Archive for September, 2014

The story of Omar J. Gonzalez‘ foray into the White House last week and the Secret Service’s inability to stop him before he entered the building is almost cartoonish.

— Guy carrying a knife jumps big, wrought-iron fence protecting the perimeter.

— Runs into the White House’s north door, outside of which someone is supposed to be standing guard but isn’t.

— Overpowers a woman Secret Service agent inside the door and tears into the East Room, (where President Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden).

— Scurries toward the Green Room, where he is finally overpowered before entering.

If you want a detailed look at “Omar’s Great Adventure,” check out this New York Times graphic. It will leave you shaking your head, just like every other aspect of this incident.


To me, these are the most troubling aspects of this sorry episode:

1) It raises the question of  whether the Secret Service can be trusted to do the jobs it’s supposed to do — protect the president, his family and other top government officials.

2) It exposes the Secret Service and the White House as liars for initially withholding the details of the encroachment and blatantly downplaying it. (It was clear the details were going to emerge, so why not be transparent from the outset?)

3) It  probably screwed the pooch for people like us, who, every once in a while, like to view the White House from the fence.

Let me start with the last point first.

I was in Washington in May — for the first time in more than 40 years — and had never seen the White House, so that was a definite goal. It was much harder to get to the fence than I imagined. Parking near the White House is impossible, understandably, so I was hoofing it, along with thousands of other tourists. Even after getting within a few blocks, it took me a good 20 to 30 minutes to wend my way to the fence, following the prescribed and allowed route.

Once at the fence, I felt like I had climbed Mount Everest. I held onto the iron pickets and, for several minutes, took in the view of the beautiful, expansive lawn and the sparkling-white White House. Before leaving, I put my camera between the iron pickets and snapped several frames. (See photo below left.)


I relate that experience because I think the next time I try to see the White House up close, things will be a lot different. I suspect that there will be a much larger perimeter fence around the White House fence and that I will have to empty my pockets, maybe take off my shoes and go through a metal detector — or at least be wanded — before being admitted to the area between the outer fence and the real fence.

…All because the Secret Service is so screwed up that it can’t even stop a guy at the front door of what is supposed to be the most secure house in the country.


Back to the first point – whether the Secret Service is fit to do its job — Secret Service Director Julia Pierson this morning told a congressional committee that “what happened is unacceptable and it will never happen again.”

That’s her prediction. Mine is that Ms. Pierson, who has headed the service since March 2013, won’t be around to see the upcoming overhaul of the agency.

The New York Times reported that Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, today questioned the “competence and culture” of the Secret Service, saying:

“I hate to even imagine what could have happened if Gonzalez had been carrying a gun instead of a knife when he burst inside the White House. That possibility is extremely unsettling.”

Obama and his family were not at the White House at the time, but if they had been, it’s not out of the question that Gonzalez could have confronted Obama or a member of the First Family. When we are in our homes after all, we are constantly moving around our houses. This house just happens to be bigger than most.  

In any event, I feel confident that the thought of a Gonzalez-Obama encounter guarantees that Ms. Pierson will not stay on as director.


And finally the lying.

In an interview last week, Pierson told The Times, “It’s unacceptable to me that Mr. Gonzalez was able to penetrate the North Portico door.”

The Times went on to say:

“Ms. Pierson did not reveal in that interview that Mr. Gonzalez made it far past the front door, overpowered an agent inside the building, ran through the ceremonial East Room and was stopped just before entering the Green Room, a small parlor along the south side of the White House.

“Other Secret Service officials had told reporters that Mr. Gonzalez was tackled just inside the North Portico doors, and White House officials made no effort to correct that record last week during repeated questioning about the incident.”

That is ridiculous. It raises even deeper questions, not only about the Secret Service but also about Obama’s apparent willingness to conceal the details of a frightening incident of extreme public interest.

Proof of that extreme public interest is that The Times’ story about the extent of Gonzalez’ encroachment had drawn more than 650 comments as of this morning.

One of those commenters — a man who identified himself only as Dean — wrote the following:

“Clean house. Keep the Secret Service agents who do a good job on the personal details (specific protective assignments) and let Marines guard the White House and its ground.”

Sounds like a good plan to me.

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From the blatant greed of payday lenders, we jump to the story of two girls in Grand Prairie, Texas, who, from their inherent kindness, turned what was meant to be a cruel joke into a heartfelt tribute to friendship.

As The Star’s Lisa Gutierrez reports on kansascity.com today, “some mean girls at Grand Prairie High School in North Texas thought it would be funny to make their classmate, Lillian Skinner, think that she had been nominated for homecoming queen.”

Now, Lillian is sometimes called Chucky because she has big-gapped, buck teeth. That, I guess, is why the other girls thought it would be amusing to make Lillian the object of a derisive hoax.

