The sentencing hearing has now been rescheduled for 1 p.m. on Sept. 19 instead of 4 p.m. or later on Sept. 8.
A scheduling conflict involving the judge and the victim’s family in the sentencing of Missouri State Highway Patrol Trooper Anthony Piercy has been avoided after a motion to continue the hearing was sustained.
The motion to reset the sentencing date was filed by Special Prosecutor William Camm Seay on Aug. 24 and Judge Martin Prokes ruled on the motion four days later. The sentencing hearing has now been rescheduled for 1 p.m. on Sept. 19 instead of 4 p.m. or later on Sept. 8.
The initial date was assigned on June 27 in Morgan County Circuit Court when Piercy pled guilty to negligent operation of a vessel, a Class B misdemeanor, after originally being charged in December of 2015 with first degree involuntary manslaughter, a Class C felony.
Specifically, the 45-year-old Versailles man admitted guilt to the criminal negligence of operating a vessel as to cause physical injury to another person, in this case 20-year-old Iowa college student Brandon Ellingson who drowned while in MSHP custody on May 31, 2014.
The Class B misdemeanor carries no maximum sentence, but a mandatory probation period of two years and possible six months in detention and/or $500 fine. The prosecution could ask for Piercy to forfeit his Peace Officer Standard Training (POST) certification for life, barring him from returning to any law enforcement role as part of the plea deal.
A rare motion known as “suo motu” in Latin, or “on it’s own motion” in legal terms, was ordered by Prokes on August 13 postponing the hearing from 3 to 4 p.m., “or as soon thereafter as Judge Prokes can arrive,” according to CaseNet.com.
Prokes had been invited and will attend the Investiture Ceremony of the Honorable W. Brent Powell as a Judge of the Missouri Supreme Court at 2 p.m. on September 8, which is also the same day Valley High School in Clive, Iowa, is honoring Ellingson with a scoreboard dedication and father Craig Ellingson has pledged to run the first-down yardage chains.
Craig Ellingson expressed displeasure in an interview with the Lake Sun last Wednesday regarding Prokes’ decision to postpone the hearing to after hours as he and his family would have been unable to attend due to the ceremony. Ellingson requested Seay file the motion to continue for a later date.
Both Ellingson parents, Craig and Sherry, as well as one of Brandon’s grandparents, are expected to speak during the hearing and Piercy will also have the right to speak. Prokes has limited the family’s testimony to the emotional, physical and financial toll the death of their son and grandson has had on them.
The plea deal and punishment of Piercy hinges on whether or not prison time is recommended in the sentencing assessment. An agreed-to caveat in the plea bargain means Piercy can withdraw his guilty plea and proceed to trial if more than probation is recommended.
A former member of the Morgan County R-II School Board, Piercy resigned in 2015 after being arrested. He is currently on unpaid administrative leave from the MSHP. Prokes, who was assigned to the case in 2016 after Circuit Judge Stan Moore recused himself, also ordered a sentencing assessment report to be taken up during the hearing.
On May 31, 2014, at approximately 5:23 p.m., Brandon Ellingson and several friends from Iowa were pulled over by Piercy as they were leaving Coconuts Bar & Grill in Gravois Mills in Craig Ellington’s boat. Piercy pulled the vessel over regarding an expired registration tag and a report of littering.
Brandon, who was studying business administration at Arizona State University with plans to join his father’s business upon graduation, was in town for summer vacation as the family had done for years.
Piercy, the lone officer on the patrol vessel, quickly established probable cause to place Ellingson under arrest in MSHP custody on suspicion of boating while intoxicated and began transporting Brandon to a stationary office near the H. Toads complex, a couple miles away from the arrest location for a breathalyzer test.
Toxicology reports show Ellingson had a blood alcohol content of 0.268 at the time of his death, though the autopsy was conducted some 16 hours after his body had been submerged underwater. The report also showed traces of cocaine in his system.
“We never denied the fact he was intoxicated, he was under the influence of alcohol, and the coroner would testify that cocaine was discovered in his system,” Seay said in June of 2017 after Piercy pled guilty.
The longtime road deputy, who had recently been assigned to the Water Patrol Division, improperly placed a Type-III life-jacket on Ellingson after handcuffing his arms behind his back. Patrol had recommended using Type I or II life-jackets.
Traveling up to speeds of 43.7 miles per hour, Ellingson was ejected after striking a wake, at which time Piercy slowed the vessel and attempted to grab him using his hands and then a pole. When Ellingson’s life-jacket slipped off, Piercy jumped in and attempted to rescue him, grabbing him at one point but being unable to hold on to Brandon before he sank and Piercy returned to the surface, exhausted from the struggle.
Brandon’s body was located the next day in approximately 80 feet of water near the 3.5-mile marker near Mill Creek. In an audio and video recording with a supervisor taken on another MSHP vessel approximately an hour after the incident, Piercy was apparently concerned with how he handled the incident.
Piercy said the video camera was recording, but had no SD card and therefore was not saving any data. He would later give different versions of when he realized the issue.
“Well, I’m sorry I probably did a bunch of things wrong there,” Piercy said at one point. “I guess keep me posted on if I’m going to be employed or what’s going on.”