras prior to Piercy taking the helm of the boat, according to the Highway Patrol. This left jurors with a singular narrative, provided to them by Jones, Grellner and the Highway Patrol.

“Basically, what they were trying to do was get Piercy off the hook so he wouldn’t get any criminal charges.” Craig Ellingson said later.

Piercy, when testifying at the inquest, stated that he gave Brandon ‘several sobriety tests’ before taking him into custody. Piercy also stated that he administered a portable breath test or Breathalyzer that indicated Ellingson was ‘well above the legal limit’.

Another lie told by Piercy in an attempt to avoid charges.

According to multiple reports from witnesses and the Missouri State Highway Patrol, Piercy never administered a Breathalyzer. In fact, the MSHP stated and media reported, that Brandon was taken into custody and handcuffed on the water in order to transport him to a Water Patrol station to perform the Breathalyzer test.

From the KC Star:

‘That testimony conflicted with what friends of Ellingson who were on his boat told investigators in separate taped interviews. They said the trooper conducted only an eye test. ‘

An ‘eye test’, performed on a boat in the water, is the least reliable of field tests.

These eyewitness accounts were confirmed by the Missouri State Highway Patrol Spokesperson Sgt. Paul Reinsch. Reinsch, in several statements that were reported in media across the country, confirmed the boat Brandon was aboard was stopped for a violation that resulted in his arrest for SUSPICION of boating while intoxicated.

From the Lake Sun:

‘Ellingson had not been given an official breathalyzer. Those are done once the arresting officer and the subject are on land. ‘

‘Ellingson was placed under arrest on suspicion of Boating While Intoxicated on May 31 following a routine stop for an unknown violation. Ellingson was handcuffed behind his back, placed on a Water Division boat and was being taken to the shore when the incident occurred.‘

From the Des Moines Register:

‘The trooper was transporting him to a station to take a breath-alcohol test.’

From the St Louis Post-Dispatch:

‘The Missouri Highway Patrol said Brandon Ellingson went overboard while being transported from the lake about 5:20 p.m. Saturday after being arrested on suspicion of boating while intoxicated.‘

‘HIGHEST DEGREE OF CARE’

A holiday weekend at the Lake of the Ozarks means lots of boat traffic and choppy water. This was certainly true on the evening of Saturday May 31. Weekends at during the summer season at the Lake, thousands of boats hit the water. This led to rough water conditions, a fact that is not in dispute. Navigating the Lake during a weekend requires concentration and care, as the number of boats far exceeds the traffic on other weekends.

It also calls for reduced speed, something clearly defined by Missouri State Statute.

306.125. 1. Every person shall operate a motorboat, vessel or watercraft in a careful and prudent manner and at a rate of speed so as not to endanger the property of another or the life or limb of any person and shall exercise the highest degree of care.

Piercy did not exercise the ‘highest level of care’ while operating the Donzi with Brandon aboard. GPS data confirmed his speed was between 39.1 and 43.7 MPH at the time Brandon went overboard.

Despite this, Cpl. David Echternacht listed the speed of the Donzi at the time of the incident as 10 MPH.

Sgt. Henry, during his taped interview with MSHP investigators, discussed this fact. Henry said that GPS information was made available to the on-scene officers that evening and that the boat was travelling in excess of 43 MPH. The responding officers, according to Henry, talked extensively about the excessive speed Piercy was driving. Water conditions that Saturday afternoon were choppy and rough, described as a ‘washing machine’ and ‘toilet bowl’ by Henry.

During Henry’s interview, he asked Stacks and Harris if they wanted him to elaborate more on the speed of the boat and they said ‘no’. According to Stacks, he didn’t want to get into ‘policy issues’.

Additionally, witnesses told investigators that Piercy’s speed exceeded 32 MPH just before Brandon was thrown overboard, although those witnesses were not asked to testify at the inquest. Larry Moreau and his family were on the lake that fateful evening.

From Laura Bauer and the Kansas City Star:

‘The Moreaus were out for a boat ride on that last afternoon in May, traveling south down the Gravois Arm, when the patrol boat came up beside them before passing.

The couple’s son pointed at the patrol boat. “All three of us stared at them when they went by,” Moreau said.

As the two boats approached the Playin Hooky Water Taxi and Charter, the patrol boat was so close to the Moreaus’ boat that “I could have tossed a rock in their boat,” Larry Moreau said.

The incident is like a movie for Paulette Moreau and her husband, she said. “A movie we’ve seen a hundred times in our head since it happened.

“If people could visually see what we saw, they would be outraged.”

The Moreaus have a house at the lake and dock their boat at the marina near H. Toad’s Bar and Grill. The patrol has a zone office in the complex around the restaurant, and Piercy was taking Ellingson there for a Breathalyzer and paperwork for an arrest for boating while intoxicated.

Because the Moreaus dock near the zone office, they often see troopers. They didn’t think the man in the boat with the trooper that day was a suspect because he wasn’t sitting in front of the console, on a lower seat, where suspects often are placed.

Moreau said he figured the man next to the trooper was a cameraman documenting the start of the boating season.‘

This is consistent with Sgt. Henry’s observations onboard the Donzi, immediately following Brandon’s drowning. During Henry’s securing the Donzi shortly after he arrived on the scene, he saw that the two bolster seats in the Donzi were in the ‘up’ position. This allows pilot and passenger to stand up and lean, rather than sit, in the adjustable seats.

Sgt. Henry’s statement, regarding the position of the seats on the boat, is a critical piece of the puzzle. One of the foundations of the manufactured narrative offered at the inquest is the assertion that Brandon was seated in the Donzi, then stood up and stepped to the right of the boat.

Piercy, not surprisingly, again appears to have lied to both investigators and the jury at the Coroner’s inquest. There, Piercy testified that Brandon was seated.

