A bipartisan State House Committee has been formed that will investigate the state Highway Patrol’s Water Patrol Division. The group will look into the training received by troopers, the overall cost benefit to the state of the Water Patrol’s merger with the Highway Patrol in 2011, and the management of the division.
Though not specifically referenced in the media release announcing the committee, the drowning death of a handcuffed suspect in the custody of a Water Patrol trooper has generated recent interest in Water Patrol training practices.
20-year-old Brandon Ellingson had been arrested on May 31 on the Lake of the Ozarks on suspicion of boating while intoxicated. He was being transported to shore when he fell out of the Patrol boat. A life jacket that had been placed on him slipped off and Ellingson sank into the water and drowned.
The Trooper that arrested Ellingson, Anthony Piercy, testified in a coroner’s inquest that he wasn’t trained in how to make arrests on the water, how to put a life jacket on a suspect or what to do in a rescue situation. Piercy said he needed more training after converting from being a Highway Trooper.
How much the committee could delve into that particular situation is unclear, since it is still the subject of litigation.
The release says the committee will also look into whether the state is saving $3-million annually as the Nixon Administration projected when the governor signed legislation setting the merger in motion.
The office of House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, announced the committee and says it was formed at the request of Representatives Diane Franklin, R-Camdenton, Rocky Miller, R-Lake Ozark and David Wood, R-Versailles.
Franklin will chair the committee and Representative Don Phillips, R-Kimberling City, will co-chair. They will be joined by Republican state representative Todd Richardson of Poplar Bluff and Democratic state representatives Pat Conway of St. Joseph, Jeff Roorda of Barnhart and Clem Smith of Velda Village Hills.