But two friends of Lillian — girls who had been friends of hers since the seventh grade and who were nominated for homecoming queen — upended the joke. Upon learning of the mean plot, Anahi Alvaraz and Naomi Martinez made a pact that if either of them was named homecoming queen at halftime of a football game, they would give the crown to Lillian.

And that’s just what happened at halftime of a Sept. 12 high school football game. Anahi and Naomi had enlisted the assistance of school principal Lorimer Arendse, who had brought Lillian onto the field to take photos of the event. And as soon as Anahi was announced as the winner, she beckoned Lillian to her side and placed the homecoming crown on her head.

The stadium announcer, also in on the plan, said: “Lillian Skinner, please step forward and accept this honor.”

Lillian, of course, was flabbergasted. “Really? Wow!” she said, describing her reaction to a TV reporter later.

Arendse, the principal, was rightly proud of Anahi and Naomi and greatly touched by their act of kindness. “In all my time in school, this is probably the greatest moment I’ve ever experienced as a principal,” he said.


The greatest irony of this story, to me, is that the girls who intended to make sport of Lillian got it all wrong, because Lillian really is beautiful. She has long red hair, beaming eyes and an irresistible smile. She also appears to be self-confident and wise beyond her years.

This video that goes with this report tells the whole, wonderful story. Warning: it will make you cry. But happily.

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From the details in a Pitch story out today, it appears that nooses are tightening around the necks of Tim Coppinger and some of his fellow payday loan operators.

The Pitch article was written and reported by David Hudnall, who has been all over this story since breaking it open late last year.

In today’s story he described the scene Sept. 10, when U.S. Marshals, local law enforcement officers, and a temporary receiver appointed by a federal judge entered the Mission offices of Coppinger’s business.

The story says:

Larry Cook, the temporary receiver, ordered all employees present to step away from their desks. Photos and video were taken of the premises. Employees submitted to in-depth interviews and filled out questionnaires about their roles in the company. All items in the office that could contain information about the business — desktop computers, laptops, filing cabinets, phones — were seized.

“Tim Coppinger, whom investigators say owns CWB Services, was served papers informing him that the Federal Trade Commission had filed a civil lawsuit charging him with operating a payday-lending scheme. Every bank account on which Coppinger was a signatory — CWB Services accounts, other business accounts, his personal accounts, his family members’ accounts — was frozen.”

Authorities also changed the locks at a Prairie Village office from which a guy named Ted Rowland (full name, Frampton T. Rowland III) allegedly assisted Coppinger.

At yet a third venue, in Waldo, “the feds were unplugging computers and confiscating documents at the headquarters of the Hydra Group, a separate payday-lending scheme.” The Pitch said that the operators of that business — Richard F. Moseley Sr., Richard F. Moseley Jr. and Christopher Randazzo — “suddenly found their credit cards not functioning.”

I don’t know about you but I find all that satisfyingly funny: The scammers, who had probably convinced themselves they could outsmart the law, got their noses tweaked. And they’re probably not going to be breathing through their nostrils for quite a while.

The “raids” took place because federal government agencies filed civil lawsuits against the two operations — Coppinger/Rowland and Moseley/Moseley/Randazzo — alleging that they were breaking several federal laws and harming consumers. (I emphasize that these are civil lawsuits, which could involve fines, restitution and closure orders, but no jail or prison time.)

The defendants were caught unawares because a U.S. District Court judge had sided with the agencies’ contention that giving advance notice of the lawsuits to the defendants would give them a chance to transfer and conceal their assets.

So, this was a surprise party where, I’m sure, Tim Coppinger and the others didn’t break out the hats and hooters.



Coppinger, in 2010 photo, holding a trophy for winning a poker tournament at St. Ann’s Catholic Church

Now, I don’t know anything about any of the defendants except Coppinger. As I said in my previous post, I have never met him, to the best of my knowledge, but I do know his parents, who are mainstay parishioners at Visitation Catholic Church.

When I first heard from a couple of neighbors that Tim Coppinger and two members of another standout Visitation family — Vince and Chris Hodes — were involved in the payday loan business, I could hardly believe it. but then I started seeing the stories in the Pitch and later The Star.

Maybe I’m naive, but I’m still kind of dumbfounded. I do not understand why these boys (and they are still boys to me; I’m essentially of their parents’ generation) would go down that road, when there were plenty of other ways they probably could have made good money, given their educations and family names. Their alleged actions also fly in the face of Catholic doctrine, which holds that Catholics have an obligation to reach out and help the poor.

But, like I said in my previous post, greed is one of  Seven Deadly Sins…and it didn’t make the list by default.

In a Sept. 15 article in The Star, federal courts reporter Mark Morris, told readers just how lucrative this payday lending business can be:

“Those companies (Coppinger’s and Rowland”s) allegedly made about $28 million in payday loans over one 11-month period, “extracting” more than $46.5 million in return, according to federal court records.”