From the Kansas City Star:

‘Piercy told jurors that as he was transporting Brandon Ellingson to a zone office, the Iowa man was seated next to him.’

On Sept. 10, The Kansas City Star reported the following from Piercy’s interview with MSHP investigator Sgt Jeff Johnson, when discussing the events that caused Brandon to go overboard:

“The first wave hits the boat as we were sitting down, and we roll over the wave and go down into the … bottom.”
“Trough,” Johnson interjected.
“Yeah, I don’t know the nautical term, but we go down to the bottom of the wave and the second wave is about ready to hit the boat.
“At this time, Mr. Ellingson stands up out of the seat beside me …”

From the Lake Sun, Sept. 4:

Piercy was near Mill Creek Cove when he ran into some larger wakes. While trying to maneuver through the wakes, he noticed Ellingson was standing up. Up until then, Ellingson had been sitting next to Piercy, their shoulders touching.

Piercy described the events for the jury at the inquest. From the Kansas City Star, Sept. 4:

‘After the first wave, he said he saw that Ellingson was standing next to him.

“I went to turn my head to say, ‘Sit down,’” he told jurors. “Before I got the words out, he went out of the boat.”

He said once Ellingson stood, he saw him turn toward the water and step toward the right side of the boat.’

The MSHP’s online report, filed by Echternacht, says that Brandon stepped to the starboard side of the vessel and ‘fell or jumped overboard’. This step, and speculation about Brandon’s intention, became the basis of the alibi the MSHP has attempted to provide for Piercy’s actions.

Sgt. Henry, during his interview, recalled Piercy’s statement the evening of the incident. At that time, Piercy told Henry that Brandon was leaning against the seat and had “his feet on the floor and butt up against the seat.”

From the KC Star Sept. 10 article:

‘The patrol has said, and Piercy told jurors at the inquest, that Ellingson was sitting in the seat next to the trooper before he stood, took a step toward the right side of the boat and entered the water.’

When asked about the reason Brandon went overboard at the inquest, the MSHP’s Eric Stacks said: “At this point, I think we’re still inconclusive.”

Inconclusive?

On July 5th, Stacks participated in a re-creation of Piercy’s run that was included in the final investigative report. In that re-enactment, Stacks is seated on the bolster seat where Brandon would have been during the high speed run. He visibly rocks in the seat and uses his hands to brace himself as the boat hurtled across the Lake. This was a luxury Brandon was not afforded on May 31. A review of the video shows how precarious it would be for any handcuffed individual to remain steady and secure at this high rate of speed. For the re-creation, the investigators did not exceed 40 MPH. Again, as stated, GPS data clearly shows the speed of the boat at nearly 44 MPH at the time Brandon was ejected.

From the Kansas City Star, Sept. 10:

‘Piercy said he reached for Ellingson, but “I was unsuccessful in getting a hand on him.”
Johnson asked, “Did he jump over? Or did he fall over?”
Piercy: “I don’t know. I’ve, believe me, played this scenario through my mind a million times, and I don’t know. All I know is he’s beside me, and then he’s not.”’

Piercy told Henry, during that phone call the evening of the 31st, that he saw Brandon’s feet go over the side of the boat. He gave no indication that he grabbed Brandon before or as he was pitched out of the Donzi.

That evening however, while talking on the phone with his supervisor, a conversation captured by the camera’s on Cpl. Echternacht’s boat, Piercy made another change to his story.

“He turns his back to me, and I don’t know if he started to stand up or what, but he just went right over the side. And I grabbed his foot, temporarily, but he just pulled out of my hands ……”

During that same call, Piercy made the following statement:

“Well, I don’t know if it was the wake and his intoxication or if he fucking did it on purpose. Because he made that statement, he was being real nice and cooperative, wasn’t like we were fighting or arguing, and he goes, ‘So am I going to jail?’ and I said we’re just gonna run over to do a breath test, and then I said, “Hey, just hang on a sec,” and I slowed the boat down to almost next to nothing to roll through those waves, I mean I probably wasn’t even doing 10 miles an hour, and then he just went over the edge. And I don’t, I can’t say 100 percent for sure whether he did it on purpose or if it was just the wake.”

No one but Piercy saw Brandon go overboard.

STACKING THE DECK

From the Kansas City Star and Laura Bauer, Sept 8:

“The investigation has proven to be just as sickening as witnessing the event,” Larry Moreau wrote in one comment section. In a phone interview with The Star, he said the patrol has shown “a lack of bringing forth the truth.”

The patrol sent an investigator to interview the Moreaus separately and on different days. Larry Moreau said he and his wife told the investigator how Trooper Anthony Piercy had sped past them and how they saw Piercy and Ellingson seemingly chatting in the patrol boat. Seconds later, they saw Piercy’s boat stop ahead of them. Ellingson was in the water, keeping his head above the surface, and his life vest was floating away. ‘

The Moreaus told the patrol investigator that once Piercy had maneuvered his boat next to Ellingson, the trooper showed no urgency in helping the man in the water, didn’t turn on his red lights and didn’t motion for them to assist. The family eventually left the area thinking the trooper had everything under control.

They had no idea that, beneath the water’s surface, Ellingson’s hands were cuffed behind his back. They did not know that the young man would soon slip to the bottom of the lake.

“We’ve been reading this stuff for months,” Larry Moreau, of Hartsburg, Mo., told The Star. “When the officer went back to work (days after the drowning), I bit my tongue. … I tried to stay neutral. I didn’t get terribly involved in this.

“But I thought, ‘If they come out and try to say this guy was the hero and did everything he could, I’m going to start talking.’”

