A Missouri state trooper whose actions led to the drowning of a 20-year-old Iowa man avoided a jury trial by pleading guilty to a misdemeanor boating violation.
Anthony Piercy entered a plea of guilty to the Class B Misdemeanor of Negligent Operation of a Vessel on June 27, after striking a deal with the prosecution. The maximum penalty for such an offense is six months in prison and/or a $500 fine, according to LakeExpo.
Piercy's sentencing will be determined at a later date, and he will have the opportunity to withdraw his guilty plea if he is unhappy with the sentence.
The trooper was originally charged with involuntary manslaughter for the accidental drowning of Brandon Ellingson, a 20-year-old from Iowa, on May 31, 2014. After accusing Brandon of boating while intoxicated, Piercy handcuffed him and put him in the back of his patrol boat.
As Piercy was transporting Brandon to a field office for a sobriety test -- reaching speeds as high as 46 mph -- the boat hit a wave and Brandon was thrown into the water, where he drowned.
"I reached for him and wasn’t able to grab ahold of him," Piercy told inquest jurors at the time, according to the Kansas City Star.
Witnesses told investigators that Piercy slipped an already-buckled life jacket over Brandon's head after he had been handcuffed. It was not secured properly and came off when he fell into the water.
The Kansas City Star later discovered that Piercy, an 18-year veteran of the force, was not adequately trained to patrol the water. He reportedly underwent just two days of training before being authorized for "solo boat time."
"He wasn’t supposed to be out there, wasn’t supposed to be arresting people," the victim's father, Craig Ellingson, told the Star. "The only reason he was supposed to be out there was to be seen."
Craig said that while the plea bargain was far from ideal, they had to settle for it because it was too risky to go to trial with a "hometown jury" that might find it difficult to be impartial toward the defendant.
"This is the best we were going to get here," he told the Star. "It would have been a hung jury, or he would have gotten off. I didn’t want to risk the chance we wouldn’t get the opportunity to see him face to face and say what we want to say. Now we get that."
Special Prosecutor William Camm Seay shared Craig's fears, admitting that he "had a great fear of a mistrial and just seating a jury."
"This was the only guaranteed outcome," Seay told LakeExpo. He added: "I do not feel justice has been done yet. There could still be a trial -- that is why I am limited on what I can say."
On the other hand, the victim's mother, Sherry Ellingson, is dissatisfied with the deal. She wanted to go to trial.
"I don’t really give a care what his punishment is, but I wanted his record to say 'manslaughter,'" she explained. "If anyone says that justice has now been served, you have got to be kidding me. In what way?"