The lawsuit naming Coppinger and Rowland alleged that “defendants’ tactics serve the single purpose of bilking cash-strapped consumers out of as much money as possible.”

I just don’t know how you rationalize that. But if you’re a Coppinger or a Hodes you have to rationalize it because if you were honest about it, you would rain shame down not only on yourselves but on your families.

But right now it looks now like the rain is falling pretty hard.


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Take a look at this photo of a former choir boy…Well, actually, I don’t know if he was a choir boy but I do know that he was once a student at Visitation Grade School and later Rockhurst High School and is from a highly regarded Visitation family.

As an adult, however, he has been neck deep in the payday loan business.


Tim Coppinger, in photo from Visitation Catholic Church 1985 directory

At least two other former Visitation boys, Vince and Chris Hodes, have also been involved in that seamy business.

I’ve been asking myself how does this equate — kids from bedrock Visitation families going into the business of making fortunes at the expense of poor people?

I understand that greed is one of the Seven Deadly Sins and that it can strike anyone. But it’s still hard for me to reconcile.

For the record, I don’t think I’ve ever met any of the three; I’m at least 20 years older than they are. But I am familiar with their parents. Tim Coppinger’s father is a respected physician, now mostly retired; his mother an anchor at Visitation Church. The Hodes family has a very successful plumbing supply business, now owned and operated by a third-generation family member.

Several members of the Hodes family have been major contributors to Visitation Church, particularly to a $13-million-plus renovation and expansion of the church, 51st and Main, about 10 years ago.

Two sources told me that Tim Coppinger contributed the money several years ago for construction of a new running track — Coppinger Family Track — at St. Teresa’s Academy, 55th and Main.

My guess is that ill-gotten money paid for that track. And, to me, that raises a secondary issue: Did the St. Teresa’s administration and board of directors know how Tim Coppinger had made his money? If so, did they ever consider rejecting the money?

Earlier this week, a Kansas City Star editorial made note of the “awkward twist” through which some of the dirty money was later directed to philanthropic causes.


Tim Coppinger is now a defendant in a Federal Trade Communication lawsuit that says he and another man, Frampton T. Rowland III, were in the business of “bilking cash-strapped consumers out of as much money as possible.”

In recently unsealed court filings, the FTC alleges that Coppinger and Rowland used personal financial information about people to make phony loans that consumers hadn’t agreed  to — and that some had never applied for. The defendants then made one-time electronic deposits in the “borrowers” bank accounts and began debiting the accounts indefinitely for biweekly “finance charges” of $60 to $90. But the principal amount — usually $150 to $300 — never went away, according to the lawsuit.

Then, there are the Hodes brothers.

In a December 2013 story, the Pitch said that Vince Hodes led an outfit called the Vianney Fund, which in 2010 sought $20 million from investors, with a $100,000 minimum buy-in.

The Pitch quoted the firm’s initial offering as saying, in part:

“We intend to focus the majority of the Company’s efforts and investments on funding loans to payday-lending companies in both the retail and Internet markets. However, the Company may also extend credit to other Subprime Borrowers, including check-cashing, rent-to-own, subprime mortgage, and pawn shops.”

“In other words,” The Pitch concluded, “Vianney is an equal-opportunity exploiter of poor people.”

Here’s what that same Pitch story said about Chris Hodes:

“From a Brookside building at 601 East 63rd Street, he presides over a variety of hard-to-pin-down companies. Based on lawsuits filed in recent years, he is likely very much immersed in the online lending industry.

“In 2010, the Arkansas Attorney General sued Arrowhead Investments and Galaxy Marketing, as well as Christopher Hodes (whom it alleged to be the controller of these two companies), for lending over the Internet to Arkansans at interest rates of 782 percent. Arkansas law caps consumer lending rates at 17 percent. The companies settled and promised not to lend in the state again.”

Seven-hundred eighty-two percent!


I brought up these guys’ family backgrounds because that is a significant part of the disconnect. Also, this isn’t just any parish, it’s Visitation, one of the wealthiest parishes per capita in the Kansas City area, and certainly the wealthiest per capita in the city.

I understand that parents cannot be held responsible for what their adult children do, but I wonder what the parents think about these particular sons’ notions of “success.”

Let’s make one thing, clear, though: These men are an embarrassment to their families, to Visitation and to their community.

That same KC Star editorial said:

“To its chagrin, the Kansas City area has become a hotbed for abusive online payday loan operations…payday loan operations are toxic enterprises, and it’s to Kansas City’s detriment that they received the financial and technical support to thrive here.”

It couldn’t have been done without the willing participation of people who tossed aside their moral compasses for the sake of many big paydays. Now, as governments move in to put a stop to their wrongdoings, let them bask in shame.