The couple have spoken to a lawyer for Ellingson’s estate and family in Clive, Iowa. On Saturday, Larry Moreau explained some of their concerns to that attorney, Matt Boles. Among them:

• The Highway Patrol’s boating accident report gives Piercy’s estimated speed as 10 mph. Larry Moreau said he was operating his boat at 32 mph when Piercy passed him. (Moreau said he was keeping an eye on his speed because he had recently done mechanical work on the boat.)
• Records from the patrol boat’s GPS system, which The Star has obtained, say Piercy was “traveling at between 39.1 and 43.7 miles per hour just before this incident occurred.” The boat’s speed was not provided in the courtroom during the inquest.
• The trooper who interviewed Larry Moreau days after the drowning told the mid-Missouri man he would probably be subpoenaed at some point to explain what he saw. But Moreau wasn’t called for the inquest, and when he read a Highway Patrol report about his account, which he saw for the first time over the weekend, key parts of his information were not included.
• A tearful Piercy told jurors at the inquest that he had worked himself to exhaustion trying to save Ellingson. Another witness who came upon the scene after the Moreaus said the trooper did everything he could. But Larry Moreau said that during the 60 to 90 seconds that his family observed Piercy, the trooper was close enough to touch Ellingson at least twice and didn’t jump in the water to help keep him afloat.
• Piercy jumped in later, after the Moreaus had moved on, and after a failed attempt to use a pole with a hook to try to grab Ellingson.

“To tell you the truth, I really thought, my hopes were, that someone would hear our testimony and come back and say: ‘What did you see? Tell me what happened,’” Larry Moreau said.’

The Moreaus were not called to testify during the inquest. Their account was buried, along with any other evidence that didn’t support the assertion that Brandon’s death was an unfortunate accident. This prompted the Moreaus to go public with their story.

In the days immediately following Brandon’s death, Jim Bascue emerged to tell a tale that was sympathetic to Piercy, portraying the 18 year veteran of the Patrol as a victim himself, instead of the perpetrator of this avoidable tragedy. The water taxi captain inserted himself into the story with his account of watching Brandon drown. He relayed his story to Regina Zilbermints of the Des Moines Register:

‘”At first I didn’t know what (the Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper) was doing,” Bascue said. The boat “slowed down pretty quick. I saw somebody in a life jacket to the side. The boat was turning to get into position to help. I didn’t have a clue what was going on.

“I got closer and realized (the trooper) was trying to help the guy, get him out of the water. I saw the life jacket and person separate in the water.”

Bascue said he threw a life ring to Ellingson, but Ellingson couldn’t reach it. Each time Ellingson disappeared underwater, he seemed to sink a little deeper, Bascue said.

The trooper, who was operating the boat from which Ellingson jumped or fell, jumped into the water to try and rescue Ellingson, Bascue said. The trooper, however, lost his grip on the Clive man and then couldn’t find him again, Bascue said.

“I got the life ring, and my main concern then was the officer. He was totally exhausted by this point.”

Bascue, who owns Playin Hooky Water Taxi and Charters, came around a bend in the lake while captaining a Bar Hop Cruise just after Ellingson fell or jumped into the water.

Bascue said he tried to position his boat and help but was unsuccessful.

“The guy slipped out of (the trooper’s) hands. There was not a chance of trying to get him then,” Bascue said. “It was very quick. The whole thing lasted three or four minutes. It seemed like it happened fast.”‘

Bascue was also interviewed by the Lake Sun. His account focused on Piercy as the unfortunate victim.

‘Jim Bascue was headed back from Coconuts from the Saturday Bar Hop Cruise he runs as a charter service. He said the lake was busy, which is typical for that time of the day on the main channel. Bascue operates Playin Hooky charter and taxi service. More often than not, around 5 p.m. is a busy time on the water. Seeing a Highway Patrol boat is normal but as the officer slowed down and started to turn around in the main channel, Bascue said it quickly caught his attention.

“We left around 5 p.m. to head back to Camden on the Lake. While approaching the 4 mile marker on the Gravois Arm, I saw a water patrol boat stopping just ahead of us in the middle of the channel and turning around,” Bascue said. “At first I wasn’t sure what was going on then I noticed a person wearing a life jacket in the water. The officer was trying to help. As I approached I tried to position my boat where I could assist, and block traffic and the wakes from passing boats. While I was positioning my boat, I saw the life jacket had come off the young man. I threw out our life ring and throw rope but there was no attempt to reach it.”

The life ring and throw rope landed somewhere between 4 to 6 feet away from the victim as he struggled in the water.

Bascue said he saw him go under a couple of times. The passengers on his boat were yelling at Ellingson, telling him to grab on. At that point, Bascue said he didn’t know if the young man was handcuffed or not.

In the meantime, Bascue said the officer attempted to reach Ellingson with a pole. When his attempts failed and Ellingson went back under, the officer jumped into the water. The officer managed to pull Ellingson up but in the struggle, the officer couldn’t hold on to get them both to safety.

By that point, Bascue said the officer was showing signs of exhaustion. He was able to grab on to the side of Bascue’s boat. With the officer hanging on, Bascue pulled closer to the officer’s Donzi. A passenger on Bascue’s boat jumped onto the Highway Patrol boat to hold on to the charter boat while Bascue got on the Donzi to help the officer get back on board.

“The officer did everything he could to save the young man including putting his own life in danger by jumping into the water, but he just not able to hold on to him. I just don’t know what else the officer could have done,” Bascue said. “From the time I saw the Water Patrol boat stopping until it was all over, only a couple of minutes had passed. Things like this happen very quickly.”‘

Bascue, predictably, was allowed to testify at the inquest, ahead of Trooper Piercy.

During the phone call Piercy made that evening to his supervisor, courtesy of The Kansas City Star:

“I’m banged up a little bit, but I’m all right,” Piercy said at 6:30 p.m. May 31. “I don’t know if I’m sore from treading water with the bastard, but I just feel spent. … I thought I had run a marathon.”

