A state House committee review of the merger of the state Water Patrol with the Highway Patrol begins Wednesday.
Two members of that committee are former law enforcement officers, who spoke with Missourinet about what the committee will, and won’t, look at in relation to the drowning of 20-year-old Brandon Ellingson while in Water Patrol custody in May.
That incident was not referenced in a media release announcing the formation of that committee, but Representatives Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhardt, and Don Phillips, R-Kimberling City, both say it was likely a catalyst. That announcement came just eight days after a special prosecutor said there would be no charges against Anthony Piercy, the trooper who took Ellingson into custody.
“It was kind of a preemptive for causing attention to be put on the merger,” says Phillips. “That particular incident, as unfortunate as it was, was a good portion of the reason why this is being looked at, but not for us to investigate it.”
Phillips and Roorda both say it isn’t the committee’s job to look for new evidence in that case. The training of Water Patrol troopers will be something the committee looks at, though, in part because Piercy, a former road trooper, told a coroner’s inquest that he didn’t feel he had received enough training before going out on the water.
Phillips wants to learn how training compares to what he went through en route to becoming a Highway Patrol trooper.
“Having gone through … a 26 week academy when I went through in 1978, I got some of the greatest training a person could ever have,” says Phillips. “I’m not sure, until I hear some of the testimony, what’s going on with that now when you have the option of going to the water from the road and visa-versa.”
Roorda believes when legislative committees go looking for who is to blame for situations such as Ellingson’s drowning, lawmakers often learn they share part of the blame.
“A lot of times the answer is we are [to blame] for not fully funding the mission of our state agencies, and particularly the mission of our public safety agencies,” says Roorda. “If they didn’t get enough training it’s probably because we didn’t give them enough financial support to provide the training.”
Hearings are scheduled for Wednesday in the State Capitol and October 14 at the Osage Beach City Hall. The committee plans to have a report ready by the end of the year.