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I am thrilled to see that the speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives has appointed a special, bipartisan committee to review the 2011 merger between the Missouri Water Patrol and the Highway Patrol.

Laura Bauer reported in The Star Tuesday afternoon that House Speaker Tim Jones, a Republican from Eureka, had decided to appoint the committee after three legislators from the Lake of the Ozarks area approached Jones’ office about the need for the committee after the May 31 drowning of Brandon Ellingson.

The committee, Bauer said, “will gather information on how the patrol’s water division is now managed as well as scrutinize how much training troopers receive to work the water — both those assigned to waterways full time and part time. And it will determine whether the merger has been cost effective.”

“We now have to question whether this merger has put our hard-working patrol officers in a position where they can effectively maintain the public’s safety on our waterways,” Bauer quoted Jones as saying in a news release.

Well, thank God someone is responding to the pressure that Bauer has brought by hammering the Highway Patrol and the governor’s office in story after story the last few weeks.

That pressure has been augmented, of course, by what looks like tens of thousands of people — mostly Iowans, like 20-year-old Ellingson — demanding a thorough and accurate review that brings to light the whole truth about the events leading up to Ellingson’s death May 31 while in the custody of Highway Patrolman Anthony Piercy.

The political pressure is growing at the U.S. Senate level, too.

Bauer’s report said that Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, had released this statement to The Star:

“Whenever a citizen dies while in the custody of law enforcement, it deserves to be closely reviewed by the appropriate authorities. That would include the Department of Justice, if it appears that any federal laws were broken.”

As the drum covers tighten, one person has conspicuously remained mum, apparently hoping that a recent whitewashing of the case by the Morgan County coroner’s office will stand firm against a storm of criticism.

That person, of course, is Gov. Jay Nixon, whom we might as well start calling Governor Tinny.


nixon1Nixon got a good start on earning that name when he belatedly went to Ferguson, MO, and tried to read from carefully prepared, dry scripts, when the situation cried out for real human emotion and engagement.

But I began wondering years ago about his ability to engage. The only time I met him was at a campaign stop in 2008, when he was first running for governor. If I’ve told this story before, please stop me…Oh, never mind, I’m going to tell it anyway…I either introduced myself or someone introduced me to Nixon as he was waiting to speak at an outdoor event. As we shook hands, he appeared to be preoccupied and didn’t give me two seconds of real attention. Nevertheless, I offered a light-hearted, funny remark — can’t remember what it was; you’ll just have to trust me that it was funny — but it was obvious that my words weren’t registering in the cerebral cortex. I walked away, still smiling, but half puzzled and half pissed off.

In light of that strange encounter and his performance in Ferguson, it doesn’t surprise me that Governor Tinny has curled up in his gubernatorial cocoon, hoping that winter will get here very soon and he can hibernate until spring.

Even Rep. Diane Franklin, a Camdenton Republican who will head the committee that Jones established, put a proverbial pin under Nixon’s skin about his silence on the Ellingson case.

“I would think he (Nixon) would be giving what his concerns are and how he would be addressing them,” Franklin told Bauer. “And be taking a second look perhaps at (the merger) — I guess we’re going to do that.”


You know what, though? In truth, Nixon has waited so long to say something that he’d just embarrass himself by saying anything at this point. Even if he summoned up an eloquent and genuine apology to Ellingson’s parents, Sherry and Craig Ellingson of Clive, IA, most people’s reaction would be, “Where you been, bub?”

So just stay in your office, Jay, and enjoy your last two years years in public office as best you can.

Somebody take this guy’s picture; he’s gone.

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In reading The Star and The New York Times, I’m always on the lookout for examples of insightful writing and felicitous phrasing.

Here are three examples I have come across in the last few days.



The first comes from David Carr, The Times’ chief media reporter and columnist. He had an excellent online column about the impact of the TMZ video of Baltimore Ravens’ star Ray Rice punching and knocking out his then-girlfriend, now-wife Janay Palmer.

Carr opened the column this way:

“The N.F.L., arguably the three most powerful letters in branding, bumped into three other letters — TMZ — and was thrown for a huge loss.”

It’s hard for a reader to resist a concise, catchy beginning like that, and I’m sure that the vast majority of readers who started that column stayed with Carr until the end.

And here’s how he wrapped it up:

“The influence of a site that was initially named after the Thirty Mile Zone — a shorthand used by the industry to describe the area around Hollywood — has grown to the 3,000-mile zone, a countrywide reach. There’s a reason for that. All the world’s a stage, as Shakespeare pointed out, and all the men and women merely players — they have their exits and their entrances, and by now we can be pretty sure that those players will be known, their deeds will become legend and consequences will ensue.”

