Craig said he thought the sentence was “quite lenient” based on the circumstances of Brandon's death, but was resolved in the belief that this was the most justice the Morgan County judicial system would render.
For the first time in over three years since his son Brandon’s tragic drowning at Lake of the Ozarks while in custody of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, Craig Ellingson had the opportunity to speak directly to the trooper responsible.
Acting as the sole representative for Brandon’s family, Craig spoke through deep breaths, fighting back tears for approximately 35 minutes Tuesday afternoon in Morgan County Circuit Court before Anthony Piercy received a shock sentence of 10-days incarceration and two years supervised probation for his misdemeanor guilty plea of negligent operation of a vessel causing physical harm.
At one point, Craig was briefly stopped by Judge Martin Prokes who warned the grieving father that any statements made outside of the emotional, physical or financial toll the crime on the family could be subject to sworn cross-examination by Piercy’s attorney Shane Lee Farrow.
After the hearing, Craig told a group of gathered reporters he was actually hoping to be cross-examined because he didn’t feel Prokes or Farrow knew as much about the details of the case as he did and would have taken the chance to offer statements on certain elements of the case that have been widely debated, such as the toxicology report.
A single sentence into Craig’s statement, the Clive, Iowa, native requested a box of tissues and apologized for the difficulty he was having in attempting to describe what Brandon meant to his family, and what exactly Piercy had taken away.
Craig said he began writing the statement at the same spot in the family’s kitchen where Brandon used to do his homework. Instead of crying at birth, Brandon smiled and grabbed his father’s finger, Craig said. He was baptized and grew up in church. Jennifer, Brandon’s sister, was a close confidant for the young man described as “wise in his youth.”
“He was a talented artist like his mother,” he said.
Brandon started playing hockey at three years old, traveling to Minnesota to play in the summer, but his true passion and natural athletic gifts were suited for football where Brandon was a three-year varsity player capped off with a perfect 14-0 senior season in which he was honored with all-city accolades, but more importantly a state championship for his teammates and coaches.
One of his fondest memories, Craig said, was playing a season of hockey with his cousin, Blake, who Brandon regarded as one of his best friends and who shares a strikingly close resemblance. His favorite athlete was N.B.A. superstar LeBron James, widely regarded as a quintessential championship teammate who makes players around him better.
Brandon was a straight A student and started college in sophomore standing on an academic scholarship to Arizona State University, where he was studying business management to take over his family’s business in Iowa. Craig wanted him to go into medical school because he was so smart, but Brandon was adamant he wanted to return home and work for his family, Craig said.
“He had a huge heart for children and those less fortunate than him,” he said, adding that Brandon’s high school friends told him he would sometimes eat lunch with students who were eating alone or just weren’t a part of his friend group.
While growing up, the Ellingson household became “grand central station” for a son “who loved being at home” and surrounded by family and friends. Craig said he and wife Sherry were always happy to play host — memories they still and will always cherish.
Craig said he would often find Brandon sound asleep in his own bed after earlier telling his father he was going to spend the night at a friend’s house. In 2002, the Ellingson family purchased a home at the Lake of the Ozarks where they would spend many memorable summers vacationing. Brandon loved boating and his parents would always advise him to remember safety first, Craig said.
Prior to the weekend of May 31, 2014, Brandon was planning to attend an international cruise through his fraternity at ASU in which he was to be gone for 67 days while studying abroad and visiting relatives in Europe. On May 29, 2014, Brandon left the Ellingson house for the final time and traveled to the Lake of the Ozarks with a group of high-school friends.
Craig said the family’s boat was experiencing some mechanical issues and wouldn’t start, so he ordered two replacement batteries to be installed so the boys could go boating that weekend. As Craig got to the evening of May 31, 2014, he began to address the trooper personally.
“Piercy, Brandon was in your control. You’re the reason my son is dead. You had no compassion,” Craig said. “My son drowned in front of 26 women. For four and a half minutes he was treading water for his life with no life jacket on. Obviously you’re a poor swimmer.”
Brandon wanted to have four children, Craig said, as he stared Piercy down.
“You’re a complete coward and dragged my family through the mud. You deprived my son. You have taken away everything and it is forever your fault,” he said.
Piercy then had the opportunity to speak and expressed sorrow and condolences to the Ellingson family, though Craig said afterwards he didn’t feel the apology was sincere.
“I’d like to apologize for the loss that I’ve caused the Ellingson family. I know there is nothing that I will say will ease the pain they’re feeling and I’ll never forget I am the cause of that pain,” Piercy said. “I am truly sorry for that. Brandon should be here with them today.”
Special Prosecutor William Cam Seay said anything less than a conviction would be tragic and Piercy had already been given a break due to the plea deal agreement.
“This result needs to be lasting and forever,” Seay told Judge Prokes. “We can’t fix it. We can’t resolve it.”
Seay said not stripping Piercy of his Peace Officer license would be a “slap in the face of the family” and “I implore you to include that.” Farrow countered, arguing to the judge that there was an administrative process dictated by Missouri State Statutes to remove the certification and it wouldn’t be appropriate for a judge to make that decision without the guaranteed due process involved.
The prosecutor asked for 30 days of shock incarceration and 400 hours of community service, on top of 180 days of a suspended executed sentence, a $300 court restitution and two years of supervised probation with regular urinalysis and a condition to maintain full-time employment.
Prokes ultimately ordered 10 days of shock time, two years of supervised probation, 180 days of SES and 50 hours of community service. As a paid employee of the State of Missouri, Prokes extended apologizes to the Ellingson family for their loss on behalf of the state, something he said he wasn’t sure had ever been done in this case.
“No one can feel good about this,” Prokes said before court adjourned.
After the hearing, Seay told the Lake Sun that he would assist in the effort to have Piercy’s certification permanently stripped. Piercy has been on unpaid administrative leave and it is unclear if he will return to his position, though officers have been allowed to resume duties with a misdemeanor conviction in the State of Missouri.
“I wish we would have gotten what we asked for,” he said. “But I assure you I’ll be after them to do it. I think that needs to be done.”
Craig said he thought the sentence was “quite lenient” based on the circumstances of Brandon’s death, but was resolved in the belief that this was the most justice the Morgan County judicial system would render.
“Ten days is like a vacation. It’s a joke,” he told a group of reporters. “I looked at him because he killed my son and he had no compassion for him at that time of the day, he wouldn’t do that to his kids.”
Ellingson said he would reach the Peace Officer Administration to express his opinion that Piercy should no longer be allowed to be a law enforcement officer.
“He knows he’s guilty and he knows he’s damn lucky to have gotten what he got. It’s been tough for our whole family. What I had to do to get justice for Brandon, we got some justice, but no justice is going to bring him back,” Craig stated. “I think he would be disappointed in the outcome, but he knows I fought hard for him. I’m sure he’s in a better place now, obviously a better place than we’re in today.”
Craig said that he has relied on his faith as a Christian and believes that Piercy’s true judgment is still yet to come.
“It’s been three and a half years and it’s over. Someday, like I read in my statement, justice will prevail. I am a Christian. I do believe in forgiveness, but God also loves justice. Someday he’ll meet his maker and he’ll have to answer for what he did,” Craig said. “Imagine if you had that done to one of your loved ones? I believe in forgiveness. I forgive him, but God still loves justice and He’ll take care of it.”
“Judge Prokes, his authority and what he did today, is just a minor thing to what Piercy will get when he has to answer to the Lord,” he concluded. “All of us will, actually.”