A U.S. District Court judge recently ruled that a federal civil suit against a Missouri state trooper for the 2014 drowning death of a handcuffed man accused of boating while intoxicated can move forward. The trooper is facing state-level involuntary manslaughter charges stemming from the May 31, 2014, arrest and subsequent death of college student Brandon Ellingson.
Ellingson was allegedly boating while intoxicated on a Missouri lake when he was detained by State Trooper Anthony Piercy. Ellingson was handcuffed behind the back before a life jacket was put on him and he was placed somewhat haphazardly in a Water Patrol boat. Trooper Piercy, an 18-year veteran of the Missouri Highway Patrol, had only recently begun working with the Water Patrol at the time of Ellingson’s arrest and had allegedly only received two days of training on safe water procedures when he was put out alone to patrol area lakes in a boat.
Piercy faces involuntary manslaughter charges relating to the drowning death of Ellingson because questions remain about whether his conduct that day rose to the level of criminal negligence/recklessness covered by the state’s involuntary manslaughter statute. Such factors in the decision to prosecute him include:
- Securing a life jacket over Ellingson’s handcuffs instead of putting the life jacket on him and then handcuffing him
- Handcuffing Ellingson behind the back instead of in the front where he’d have a better chance of keeping himself afloat in an emergency situation
- Speeding in the boat or otherwise operating it in an unsafe manner given the water conditions
- Not properly securing Ellingson in the boat (apparently Ellingson may have been leaning against a “jump seat” instead of fully seated)
- Not jumping in the water quickly enough to attempt a rescue once Ellingson had been ejected from the boat
Piercy’s trial on first-degree involuntary manslaughter is scheduled for later this year.