Special prosecutor charges trooper in Ellingson drowning case

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VERSAILLES – At a news conference Friday, the new special prosecutor in the Brandon Ellingson drowning case announced the Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper who arrested Ellingson in May 2014 is being charged with involuntary manslaughter.

At the Morgan County Justice Center in Versailles, William Seay announced he would charge Anthony Piercy with involuntary manslaughter, which is a class C felony. A Class C Felony can be punishable up to seven years in prison.

Seay said, "Piercy recklessly caused death of Brandon Ellingson."

Piercy was expected to turn himself in to authorities later Friday.

"The charge for which Piercy was arrested is a mere accusation and is not evidence of guilt," said MSHP in a press release. "Evidence in support of the charges must be presented before a court of competent jurisdiction whose duty is to determine guilt or innocence."

On May 31, 2014, Ellingson drowned and Piercy was accused of not properly putting on Ellingson’s life vest while arresting him on a charge of boating while intoxicated.

The toxicology report showed Ellingson had alcohol and cocaine in his system. 

During a coroner's inquest on September 4, 2014, Ellingson's death was ruled accidental by a jury after 10 minutes of deliberation. Piercy’s defense was that he had never received the proper training. 

Lawmakers conducted hearings in the wake of the death about whether the MSHP and water patrol merger is working on and whether they should go back to being separate entities. These hearings caused protesters and demonstrators to demand answers.

After the ruling, Larry and Paulette Moreau, of Hartsburg, said they saw Ellingson in custody before he drowned. The Associated Press reported, when the couple saw Ellingson in the water, Piercy was not acting with any urgency and did not ask them for help.

Piercy was placed on administrative leave following the incident, but the AP reported he went back to work shortly after.

A press release from Seay said the case was originally investigated by the MSHP, but because of conflicts of interest by the MSHP and the Morgan County prosecutor, a special prosecutor was appointed.

Osage County prosecutor Amanda Grellner was appointed and conducted the coroner's inquest. After the inquest, Grellner asked to withdraw from the case because of a conflict of interest. The court then appointed Seay as the new special prosecutor.

Seay was the former Dent and Crawford County prosecutor. Seay recruited Larry Jones, a veteran law enforcement officer not associated with the MSHP. Jones helped review facts and evidence in Ellingson's death.

In the probable cause statement, Jones said that, through evidence from reports and witness statements, he has probable cause to believe that Piercy recklessly caused Ellingson's death.