The criminal negligence for the guilty plea was connected to Piercy handcuffing 20-year-old Iowa college student Brandon Ellingson behind his back and improperly securing the lifejacket around Ellingson on May 31, 2014 on Lake of the Ozarks.

The state trooper charged with involuntary manslaughter in the 2014 handcuffed drowning of a man on Lake of the Ozarks has made a plea deal to a reduced charge. 

Anthony Piercy, 45, of Versailles pled guilty to the Class B misdemeanor of negligent operation of a vessel in Morgan County Circuit Court Tuesday afternoon. He was initially charged by special prosecutor William Seay with the Class C felony of involuntary manslaughter.

Piercy showed little reaction during the plea hearing.

The criminal negligence for the guilty plea was connected to Piercy handcuffing 20-year-old Iowa college student Brandon Ellingson behind his back and improperly securing the lifejacket around Ellingson on May 31, 2014 on Lake of the Ozarks.

More than three years ago now, Ellingson was arrested on suspicion of boating while intoxicated by Piercy. While being transported to shore, Ellingson came out of the Missouri State Highway Patrol vessel. The lifejacket, simply pulled on over Ellingson head without his arms through it, slipped off of Ellingson as he struggled in the water. The life jacket also had a strap that was supposed to go in between Ellingson's legs. 

According to witnesses, Piercy tried at first to secure Ellingson with a pole on board the Patrol vessel before jumping in the water. Piercy also told a six-person jury in a coroner’s inquest that he did not know how to use his own personal flotation device - a device around his waist - while trying to save Ellingson. Piercy was unable to save Ellingson who drowned.

While a long-time road trooper with the MSHP, Piercy was a relative newcomer to marine duty. The MSHP took over marine duties after the Missouri Water Patrol was merged into the MSHP in 2011.

A Class B misdemeanor carries no mandatory minimum sentencing, but does require a mandatory term of probation of two years. The maximum sentence allowed under state law is six months in detention and a $500 fine.

Part of the plea deal, however, is tied to the recommendation from the planned sentencing assessment.

A sentencing assessment is planned through MO-CAM in Camdenton, a private probation supervision service, as the Missouri Department of Probation & Parole does not do sentencing assessments for misdemeanors.

If the sentencing assessment report recommends more beyond probation, Piercy has the right to withdraw from the plea deal and proceed to trial.

Piercy had been scheduled for jury trial July 10, 2017 under new Judge Roger Martin Prokes. Judge Prokes was assigned to the case by the Missouri Supreme Court after judges of the 26th judicial circuit recused themselves from the case.

The sentencing hearing has been scheduled for 3 p.m. Sept. 8 at which time the assessment report will be reviewed. Piercy has the right to speak and three members of the Ellingson family will be allowed to speak. The family will be limited to speaking on the physical, financial and emotional impact of the crime. 

Bond for Piercy was continued.

It is unclear at this time what the impact of the plea would have on Piercy’s employment with the patrol. He has been on suspension without pay.

While the coroner’s inquest in Morgan County recommended no criminal charges be filed in the case based on the evidence presented by special prosecutor Amanda Grellner, the Osage County prosecutor later recused herself and William Seay was appointed to take over the case. In December 2015, Seay filed charges against Piercy for involuntary manslaughter. 

During the coroner’s inquest, Piercy blamed lack of training for the incident.

While Piercy’s plea brings to an end the criminal and civil cases involving Ellingson and his family, a lawsuit filed by the former state trooper who was Piercy’s supervisor on Lake of the Ozarks, is pending in federal court. 

Randy Henry, a 30-year veteran of the Highway Patrol assigned to Lake of the Ozarks, filed suit after he alleges he was reassigned to another area and removed from supervisory duties after raising questions about Ellingson’s death and how it was handled by the patrol.