Piercy made two phone calls that evening in the wake of Brandon’s death. One was to his supervisor. This transcript is from the Kansas City Star and reveals Piercy’s own concerns over his actions that afternoon, actions that resulted in Brandon Ellingson’s drowning:

Trooper Anthony Piercy called his supervisor at 6:28 p.m. May 31, about an hour after Brandon Ellingson drowned in the Lake of the Ozarks. Piercy placed the call from the boat of Cpl. David Echternacht.

A microphone picked up Piercy’s side of the conversation. At points early on, it is difficult to make out what he is saying because Echternacht also is talking.

Note: Some of the language may be offensive to some listeners.

***

Hey, sorry I missed your call. My phone was on my boat.

Listens

I’m banged up a little bit but I’m all right. I don’t know if I’m sore from treading water with the bastard but I just feel spent. God damn, I thought I had run a marathon.

Listens

Yeah, I arrested him. I arrested him for BWI and I had him, I had him in a life jacket and handcuffed behind his back. We’re going, we’re about Mill Creek and he, he was real cooperative, but he was extremely, extremely drunk. We’re talking 2-oh plus. And he goes, “So what’s going on? Am I going to jail?” And I said, “Well. it’s a little ……

And I said, hang on, there’s a big wave coming ….. I had him in the seat beside me, and he just kind of turned his back, so I told him ….. He turns his back to me, and I don’t know if he started to stand up or what, but he just went right over the side. And I grabbed his foot, temporarily, but he just pulled out of my hands ……

He’s floated up because he’s in the life jacket, and then all of a sudden the life jacket comes off and I said ‘Hold on,’ and I tried to throw a boat hook to him and there was a party barge behind me and they threw a regular life …, like a ring, inner tube, out to him, on a rope, a floatable, and when he came out of the life jacket, he went under water, and I saw him go under, so I dove off the boat in after him and I, I went under, I don’t know how – but the guy on the boat said, ‘You were, I thought we’d lost you, too. You were under a long time.’ And, I don’t, I thought I got a hold of him temporarily, but I lost him, I just couldn’t keep a hold of him. And, and that was it. And then it was – I mean, I couldn’t get a hold of him again.

Listens

Well, I’m with Echternacht on his boat. The party barge that was behind me, ….. is on it getting statements …. I don’t know. One of the girls. And Stacey and Richardson and I think Plumley and Sanders are dragging…. We called ISD …. and they have a tracker where they can track your boat by, where they can track cars and boats like to the second, they’re trying to get an exact GPS. We’ve got dive team on the way back to help with recovery. And we got a mark and they’re, at this point they’re just dragging and getting statements.

Listens

Well, I don’t know if it was the wake and his intoxication or if he fucking did it on purpose. Because he made that statement, he was being real nice and cooperative, wasn’t like we were fighting or arguing, and he goes, ‘So am I going to jail?’ and I said we’re just gonna run over to do a breath test, and then I said, “Hey, just hang on a sec,” and I slowed the boat down to almost next to nothing to roll through those waves, I mean I probably wasn’t even doing 10 miles an hour, and then he just went over the edge. And I don’t, I can’t say 100 percent for sure whether he did it on purpose or if it was just the wake.

Listens

No, there wasn’t an SD card in the camera. I had the camera on, but I checked it when I saw I had a BWI, and it was flashing and I thought “Well oh?, crap.” But there’s no SD card in it. The camera’s on, but there’s no damn card in it.” So I don’t know if it records without it.

Listens

So, I’ve —

Listens

I’m all right. I don’t know if I’m just spent from swimming or if it’s anxiety or if I’ve or what. But God damn I mean I, I thought somebody has beat the shit out of me, I really do.

Listens

Well, I’m sorry. I probably did a bunch of things wrong there, but –.
Listens

Yeah.

Listens

No, not really. We’re out in the middle of the Gravois. I don’t think there’s anything you can do. We got, the kid’s from Iowa and he had a group of guys with him and they went back to Coconuts. I told him that they could pick him up at the Toad and I’ve been kind of watching for the boat. They haven’t came through. ’Cause, we’re going to have to do some sort of next of kin. I don’t even know if the kid has a lake house down there.

Listens

All right, well, sorry. I guess, so, keep me posted on if I’m still going to be employed or what’s going on. So, I’ll probably have —

Listens

All right, well, all right, I’ll let you go. Sorry I missed your call. All right. Bye.

The second call made by Piercy that evening was to Sgt. Randy Henry, a seasoned veteran of the Water Patrol. Henry, who had responded to the incident, spoke with Piercy shortly after arriving on the scene.

The online incident report on the drowning lists Sgt. Randy Henry as one of the officers who worked the case immediately following Brandon’s death. Henry was interviewed by Stacks and Chris Harris on June 19 at the Osage Beach Police station. During this taped interview, Henry relayed key details about the circumstances of Brandon’s death given him by Piercy.

These details were not presented at the Coroner’s inquest.

One of the key factors that alarmed Henry, a member of the Water Patrol before Governor Nixon merged the departments, was the choice of life jacket. Henry told investigators that it was not the norm to use the Type 3 vest on suspects. Henry also acknowledged that another officer had told him it was put on Brandon after he was handcuffed. The use of the Type 3 life jacket on a handcuffed suspect obviously disturbed the Water Patrol veteran.

As Henry told investigators, during his examination of Piercy’s boat, a Type 1 vest was hanging on a hook where sobriety tests are performed on the Donzi. That vest was still hanging on its hook and would have been near Brandon’s knee, had he been given a sobriety test. The Type 3 vest, along with the Type 5 fanny pack inflatable worn by Piercy, were the boat and both were wet. Henry did not check the boat’s onboard cameras during his quick observation. He turned off the lights and secured the boat.