It’s a beautiful thing, isn’t it — writing like that, as well as the proliferation of video that is putting the lie to many high-profile people’s attempts to explain away reprehensible speech and behavior?


Sometimes a pathetic, losing, sports team offers richer prose opportunities than teams that customarily win.

Take Kansas City Star sportswriter Rustin Dodd’s account of the Duke Blue Devils’ 41-3 trouncing of the KU football team on Saturday:

“From a bookkeeping standpoint, it was the Jayhawks’ 25th straight loss on the road…But at this point, those are just numbers, like a metronome that keeps count of the program’s disarray.”

“Like a metronome…” What a wonderful, descriptive simile.

And here’s Dodd again, later in the same story:

“The Jayhawks, of course, entered the day as a double-digit underdog, so the fact they left Wallace Wade Stadium with a loss was not stunning. But this was a dumpster fire, the latest sign that the Kansas football program is not moving forward. If (Coach Charlie) Weis wanted to offer promise after two underwhelming seasons, if Kansas wanted to prove it was ready to make progress, if Kansas fans were ready to stem the tide of jokes and snark that flood the internet every Saturday, this was certainly not it.”

“Dumpster fire.” To me, that’s so funny it makes the loss worthwhile.


William Yardley of The Times recently wrote one of the most incredible obituaries I have ever seen. It was on Bob Crewe, a song producer and writer for Franki Valli and the Four Seasons.

Even though I have long been a big Four Seasons fan, I had never heard of Bob Crewe. Yardley’s obituary made me wish I had been aware of Crewe long ago.


1967 photo by Getty Images that ran with The New York Times’ obit on Bob Crewe, right, with Franki Valli and the other members of the Four Seasons.


Here’s how Yardley led off the obituary:

“Bob Crewe, who helped create a parade of indelible pop music hits, most notably for Franki Valli and the Four Seasons, including “Sherry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Rag Doll” and Mr. Valli’s soaring anthem of adoration “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” died on Thursday in Scarborough, Me. He was 83.”

Personally, I couldn’t take my eyes off the phrase “soaring anthem of adoration.” They comprise a singular, dead-on description of that song, which even most millennials are probably familiar with.

Later in the obit, Yardley goes on to describe the song’s magic:

“Few of Mr. Crewe’s songs are more enduring than ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,’ which Mr. Valli recorded as a solo artist and which rose to No. 2 in 1967. Mr. Crewe, the producer, wrote the lyrics…The song begins with a whisper:

You’re just too good to be true

Can’t take my eyes off of you.

You’d be like heaven to touch

I want to hold you so much

At long last love has arrived

And I thank God I’m alive.

You’re just too good to be true

Can’t take eyes my off of you.

Then it bursts into the chorus:

I love you, baby

And if it’s quite all right

I need you, baby,

To warm the lonely night

I love you, baby

Trust in me when I say

Oh pretty baby…”

…I was almost in a trance after reading those words with the music running through in my head. And when I was finished reading, I jumped onto the Internet and YouTube to find that song, to hear that anthem of adoration again.

And now, lest you dismiss me as a perverse tease…here’s that song…

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Oh, shit.

That was my first reaction when I saw, minutes ago, that Missouri Highway/Water Patrol Trooper Anthony Piercy referred to drowning victim Brandon Ellingson as a “bastard” when telling a supervisor how the drowning occurred.

Of all the things that Piercy did wrong in arresting Ellingson May 31 at the Lake of the Ozarks, calling him a bastard after the fact could be the worst.

It’s certainly a knife in the hearts of Ellingson’s parents, Sherry and Craig Ellingson of the West Des Moines area.

I should say…another knife in their hearts. This one just has an extra twist to it.

The last couple of days, The Star’s Laura Bauer has been poring through more than 400 pages of documents and several videos of conversations and interviews that the Highway Patrol finally handed over to her after weeks of stonewalling.

Before I give you the context of the “bastard” reference, I want to say that The Star should submit Bauer’s stories — probably more than 20 by now — to the Pulitzer committee.

Because of her coverage, the story has gone from the initial account of the 20-year-old victim possibly jumping into the water voluntarily to Piercy…

— putting the wrong type of life jacket on him after cuffing his hands behind his back

— getting irritated at Ellingson’s friends, who were nearby at the start of the arrest

— failing to secure Ellingson in the boat

— roaring away from the arrest site at speeds of up to more than 40 miles and hour, then slowing down when he hit high waves

— seeing Ellingson’s feet go into the water, after his body

— trying, with little urgency, to fish Ellingson out of the water with a pole

— jumping in and trying unsuccessfully to save him when it was too late

And now this, calling Ellingson a bastard in a telephone conversation with a supervisor about an hour after the drowning.

The Star first posted the story with this latest development at 3:25 p.m. today and updated it at 9:52.

