Missouri to pay $9 million in Brandon Ellingson drowning lawsuit

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Credit: STL Today
Credit: STL Today

LAKE OF THE OZARKS, MO (KTVI) –The State of Missouri has agreed to a multi-million dollar settlement with the family of a college student who drowned in Lake of the Ozarks after being handcuffed by state troopers.

The case centers on a drowning Memorial Day weekend 2014 on Lake of the Ozarks. Missouri State Highway Patrol Trooper Tony Piercy cuffed 20-year-old Brandon Ellingson on suspicion of boating while drunk.

Ellingson had just left Coconuts Bar.

The trooper placed a ski vest-style life jacket on Ellingson and later took off in his boat at speeds exceeding 43 miles per hour.

Fox 2 News previously demonstrated what might happen if you were to go overboard in that style vest, without the use of your arms. Ellingson fell from the boat and sank to the bottom of the lake.

Another highway patrol boat captured Trooper Piercy explaining why Ellingson was dead.

"He was being real nice and cooperative. It's not like we were fighting or arguing," Piercy said.

A witness said he was running at 32 mph when Trooper Piercy passed him. That same witness later said he saw Ellingson struggling in the water and a life vest floating away with Trooper Piercy standing over him.

A coroner’s inquest ruled Ellingson’s death an accident, but former Highway Patrol Sgt. Randy Henry then blew the whistle.

"We killed, as an agency, we killed Brandon Ellingson," he told Fox 2 last year.

Henry is now suing, claiming he was punished for speaking out. His lawsuit is ongoing.

Lawyers for the Ellingson family in Des Moines, Iowa said the fight for justice is not over.

In a press release, the Ellingsons expressed their deepest and most sincere appreciation to the people in Iowa, Missouri, Arizona, and across the country who have supported them during this very difficult time. They said they will continue to ensure that the manslaughter charges pending against Piercy are prosecuted fairly and expeditiously.

The family wants to make sure that he never serves as a law enforcement officer again.

Piercy was charged with involuntary manslaughter in December. The case, now on its third judge, is set for a hearing Monday, November 21 in Morgan County.

Trooper Tony Piercy is due in court next week, awaiting trial for manslaughter in Brandon Ellingson's drowning. The Missouri Highway patrol issued the following statement: “The mission of the Missouri State Highway Patrol is to serve and protect all people, and any loss of life is a tragedy. 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 had no comment.

Related stories: Questions remain over handcuffed man drowning in police custody

Records: Missouri trooper had little training before suspect drowned while in custody

Missouri trooper faults training handcuffed in drowning death


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