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Des Moines Attorney Explains Legal Side of Ellingson Case

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- An autopsy report shows 20-year-old Brandon Ellingson had alcohol and cocaine in his system when he was arrested on Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri in May.

But his parents say that offense shouldn't have cost him his life.

Ellingson was arrested for suspicion of drunk boating. He was handcuffed and placed into a Missouri State Patrol boat. As the boat returned to shore, police say Ellingson fell out of the boat. His life jacket came off when he hit the water and he drowned before rescuers could reach him.

During a coroner's inquest Thursday an attorney representing Ellingson's family argued police negligence caused his death.

During the hearing the arresting officer testified he had no formal training on how to use life vests during an arrest or on what to do if someone in custody went into the water.

After hearing all testimony the jury deliberated for just eight minutes before ruling Ellingson's death was an accident and not a result of negligence.

Ellingson's family called the verdict a joke.

The decision of the jury to rule the death an "accident" has stirred up the emotions of WHO-TV Facebook page followers.

Violet Thacker Jones writes, “This was no accident, pure negligence.”

Tracy Edwards writes, “Wrong... wrong... wrong.”

Nate Boulton is a Des Moines attorney following the case.

He says for criminal negligence charges to be filed, a special prosecutor looking into the case has to determine beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer thought he was likely to cause serious harm by his actions, but chose to do them anyways.

The jury said no.

“When we're looking at the criminal system, we're looking at the intent do harm or at least the depravity of not caring about the result of my actions that ended up doing harm. That's a tough standard to meet,” said Boulton.

Even if criminal charges aren't, filed, that doesn't the mean case is closed.

"I think it's very likely you're going to see a tort claim for wrongful death based on the negligent actions of the officer,” Boulton told Channel 13 News.

In a civil suit, Boulton says Ellingson's attorney can make the argument that the officer failed to meet state protocol by not securing his life vest leading to wrongful death.

"That protocol doesn't seem to have been followed. The reason you have that protocol is to keep someone safe. When harm is realized because of failure to follow that protocol, you're going to have liability,” said Boulton.

A civil lawsuit seeks monetary compensation.

We reached out to close friends and family members of Ellingson to comment on the case. Some were in Missouri for Thursday's proceedings while others respectfully declined to comment at this time.




  • iamjoespinkyfinger

    So, some drunk, 3 times the legal limit, drowns after getting arrested by an unqualified cop.

    The bad news, the drunks family suffers, the good news is it happened before the drunk kill an entire family.

    Cut them a check, fire the cop, move on.

    • James

      cut no check, dont fire the cop and hope he stops another drunk before he kills someone innoncent before they can sue the drunks family

  • dan

    It’s good to be a cop. If you would have someone handcuffed in your boat, same circumstances it would be manslaughter to say the least. And it doesn’t sound like they cared much about their actions or they would have had the life vest put on before the cuffs. If he wasn’t violent, in a boat it’s a bad idea for cuffs anyway. And just how much training do you need to put on a life vest the right way?

  • BrutallyHonest

    How about dont drink under age and use cocain, then you wouldnt be arrested and this wouldnt have happened. Think of the consequences when you are breaking the law and be responsible. When you break the law and get busted, you just put the fate of your life in someone elses hands. Would this family be ready to pony up some money had he hit another boat and killed a family, most likely not. If you are driving a car and you have no drivers license, someone else hits you (the accident is their fault), you are going to be the one actually at fault for that accident because you were not even supposed to be on the road driving a car (breaking the law). Again, this kid didnt deserve to die, but he put himself in that positoin by being irresponsible and thinking he was above the law. The person who purchased the alcohol for them should be held liable. (probaby his parents)

    • Amy

      I agree with Brutallyhonest. It’s a little bit of both parties fault. The kids shouldn’t have been drinking but the cop should have also put the vest on better. You can’t really blame anyone in this situation. It’s a sad tragic accident and hope the family realizes that and tries to move on.

  • rea

    For the family to say the verdict is a “joke” is just immature. Face the facts here- your son (not a kid, over the age of 18) is “smart” and “bright”… so why was he driving a boat at three times the legal limit (of someone over 21), high and carrying a fake ID and passport? Teach you children to understand – for every action, there is a reaction. Karma always catches up to you. And there are always consequences to ones actions. I am thankful the drunk idiot died this time as my family members were boating in the same area, the same day. It is always sad to lose a child but will putting an officer through hell when he was only looking out for everyone else’s safety really necessary. Will money make you feel better about your drugged up son? No- it won’t. Move on.

    • Alexis Caluzzi

      Rea, how dare you say you are glad my cousin died. Drunk or not he had every right to live. This is a human being. Absolutely disgusting. Underage drinking happens, unfortunately. But doesn’t warrant the cop to not protect him.

  • BrutallyHonest

    Finally people that see it from my point of view! Where are all the “supporters” that were all over me yesterday telling me that they hoped i drowned and were defending the actoins of this irresponsible young adult? Now that the facts have came out about how drunk he was and that he had cocain on him, they are no where to be found.

    • ajharrelson

      Oh hey! Guess what! None of this has anything to do with what Brandon did or not do . It’s about what the cop did and did not do! Innocent till proven guilty and as far as I’m comcerned he was innocent the day he died. But hey, I guess you were there though huh? What’s the joke is all you idiots commenting when it has nothing to do with what Brandon was doing , it’s about what the officer failed to do .

  • Helen

    No it shouldn’t have cost him his life but he is partly to blame and his parents need to accept that fact. Maybe if he hadn’t been being a dufus on the boat he was on none if thus woukd have happened. Sad times for all.

  • Hope

    This is a sad deal, but it could of been much worse… If the State Patrol officer hadn’t stopped this boat full of people drunk and doing cocaine the story could be about an entire family dying after being hit by an intoxicated boater.

  • Friend

    The only people that truly know what happened that fateful day are the officer and Brandon… the rest is speculation. Please show some respect.

Comments are closed.

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