DES MOINES, Iowa — The parents of Brandon Ellingson have filed two federal lawsuits accusing the Missouri State Highway Patrol of negligence in connection with their son’s drowning death while under a trooper’s custody in May, according to the family’s attorney.
The Des Moines Register reports the Ellingsons believe negligence by the officer who detained Brandon, Trooper Tony Piercy, violated their son’s constitutional rights, resulting in his death, and that the patrol and the Morgan County coroner conspired to cover up the facts, copies of the lawsuits say. Matt Boles, who is representing Ellingson’s estate and his family, filed both lawsuits Friday, he said.
“While the Missouri State Highway Patrol conducted an investigation into Brandon’s death, the goal was not to reveal the truth behind it, but rather to cover it up and deflect the blame from Trooper Piercy onto Brandon himself,” Boles stated in a news release.
Ellingson, a Clive resident who had just finished his sophomore year at Arizona State University, went into the water May 31 as Piercy was transporting him on the Lake of the Ozarks. Ellingson, 20, was detained on suspicion of boating while intoxicated. A jury ruled the death an accident during a coroner’s inquest in Morgan County in September.
The lawsuits lodge a total of eight claims against Piercy and 10 other members of the patrol. The Ellingsons seek to recover damages tied to their son’s loss of reputation and his physical and mental suffering as well as punitive damages. Punitive damages are considered punishment, awarded when the plaintiff’s behavior is found especially harmful.
Piercy used and improperly secured the wrong type of life vest on Ellingson and traveled at a “dangerously high speed” on the water, the release states. Ellingson was “involuntarily ejected” from the patrol boat, and the life vest came off moments later.
Piercy failed to rescue Ellingson because “he did not know how to operate his own state-issued equipment,” the news release says.
Multiple patrol officials are specifically accused of conspiracy, including Cpl. David Echternacht, who investigated Ellingson’s death, and Col. Ronald Replogle, who heads the highway patrol.
The Ellingson family is also suing Lt. Keverne McCollum, the patrol’s custodian of records, and Replogle for denying the release of records under the state’s “sunshine” law.
They allege that the patrol denied records requests in June and August, although documents were provided to others, including media.
“Craig and Sherry Ellingson seek public information from the Missouri Highway Patrol to understand the tragic circumstances of Brandon’s death,” Boles wrote in the news release. “The Ellingsons hope, through filing this Petition, the circumstances of their young and promising son’s drowning can be revealed and future tragedies, such as that which has befallen the Ellingsons, can be prevented through change in the Missouri State Highway Patrol.”