The story says that the recently released final investigative report includes many conversations Piercy had that were captured on cameras from patrol boats that responded to the incident. “In those talks,” the story says, “he detailed everything from how intoxicated Ellingson was and how he tried to rescue the college student to his own speculation on how much trouble he was in.”

Here’s the kick in the stomach. In a taped, six-minute phone conversation with Cpl. David Echternacht, Piercy said, among other things, that he was physically exhausted from jumping into the lake to try to save Ellingson and nearly drowned himself.

He went on to say:

“I’m banged up a little bit, but I’m all right. I don’t know if I’m sore from treading water with the bastard, but I just feel spent. … I thought I had run a marathon.”

He’s sore, he’s wiped out. Oh, gosh…At the same time, a fine young man who happened to make a mistake by getting drunk and then getting behind the wheel of his father’s boat was lying dead at the bottom of 69 feet of water.

Later in the conversation, Piercy refers to Ellingson as “the poor bastard” — that time, at least, indicating some remorse that the young man lost his life.

Nevertheless, let’s set the record straight right here, right now: The bastard was not Brandon Ellingson, it was Anthony Piercy and only Anthony Piercy.


The most prolific commenter to this blog, John Altevogt, a Wyandotte County, Kansas, resident, has been calling for the U.S. Department of Justice to review the Ellingson case.

Until tonight, I had thought that was very unlikely. But with Piercy’s oral degrading of a young man who just died while in his care and custody, I think Altevogt just might be onto something.

Des Moines attorney Matt Boles, who is representing Ellingson’s family, said he believed a review by the U.S. attorney’s office was a possibility. Bauer quoted him as saying, “I do not believe at this point that anyone can definitively say this is done.”

The only positive development in recent days, as reported by Bauer, is that Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. Ronald K. Repogle expressed his condolences to the Ellingson family and said his agency was reviewing all policies and procedures.

Bauer didn’t specifically say so, but I presume that includes state officials’ decision a few years ago to combine the Highway Patrol and the Water Patrol.

Piercy, an 18-year veteran of the patrol, was starting his second season of water duty. His primary responsibility was highway patrol duty.

Replogle told Bauer that since Ellingson’s drowning, highway troopers who had been working part time on the lake have not been permitted to patrol on the water by themselves.

Well, thank God for that, and thank God that Repogle will review the water-highway patrol merger. Reversing that decision seems like a foregone conclusion. It also seems like a foregone conclusion that Anthony Piercy is not long for the Highway Patrol.

Finally, if you’ve been reading my posts on this story, you know I’ve been giving Gov. Jay Nixon holy hell for not reaching out to the Ellingson family and for not ordering a review of the water-highway patrol decision.

Now, more than ever, this situation cries out for Nixon to go to Clive, IA, where Ellingson’s parents live, and extend his condolences personally. He needs to go there with his big, fat governor’s hat in his hand and say, “On behalf of my state, I am so sorry.”

As I said, I put a call in yesterday to Nixon’s chief spokesman, Scott Holste, to try to find out what, if anything, the governor planned to do about this case. As I expected, I have not received a return call.

…My number is still good, Scott. Call me any time.

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We all know that speed kills on the roads, but a newly released video from the Missouri Highway Patrol clearly shows that speed, combined with recklessness by a highway patrol officer on water duty at the Lake of the Ozarks, killed 20-year-old Brandon Ellingson.

Early this morning, The Kansas City Star posted a two-minute, three-second video that attempts to recreate the wild, fatal, May 31 boat ride that Trooper Anthony Piercy gave Ellingson minutes after placing Ellingson under arrest for boating while intoxicated.

To me, this video is absolutely terrifying, but I urge you to watch it. A trooper who is playing the role of Ellingson directed the re-creation, telling the driver how fast to go and where to drive the boat. The video shows that, because of the height and shallowness of the boat seat, the trooper has to half sit and half stand to the right of the driver, who has a similar, high-rise, cutout-type seat.

During the recreated ride, the driver hits speeds of more than 40 miles an hour — as Piercy did — and the trooper who is playing the role of Ellingson holds on tightly throughout the high-speed part of the ride. With his right hand, the trooper grasps a vertical metal post that supports the top of the boat. With his left hand, he holds onto a small grab bar affixed to the back of the seat.

And even though he is anchored with his right and left hands — front and back — the trooper bounces and rocks as the boat races through the water, especially when it hits rough water.

It’s unsettling enough to watch this with the trooper holding on as he did. But imagine what it would be like to be in that trooper’s position with your hands tied behind your back! That’s the way it was the day that Ellingson died in Piercy’s custody: Piercy had cuffed his hands behind his back.

