Questions linger in Brandon Ellingson case

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COLUMBIA - Two big questions still loom in the case involving a Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper and a man who died in his custody.

Trooper's plea

Trooper Anthony Piercy pleaded guilty Tuesday to misdemeanor negligent operation of a vessel stemming from a May 2014 incident that resulted in the drowning death of 20-year-old Brandon Ellingson. 

Piercy has the option to withdraw his plea if the sentencing recommendation doesn't include probation. 

Special Prosecutor William Seay said the option to withdraw the plea was a tactic to get Piercy to agree to the plea, which Seay called "a guaranteed result," rather than going to trial. 

Seay said he doesn't think Piercy will withdraw the plea, but, if he does, Seay will refile felony charges against him.

Sherry Ellingson, Brandon Ellingson's mother, was upset that Piercy had the option to back out of his plea.

“So you get to wait and see what the judge dishes out and then decide whether or not you wanna continue to say you’re guilty," Ellingson said.

Family settlement

Piercy's plea isn't the only looming question in the case, Ellingson's family wondered why the Missouri State Highway Patrol was not following through on the settlement it reached with the family in Nov. 2016.

According to Sherry Ellingson, part of the settlement included an agreement that MSHP would provide the family, within a week, a list of safety improvements it made in the wake of their son's death. The Ellingson's still have not received the list.

“What are you doing to make sure that someone of the caliber of Anthony Piercy never gets hired by the highway patrol, and how do you weed out any of those types of people out of there," Sherry Ellingson said.

Piercy had testified he never received formal training on how to use a life vest, or training on what to do if someone in custody went into the water.

Piercy's sentencing was scheduled for Sept. 8.

Below is a timeline tracing the case from the time of Ellingson's drowing to Piercy's plea.

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