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.