As a result, Ellingson would not have been able to grab the post that the trooper held onto. Moreover, it would have been very difficult, or even impossible, for Ellingson to grasp the short grab bar behind his seat. Even if he could have reached it, he probably would have had to stand up because, like I said, the bar is behind the passenger seat.

And, again, Ellingson did not have the benefit of an anchored chair or even a low bench, which would have put him lower in the boat and enabled him to brace himself with his legs.

Tellingly, in the video, the trooper playing the role of Ellingson can be heard noting that while he is seated, his feet are dangling above the floor of the boat. It seems to me that to have any leverage whatsoever, Ellingson would have had to stand up and lean back against the seat. In any event, his position would have been precarious.

With the benefit of the video, I’m convinced, more than ever, that Piercy, while going way too fast, hit a big wave, bouncing Ellingson right out of the boat.

The trooper told one investigator that he didn’t see what happened to Ellingson — that he turned and saw Ellingson’s feet going into the water. The reason Piercy didn’t see what happened, in my opinion, is that he had his hands full trying to maintain control of the boat in rocky waters. He managed to control the boat, but he lost his passenger…and his passenger lost his life.


At a coroner’s inquest last week — an inquest carefully orchestrated by the county coroner and perhaps other officials — the question of how fast Piercy was going did not come up. Never was mentioned. Piercy testified at length, but he was not asked, and did not offer, how fast he was going. As far as the six-member jury was concerned, he could have been going 15 to 20 miles an hour — which is about how fast he should have been going with a handcuffed, inebriated passenger who was at his mercy.

The Star has reported that records show Piercy was going 39.1 to 43.7 mph just before Ellingson went overboard. Ridiculous. Moronic.

Of course, driving too fast wasn’t Piercy’s only mistake; he also had put the wrong type of life jacket on Ellingson and put it on over his head, already buckled, when it should have gone through his arms…Predictably. the jacket came off shortly after Ellingson went into the water.

Remember, too, this is an officer whose experience was, for the most part, on the roads. He was working his second season on the lake. Plus, he was pissed off, apparently because, before he took off, one of Ellingson’s buddies jumped in the water and tossed onto the trooper’s boat a card bearing the rights of a suspect being placed under arrest.

So, what you had on May 31 was a trooper with a corn cob up his ass, driving way too fast, and seemingly not the least bit concerned about the well-being of his passenger.


After less than eight minutes of deliberation, a jury of Ozarks residents concluded that Ellingson’s death was accidental. A special prosecutor concurred and declined to file charges. The prosecutor, Amanda Grellner, said that in her opinion Piercy was negligent but not criminally reckless. The Star’s Barbara Shelly called the whole thing a whitewash.

In light of the video, I think this case borders on involuntary manslaughter. I think Piercy was, indeed, criminally reckless. I don’t know if an involuntary manslaughter charge would stick, but it is unequivocal that Anthony Piercy’s stupidity on several fronts caused Brandon Ellingson’s death.



There’s one other infuriating aspect to this case. Gov. Jay Nixon hasn’t had one word to say about it publicly. As far as I know, he hasn’t expressed his condolences to Brandon’s parents, Craig and Sherry Ellingson, who live in the West Des Moines area. Nixon hasn’t even said whether he will reconsider the decision a few years ago to merge the Missouri Water Patrol and the Highway Patrol.

Our governor has secreted himself in his office, just like he tried to do with the Ferguson blow-up, and has offered nothing to the public or the Ellingson family.

That is disgraceful, and, as a Missourian, I am embarrassed.

As many of you know, I am an experienced political activist. I promise you this: If Jay Nixon runs for another elective post, I will be working against him and contributing to whichever opponent I decide on.

Jay Nixon must go.

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In the era we’re living in, no institution, no particular business and no pastime seems securely anchored.

If four of a dozen Atlantic City casinos close, it means casino gambling is in trouble.

If stalwart newspapers like The Kansas City Star, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and The New York Times shed hundreds of employees in the space of several years and their advertising revenue plummets, the newspaper business is a shell of its former self.

And if the National Football League turns away in the face of players abusing their wives and girlfriends — and if scores of former players are walking around with badly damaged brains — even pro football could find itself on the ropes.

Now, I don’t care about casino gambling, so that pending crisis doesn’t bother me a bit. And having had a front-seat view of the newspaper business’s ebbing fortunes, I’m pretty much inured to that business’s predicament. (God help The New York Times, though, because I’ve got a significant stock-market bet on its ability to figure out how to succeed in the Internet Era.)

But this National Football League mess…whoa, that is an eye-opener.

As I was watching the Royals’ game tonight (“Big Game” James came through again!), I saw the NFL headlines scrolling along the bottom of the screen.