Henry also said that GPS information was made available to the on-scene officers that evening and that the boat was travelling in excess of 43 MPH. The responding officers, according to Henry, talked extensively about the excessive speed Piercy was driving. Water conditions that Saturday afternoon were choppy and rough, described as a ‘washing machine’ and ‘toilet bowl’ by Henry.

Stacks and Harris were asked by Henry if they wanted him to elaborate more on the speed of the boat and they said ‘no’. According to Stacks, he didn’t want to get into ‘policy issues’.

Henry then told the investigators that he talked to Piercy by phone that evening. During this phone call, several critical admissions were made by Piercy that point directly to negligence.

When Henry asked Piercy about the use of the Type 3 jacket, Piercy indicated that he was in a ‘hurry’. The reason Piercy gave for his rush: One of the boat’s passengers had jumped into the water and was swimming approximately 15-20 feet from the Donzi. The young man was giving Brandon advice regarding his rights. Piercy confirmed the swimmer was not acting in a threatening manner.

As Henry recalled, Piercy indicated that the swimmer had ‘gotten under’ Piercy’s skin and that he wanted to ‘get out of there’.

Henry then asked Piercy if he had given sobriety tests to the passengers in Brandon’s boat. Piercy said that he had not given any sobriety tests and that he instead asked the passengers if anyone was sober. The swimmer said he was sober. That was enough for Piercy, who then sped away, by his own account, at approximately 30-35 MPH.

Henry asked Piercy if Brandon was sitting or standing. Piercy answered that he was ‘leaning’.

During Henry’s observation of the Donzi shortly after he arrived on the scene, he saw that the two bolster seats in the Donzi were in the ‘up’ position. This allows pilot and passenger to stand up and lean, rather than sit, in the adjustable seats.

Then, according to Piercy, he hit rough water wakes. Travelling at reckless speed, the boat pitched and Brandon was ejected from the boat. When Brandon hit the water, Piercy turned the boat hard enough to kill its engines. It is unknown how long it took Piercy to restart the engines, but finally he did.

Piercy then piloted the boat toward Brandon’s position, where he was fighting for his life, the improperly fastened life vest had already separated from the young man and he was struggling to remain afloat. To make matters worse, Piercy miscalculated and his boat shot past Brandon’s position in the water. The boat drifted past Brandon. Piercy then grabbed a pole with a hook on it and attempted to snag Brandon.

It wasn’t until a woman on another boat, a water taxi, screamed at the Piercy to jump in after Brandon that he shed his gun belt and dove in the water.

In relaying these events to Sgt. Henry shortly after Brandon’s death, Piercy made an astonishing admission: He had no idea how his own personal floatation device, the Type 5 ‘fanny pack’ he was wearing while on the water.

Piercy said that he was able to grab hold of Brandon while under the water. The Trooper said Brandon was struggling, a likely reaction to the fear of drowning while handcuffed. In a stunning statement, he told Henry that he had expected his fanny pack device to automatically deploy a floatation device. Sgt. Henry was stunned. Henry told Piercy that evening on the phone that Type 5 devices have a ripcord that must be pulled in order to deploy the life saving measures. Piercy, Henry told investigators, had no idea the fanny pack even had a ripcord.

Sgt. Henry went to the zone office in Morgan County the following Wednesday. There, he saw Piercy typing and the two men talked about the incident. Henry, in the recorded statement he gave investigators Stacks and Harris, said that there was something bothersome about statements Piercy made during that exchange.

According to Henry, Piercy had told him that he ‘wished he had pulled the ripcord’ and that he ‘couldn’t find’ the cord on the fanny pack he was wearing that day.

Henry told investigators that this discrepancy in Piercy’s statement bothered him. From their phone conversation immediately following Brandon’s death, it was clear Piercy didn’t even know the Type 5 device had a ripcord. This immediately raised a flag for the Water Patrol veteran officer.

Henry told Stacks and Harris that the change in story concerned him. Piercy’s change in story was not the only reason Henry was not the only reason for alarm. He cited Piercy’s use of the wrong lifejacket, the way it had been put on Brandon and the speed with which Piercy was operating the boat.

As Henry said at approximately the 31:00 mark of his interview with Stacks and Harris: “Just that the whole chain of events, umm, with, with….(long pause) Just the whole chain of events from the get-go. As far as not getting the proper life jacket put on…the wrong lifejacket, not putting it on right, getting out of there without it and the speed…Then once all that happened it just kind of snowballed.”

“I mean, it’s just the perfect storm…It just gets worse and worse and worse.”

Stacks seemed to minimize these concerns. He said, “We’ve gathered information after information after information gathering statements from everybody and the information you told us, short of that phone call you got from Tony and the items that you discussed. I mean, the facts are known. The facts are there. We know the speeds. We know this, we know that.”

“But again, I want to caution not getting into policy issues and knowing the rights from the wrongs and all that stuff. That’s gonna come up. A different bunch of guys are going to have to make that decision. I don’t want to get all that going right now. We just want facts from the case as they are and if you think that there is something we’ve not found or not been told…”

Henry responded by telling Stacks that he assumed the investigators would want to hear about all of this during the interview, instead of hearing it on the stand later “while I’m under oath.” Henry said that since he talked with Piercy shortly after Brandon’s death that his statement probably should be on record somewhere.

Curiously, Harris then asked Henry about his conversation with Cpl. Echternacht. Harris wanted to know if there was any discussion about the vest that evening. Henry said he couldn’t remember, but stated, “we (the officers on the scene) talked about it quite a bit.”

“We were all just like, this is just surreal.”

Henry said that there were comments among the officers wondering why Piercy took some of the actions he did.

