Members of a House Committee have heard from the state Highway Patrol about its merger with the Water Patrol nearly four years ago. Their main task is to study whether the merger has been successful, and whether it has saved the state any money.
Those members didn’t get to ask about the drowning of 20-year-old Brandon Ellingson while he was in the custody of the Water Patrol.
“Based on the advice of legal counsel and due to the probable pending civil litigations, we will not take questions today or make statements concerning the May 31, 2014 drowning death of Brandon Ellingson,” Highway Patrol Superintendent Ron Replogle told the committee in his opening statement.
Matthew Boles is an attorney for Ellingson’s father, Craig. He says it doesn’t matter if the Highway Patrol members testifying don’t talk about that drowning publicly because the information will come out.
“All of the documents that they are referencing are going to be discoverable. We are going to get an opportunity to depose all of these people, and we have a very, very good picture based upon eyewitness testimony, about what happened at the time of Brandon’s death,” says Boles.
The committee did take testimony regarding how Water Patrol troopers are trained; specifically those that once exclusively worked on the state’s highways. Trooper Anthony Piercy, who was the trooper that had Brandon Ellingson in custody when he died, told a coroner’s inquest last month that he hadn’t received enough training to make arrests on the water or conduct a rescue.
Piercy’s supervisor, Sergeant Randy Henry, told the committee some troopers who only work part of the time on the water receive sporadic field training after four weeks of classroom training.
“We may go a week and train a day or two with the guy, skip a week or two, train again. It was inconsistent training,” said Henry.
He described that field training as, “very, very minimal.”
Henry gave halting answers to some questions, saying at the outset of his testimony, “I’ve been instructed by legal counsel to watch where I go with this.”
Before the hearing began Replogle offered his condolences to Craig Ellingson, who said later it was the first time he had been apologized to.
He said based on what he heard in the hearing, he doesn’t think the Water Patrol and Highway Patrol merger has worked.
“You can just see that the guys don’t have the ability … the part-timers, I mean the guy that was out there part-time, which is Anthony Piercy, who was responsible for my son’s death, he was not trained properly,” Ellingson told reporters. “He needs to be charged with manslaughter.”
Boles said a civil suit will likely be filed before the committee completes its work later this year. Ellingson and his attorneys have also approached Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley and Missouri Senators Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt, asking that they help push for an investigation by the federal Justice Department.