In addition to the newly released video of former Ravens player Ray Rice sucker punching and knocking out his then-girlfriend in a hotel elevator, the “screen crawler” carried more bad news: San Diego Chargers’ center Nick Hardwick is out for the year with a neck injury, and John Abraham, a “sack” artist for the Arizona Cardinals, is out for the season — and maybe forever — because, at 36 years of age, he is suffering from “severe memory loss.”

Thirty-six and his memory is shot!!! Holy shit, I wasn’t even married at 36…


Personally, I am going to try to not watch one minute of any Chiefs’ game this season. I’m off to a good start because last weekend I was in Louisville, Ky., for my 50th high school reunion and wasn’t the least bit tempted to even try to find out the score of the Chiefs’ game. (What? You say they lost and their best defensive player is out for the year with an ACL tear? I can hardly believe it.)

Over the years, I’ve gradually lost interest in the Chiefs, not just because of their string of bad years but also because the game-day atmosphere at Arrowhead — set by ill-mannered drunks, for the most part — has degenerated so badly.

I used to go to one game a year, but last year, for the first time, I didn’t go to any. And now, with the head injuries and the league’s mishandling of the Rice case, I’m ready to give the NFL the boot. I don’t know exactly what I’ll do on all those upcoming, cold November and December Sundays, but I guess I’ll start by going to even more women’s college basketball games than I do now.

You can put me in the same corner as Steve Almond, a Massachusetts-based writer who, in August, wrote an article titled “Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto.” In the article, Almond argues that the sport “legitimizes and even fosters within us a tolerance for violence, greed, racism, and homophobia.”

“If you really look at football, it’s very troubling on a whole bunch of levels,” he said. “I believe we’re at a moral crossroads, but change is gradual.”

A Boston Globe story about Almond’s boycott and the growing concerns about pro football quoted a fan named Irving Kurki, who said he’d come to the realization that “it’s wrong to be entertained by a process whereby people are injured and their lifespans are shortened.”

Kurki told The Globe that so far he had not suffered from withdrawal. “I was a smoker once, too, and I gave that up,” he said.

Well, I gave up cigars more than a year ago. Plus, being a former Catholic, I didn’t eat meat on Fridays during Lent for many years.

So, I’m steeled and braced. Put me on the bench, coach, I’m ready to sit out.







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I could be wrong but I have very low expectations for the coroner’s inquest that will take place tomorrow, Thursday, in Versailles, MO, regarding the drowning death of Brandon Ellingson.

In all my years in journalism, I never witnessed a coroner’s inquest, but, nevertheless,  and I can’t imagine any startling revelations or determinations coming out of the one tomorrow.

As The Star’s Laura Bauer said in her back-to-back, front-page Sunday stories, six jurors will hear testimony, and they will be asked to determine the manner in which Ellingson died.

The Morgan County prosecutor, Dustin G. Dunklee, will take the jury’s determination under advisement and decide whether charges should be filed.

M.B. Jones, Morgan County coroner, told Bauer that the inquest would serve as an independent review of the case. Among the issues likely to be addressed, he said, were the type of life vest that Highway Patrol Officer Anthony Piercy used and how he put it on Ellingson. (He used the wrong kind and put it on incorrectly.)

Jones said jurors will likely hear more about the Highway Patrol’s water-safety protocols and procedures.

There are three reasons I’m not optimistic about the jury getting to the bottom of the case.


Dustin Dunklee

First, this is strictly a local affair where most of the players know one another. The jurors, who have already been chosen, may well know one another. This is a county of about 20,000 residents, so nothing like Jackson County’s 674,000. The prosecutor, Dunklee, is a local lawyer who was elected in 2010. He’s probably in his upper 30s and most likely has never been involved in a case of this magnitude. Moreover, Trooper Piercy has a higher-than-average profile locally, having been on the school board of the Morgan County R-II district since 2012.

Second, Jones, the coroner, hinted at a foregone conclusion in a quote he gave to Bauer:

“That boy shouldn’t have died. We can’t bring him back, but maybe we can make changes.”

I don’t know about you but it sounds to me like Jones thinks has already concluded it was an accident and that if Piercy was guilty of negligence, it didn’t rise to the criminal level.

Third, it appears that there were no witnesses to contradict Piercy’s assertion that Ellingson stood up, moved toward the side of the patrol boat and either fell or jumped into the water, as Piercy zipped along at who-knows-how-many-miles-per-hour over choppy waters.

(Side note here: I don’t know if Piercy is going to testify — Jones has said he intends to call four witnesses — but if he doesn’t, you can write the inquest off as a total whitewash.)

At least one of Ellingson’s parents, father Craig, told Bauer he planned to attend the inquest.

“These jurors, they need to put themselves in my place,” he told Bauer. “Would they want their son put in a boat like that, be treated like that?”

I think these jurors, while they might want to put themselves in Craig Ellingson’s place, will be more inclined to protect their own. This is the Ozarks; these folks stick together.

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