Harris then interrupted Henry and asked if there was anyone else on scene with questions about the Type 3 vest.

“I’m sure we did.” Henry said. “We all kind of talked.” He said they were all talking about the speed of the boat and the lifejackets. “All that, yes.”

Capitan Kindle was shown the lifejackets by Henry and explained why Type 3 jackets were not used by officers trained as Water Patrol, particularly with handcuffed suspects.

“I would never put a Type 3 on someone who was handcuffed.” Henry said.

Henry said that that, along with the speed Piercy was travelling at, were the main issues in Brandon’s death.

“That’s all known,” Stacks responded, “They will determine all of that.”

Henry said, “I’ll be the first to admit, because I did bring it up. I brought it up and said ‘Guys, they’re going to want full transparency on this thing. We need to ask ourselves, did he use the highest degree of care here?’ ”

Henry continued, “Missouri Statute 306.125…”

Stacks then abruptly ended the interview.

“Turn that off. Turn that off. Just turn it off.” He ordered Harris, referring to the recording device.

‘THE HIGHEST DEGREE OF CARE’

The reason Stacks had Harris turn the recorder off at this point is clear. Failure to provide ‘the highest degree of care’, as set forth in State Statute, is a crime.

Piercy’s speed, confirmed by GPS data, is a clear indication that he was breaking the law while transporting Brandon. That crime, and the consequences for it, was something Stacks didn’t want as part of his report. The motivation for this, as we look at the applicable statutes, is clear. Piercy is definitively guilty of involuntary manslaughter, despite the claims of the ‘special prosecutor’ assigned to the inquest.

From a statement by Osage County prosecutor Amanda Grellner, four days after the inquest, announcing there would be no criminal charges sought against Piercy:

“I do not believe that it meets the legal definition of reckless,” she said. “Criminal recklessness is different than negligence. Do I believe there was negligence here? There’s no way to not find negligence, but it doesn’t reach to criminal recklessness.”

“It’s not for me to determine civilly how negligent he was and how liable they are.”

Grellner is correct. It isn’t up to her. Missouri State Statutes, as referenced by Sgt. Henry before his interview was terminated, is clear on the subject.

The Statute Henry referenced says, in part:

306.125. 1. Every person shall operate a motorboat, vessel or watercraft in a careful and prudent manner and at a rate of speed so as not to endanger the property of another or the life or limb of any person and shall exercise the highest degree of care.

2. No person shall operate a motorboat, vessel or watercraft at any time from a half-hour after sunset until an hour before sunrise the following day at a speed exceeding thirty miles per hour.

The penalty for violating 306.125 is clear.

306.210. Any person who violates any of the provisions of sections 306.015 to 306.060 and 306.090 to 306.150 for which no other penalty is provided is guilty of a class B misdemeanor.

This means that Piercy was guilty of a crime before Brandon even went over the side of the Donzi.

Missouri Statute 562.016 goes on to state:

562.016. 1. Except as provided in section 562.026, a person is not guilty of an offense unless he acts with a culpable mental state, that is, unless he acts purposely or knowingly or recklessly or with criminal negligence, as the statute defining the offense may require with respect to the conduct, the result thereof or the attendant circumstances which constitute the material elements of the crime.

2. A person “acts purposely”, or with purpose, with respect to his conduct or to a result thereof when it is his conscious object to engage in that conduct or to cause that result.

3. A person “acts knowingly”, or with knowledge,

(1) With respect to his conduct or to attendant circumstances when he is aware of the nature of his conduct or that those circumstances exist; or

(2) With respect to a result of his conduct when he is aware that his conduct is practically certain to cause that result.

4. A person “acts recklessly” or is reckless when he consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that circumstances exist or that a result will follow, and such disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care which a reasonable person would exercise in the situation.

5. A person “acts with criminal negligence” or is criminally negligent when he fails to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that circumstances exist or a result will follow, and such failure constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care which a reasonable person would exercise in the situation.

(L. 1977 S.B. 60)
Effective 1-1-79

Involuntary manslaughter, as set forth by MO Statute 565.024:

565.024. 1. A person commits the crime of involuntary manslaughter in the first degree if he or she:

(1) Recklessly causes the death of another person; or

(2) While in an intoxicated condition operates a motor vehicle or vessel in this state and, when so operating, acts with criminal negligence to cause the death of any person; or

(3) While in an intoxicated condition operates a motor vehicle or vessel in this state, and, when so operating, acts with criminal negligence to:

(a) Cause the death of any person not a passenger in the vehicle or vessel operated by the defendant, including the death of an individual that results from the defendant’s vehicle leaving a highway, as defined by section 301.010, or the highway’s right-of-way; or vessel leaving the water; or

(b) Cause the death of two or more persons; or

(c) Cause the death of any person while he or she has a blood alcohol content of at least eighteen-hundredths of one percent by weight of alcohol in such person’s blood; or

(4) Operates a motor vehicle in violation of subsection 2 of section 304.022, and when so operating, acts with criminal negligence to cause the death of any person authorized to operate an emergency vehicle, as defined in section 304.022, while such person is in the performance of official duties;

(5) Operates a vessel in violation of subsections 1 and 2 of section 306.132, and when so operating acts with criminal negligence to cause the death of any person authorized to operate an emergency watercraft, as defined in section 306.132, while such person is in the performance of official duties.

2. Involuntary manslaughter in the first degree under subdivision (1) or (2) of subsection 1 of this section is a class C felony. Involuntary manslaughter in the first degree under subdivision (3) of subsection 1 of this section is a class B felony. A second or subsequent violation of subdivision (3) of subsection 1 of this section is a class A felony. For any violation of subdivision (3) of subsection 1 of this section, the minimum prison term which the defendant must serve shall be eighty-five percent of his or her sentence. Any violation of subdivisions (4) and (5) of subsection 1 of this section is a class B felony.

