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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Drowning of Handcuffed Suspect Still Baffles Family, Friends and Witnesses

Posted By on Wed, Feb 25, 2015 at 8:00 AM

Page 5 of 5

click to enlarge The cover of the February 26, 2015, Riverfront Times. - DANIEL ZENDER
  • Daniel Zender
  • The cover of the February 26, 2015, Riverfront Times.

In December the Ellingsons filed a federal lawsuit accusing Piercy of violating Brandon's constitutional rights by failing to outfit him with a proper lifejacket and allowing him to drown. The suit also charges ten high-ranking members of highway patrol and the coroner with conspiring to cover up information during the investigation. A second lawsuit filed in state court accuses the highway patrol's custodian of records of withholding information.

The lawsuits are "not something we're looking forward to," Craig Ellingson says. "I just want them to see how dirty it is down there. The public is not safe."

In recent months, several big names have also joined the Ellingsons' cause. Iowa governor Terry Branstad and U.S. Senator Charles Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, have pushed the Department of Justice to open a federal investigation. And in response U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder promised to personally review the case.

There are signs, too, that much of the general public is as upset as Brandon's family and friends. Of the ten most popular editorials published last year in the Des Moines Register, three were about Brandon. More than 130,000 people have signed a petition Brandon's mom launched that asks for a "full investigation" into her son's "tragic death." And a Facebook page titled "Justice for Brandon Ellingson" has nearly 10,000 fans.

Social-media commentary ratcheted up again in November when the highway patrol released transcripts of its officers' phone conversations in the aftermath of the drowning. Piercy can be heard referring to Brandon as a "little bastard" and suggesting he purposefully jumped off the boat. In another conversation with a dispatcher, a patrol commander joked that he wouldn't risk sending divers to recover the body that night because Brandon would be "no more dead in the morning" and requested that the dispatcher withhold information from her report about Piercy's mistakes.

"To Missouri law enforcement, this was apparently a laughing matter. Outrageous," wrote one Twitter user. "This broke my heart but true colors of this tragedy are slowly emerging," came another tweet carrying the hashtag #JusticeforBrandonEllingson.

Meanwhile, Larry Moreau continues his quest to deliver that justice. In November he and Paulette invited Morgan County's Grellner to lunch, and he says she told them she would take another look at the case. Just last month highway patrol officials re-interviewed the Moreaus, though it didn't go much better than the first round.

"I felt like I was trying to talk my way out of criminal charges," says Moreau. "They insinuated that I was being paid by the Ellingsons to do this. I kept telling them, 'I didn't see what happened here. I just know the version you guys are telling doesn't add up.'"

Still, Moreau hopes those interviews — and similar ones he's given to the media and anyone willing to listen these past nine months — won't be in vain.

"There's so many more people that know the truth," Moreau says, sighing. "The people who should have this information now have it, and can act accordingly. It's a huge weight off your shoulders."

Postscript: Earlier this month Piercy's superior, Sergeant Randy Henry, left a note on the Facebook page "Justice for Brandon Ellingson" hinting that new details could emerge in the future. "My main focus is, and has been from day one, to let this young man rest in peace, to clear his name, and to let the Ellingson family know exactly what happened before, during, and after that horrendous day," wrote Henry. "There are people in my inner circle who have the same feelings that we all have, and who I believe will step up when it's time to."

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