3. A person commits the crime of involuntary manslaughter in the second degree if he acts with criminal negligence to cause the death of any person.

4. Involuntary manslaughter in the second degree is a class D felony.

(L. 1983 S.B. 276, A.L. 1984 S.B. 448 ? A, A.L. 1986 H.B. 1596, A.L. 1999 S.B. 328, et al., A.L. 2005 H.B. 972 merged with S.B. 37, et al., A.L. 2005 1st Ex. Sess. H.B. 2, A.L. 2006 S.B. 872, et al., A.L. 2008 H.B. 1715)

Missouri Statute 590.195:

590.195. 1. A person commits a class B misdemeanor if, in violation of this chapter, such person knowingly:

(1) Holds a commission as a peace officer without a peace officer license valid for such commission; or

(2) Grants or continues the commission of a peace officer not validly licensed for such commission.

2. Any person who purposely violates any other provision of this chapter shall be guilty of a class B misdemeanor.

3. Any law enforcement agency that commissions a peace officer in violation of this chapter or that is otherwise in violation of any provision of this chapter shall not be eligible to receive state or federal funds that would otherwise be paid to it for the purpose of training and licensing peace officers or for any other law enforcement, safety, or criminal justice purpose.
(L. 2001 H.B. 80)

MO State Statute 590.080 states with regard to peace officers:

590.080. 1. The director shall have cause to discipline any peace officer licensee who:

(1) Is unable to perform the functions of a peace officer with reasonable competency or reasonable safety as a result of a mental condition, including alcohol or substance abuse;

(2) Has committed any criminal offense, whether or not a criminal charge has been filed;

(3) Has committed any act while on active duty or under color of law that involves moral turpitude or a reckless disregard for the safety of the public or any person;

(4) Has caused a material fact to be misrepresented for the purpose of obtaining or retaining a peace officer commission or any license issued pursuant to this chapter;

(5) Has violated a condition of any order of probation lawfully issued by the director; or

(6) Has violated a provision of this chapter or a rule promulgated pursuant to this chapter.

2. When the director has knowledge of cause to discipline a peace officer license pursuant to this section, the director may cause a complaint to be filed with the administrative hearing commission, which shall conduct a hearing to determine whether the director has cause for discipline, and which shall issue findings of fact and conclusions of law on the matter. The administrative hearing commission shall not consider the relative severity of the cause for discipline or any rehabilitation of the licensee or otherwise impinge upon the discretion of the director to determine appropriate discipline when cause exists pursuant to this section.

3. Upon a finding by the administrative hearing commission that cause to discipline exists, the director shall, within thirty days, hold a hearing to determine the form of discipline to be imposed and thereafter shall probate, suspend, or permanently revoke the license at issue. If the licensee fails to appear at the director’s hearing, this shall constitute a waiver of the right to such hearing.

4. Notice of any hearing pursuant to this chapter or section may be made by certified mail to the licensee’s address of record pursuant to subdivision (2) of subsection 3 of section 590.130*. Proof of refusal of the licensee to accept delivery or the inability of postal authorities to deliver such certified mail shall be evidence that required notice has been given. Notice may be given by publication.

5. Nothing contained in this section shall prevent a licensee from informally disposing of a cause for discipline with the consent of the director by voluntarily surrendering a license or by voluntarily submitting to discipline.

6. The provisions of chapter 621 and any amendments thereto, except those provisions or amendments that are in conflict with this chapter, shall apply to and govern the proceedings of the administrative hearing commission and pursuant to this section the rights and duties of the parties involved.

(L. 2001 H.B. 80)
*Section 590.130 was repealed by H.B. 80, 2001.

‘CONFLICT OF INTEREST’

Piercy’s account of these events was the only one Morgan County Coroner MB Jones and Osage County Prosecutor Amanda Grellener presented to the jury. Despite multiple eyewitnesses that dispute Piercy’s description of events, and the many discrepancies in his account, the coroner and the ‘special prosecutor’ ignored them to focus singularly on Piercy’s story.

Morgan County Coroner MB Jones, first appointed to office by Governor Jay Nixon in 2009, reportedly requested the inquest because of his own admitted conflict of interest. Jones knows Trooper Piercy personally, as does Morgan County Prosecuting Attorney Dustin Dunklee. Amanda Grellner, Osage County Prosecutor, was appointed as an ‘outside’ ‘special prosecutor’. Grellner however, was not unbiased, as illustrated by her own comments.

Grellner said: “I was happy to assist the coroner in order to present the witnesses and evidence he wished to the jury.”

MB Jones, appointed to Coroner position in 2009 by Governor Jay Nixon.

MB Jones, appointed to Coroner position in 2009 by Governor Jay Nixon.

This statement made by Grellner reeks of exactly what the inquest was supposed to remedy: a clear conflict of interest. Instead, it begins to illustrate the painstaking steps that appear to have been taken by Jones, Grellner and the Missouri Highway Patrol to ensure no criminal charges will be pursued against Piercy.

This crafted narrative began with details that supported Piercy. Those details included results from the autopsy conducted after Brandon’s death and the final report of the investigation conducted by the Missouri Highway Patrol Troop F.

Jones told the jury that Brandon’s blood-alcohol level more than three times the legal limit for operating a boat, and that he had traces of cocaine in his system. Depending on where the blood sample was taken from, these results could be skewed after death. Fermentation and other factors can be known to alter these results by up to %.200. It is unknown if Jones, a Versailles veterinarian and goat farmer, compensated for this.

From the KC Star’s Laura Bauer, September 4, after the inquest:

‘Highway Patrol Cpl. Eric Stacks, the lead investigator in the case, read his investigative summary to the jurors. He said the report included information about how fast Piercy’s boat was going that day, but he did not say what the speed was.

The patrol’s initial online report said Ellingson stood, stepped to the right side of the boat “and fell or jumped overboard.”

“At this point, I think we’re still inconclusive” about how Ellingson left the boat, Stacks said.

No one besides Piercy saw Ellingson leave the boat.‘

The one-sided narrative presented at the Morgan County Coroner’s inquest was constructed and presented like a defense attorney’s strategy, instead of the inquiry into the facts surrounding Brandon Ellingson’s death.

The findings that were presented to the jury by Jones, Grellner and other witnesses from the Missouri Highway Patrol were biased with extreme prejudice to protect Trooper Piercy and the Patrol from criminal charges.

MSHP Troop F Cpl. Eric Stacks chose not to tell the inquest jury several key details that emerged as a result of the investigation, including Sgt. Henry’s observations. He omitted them, it would seem, in an effort to protect Piercy from what was obvious criminal negligence.

An indictment of Piercy goes much higher up than the action of one reckless Trooper. It would be an indictment also of decisions made by Governor Jay Nixon, who in 2011 merged the Water Patrol with the Highway Patrol. At the time, it was billed as a ‘cost-cutting’ measure that would save the state money. Some of those savings were later invested in a $5.2 million dollar plane for the governor.
The political maneuvering that was on display during the inquest, called a “joke” by Craig Ellingson, speaks directly to the desire to see Brandon Ellingson’s death go away quietly. The appointment of Grellner, who has a long history of questionable decisions as prosecutor, speaks to this, as does the presentation directed by Jones, who in addition to being a Nixon appointee is also involved with search and rescue, giving him a close relationship with law enforcement. Morgan County Sheriff Jim Petty, formerly of the MSHP, selected the jurors at the inquest. Three of whom, it was reported by witnesses at the inquest, also had personal relationships with Piercy.

The ‘fix’ was in.

Now, it is up to the citizens of both Missouri, Iowa and Arizona to ensure that there is an accounting of the actions of Piercy that fateful May evening. #JusticeforBrandonEllingson, a Facebook group started in the wake of this senseless tragedy, has pledged that they will not rest until transparency and accountability are applied to this case.

Piercy’s actions were clearly negligent and that negligence was criminal. It resulted in the death of a young man with a promising future. He must immediately be terminated from his service to the Highway Patrol and must resign from the Versailles school board. A man who has shown so little regard for the lives of young people shouldn’t be allowed to serve in any capacity where children must abide by his decisions. HIs decision making ability and his trustworthiness are clearly in doubt.

Anthony Piercy should go to jail for his actions on May 31.

He can only hope that the officer taking him into custody has more concern for his welfare than he showed Brandon Ellingson.

To sign the petition for #justiceforbrandonellingson, please click the link below. Your voice matters and can help bring justice for his family.

www.justiceforbrandonellingson.org

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10 thoughts on “Vests, Lies and Videotape: The Cover-Up of Brandon Ellingson’s Murder

  1. A great compilation of the facts of the case that tells the story from the beginning. Four criminals have been identified, Piercy, Stacks, Jones, and Grellner. How many more have yet to be exposed? Every single one of them should do prison time for their role beginning with the original criminal act and the susequent cover-up. It unfotunately has the feel of living in a corrupt third world country. My disgust is immeasurable.

    #JusticeForBrandonEllingson

  2. Great article. One thing you might want to edit is the Memorial Day weekend part. It was actually the weekend after. Memorial day was 5/26 this year…

  3. Man Paul you’re on point with everything; but take it from me, these people don’t listen to paper. How much longer must our cries for justice go unanswered? How much longer can our pleas fall on deaf ears? When will people realize we gotta stop talking about how wrong these things are and stand? We must be prepared to enter certain doors when they are open to us. We have before us a great opportunity, today, now, but time waits for no one. I’m not going to be an old man wishing I’d have done something when I had the chance. Life is a blink. These problems won’t solve themselves… I can’t do this shit on my own. I need like-minded people to lend me their head and their hand, and together we can come up with something better. I’m sick of it all. So much so that I’m willing to make the sacrifice and get off my ass… But if I’m alone they’ll kill me… Come on America, y’all can be afraid to die, but don’t be afraid to live too.

  4. This so called officer committed what I feel was murder. On top of sitting waiting outside a restaurant/bar. He has his mind made up LONG before Brandon boat left. Wouldn’t that be stalking??? This needs a TRUE grand jury look.

  5. In 2005 my nephew was shot seven times by police in Houston Texas. He was not armed. He was in a car accident and the airbag deployed – he couldn’t get out of the vehicle at the officers’ orders due to the airbag, and when he attempted to reach under the airbag to find a way out of the car, the officers began shooting. He was hit SEVEN TIMES. The officers then pulled him through the broken driver’s side window, threw him to the ground, where he bled to death. When a witness offered to call for an ambulance, the witness was also arrested – for “interfering with emergency responders”.

    It’s very likely, also, that in addition to seeing the officers take no action to ensure paramedics arrived in time to save my nephew’s life, the witness was arrested because he also saw officers at the scene take a gun from the trunk of one of the patrol cars, and place it beside my nephew’s body.

    It was only from the efforts of a private detective that we were even able to discover that there had been a witness at all – the police report doesn’t mention a witness.

    When we asked to question the witness, we were told that he was “still in custody”, and since we weren’t on the visitor’s logs, we were not permitted to speak with him.

    We later discovered the witness had bonded out of jail the same night as my nephew’s death.

    Houston PD has NEVER given a consistent account of the night my nephew died.

  6. Pingback: Police Stupidity Leads to Handcuffed Man's Drowning Death | The Daily Sheeple

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