Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri (TFC) – Brandon Ellingson was 20 years old when he left a lakeside bar and headed out onto the waters of the Lake of the Ozarks. He was stopped by a cop for suspicion of being under the influence while boating. He was handcuffed with his hands behind his back, then an improper and unsecured life vest was tossed over his head. The arresting officer then sped off in a boat reaching speeds in excess of 43 miles per hour. Ellingson went overboard, the life vest came off, and he drowned. Brandon did not resist at any point. He was described as “being real nice and cooperative” by the arresting officer.
Sgt. Randy Henry spoke out and publicly criticized the training officers received in front of lawmakers attempting to get to the bottom of the incident. Big surprise, the thin blue line in Missouri closed ranks and he’s been demoted and transferred. The department tried to discredit him by sending him for a mental fitness exam two times, even though they couldn’t tell his lawyer why a 29-year veteran was being forced to undergo the exam. Finally, the psychologist reportedly told the department to stop sending him after clearing him the second time. He’s being villainized by the department almost as if he had been the officer that killed someone.
The community isn’t taking this lying down and is organizing to help defend the embattled officer. A fundraiser has been set up to assist Sgt. Henry with legal fees related to providing testimony that will be beneficial to the victim’s family in a federal court.
Sgt. Henry’s wife wrote:
“After serving five years in the U.S. Coast Guard as a helicopter flight mechanic in Alaska, Randy returned to Missouri to continue to help people by joining the Missouri State Water Patrol. Since leaving the Water Patrol academy, Randy was assigned to work the Lake of the Ozarks, where he has been for over 29 years. During his career, Randy has been recognized by the Missouri Department of Public Safety as Employee of the Month and given a meritorious service commendation, as well as several other honors. Randy has always been dedicated to serving the public in a professional manner, whether it is assisting a family after a horrible boating accident or taking an impaired boater off the water.
In 2011, when the Water Patrol was merged into the Highway Patrol, a much larger agency, Randy was very supportive of this change, thinking the public would be served better by a single, consolidated agency. However, after the tragic death of Brandon Ellingson in May 2014 and the ensuing cover-up by the Highway Patrol and others, Randy no longer feels that way. He has decided to break the blue code of silence so that Brandon’s family and friends can know what really happened on that fateful day and in the investigation of Brandon’s death.“
So how do we know Henry is telling the truth about where the fault lies for Brandon’s death? The video from the camera on the boat could normally be reviewed, but the camera wasn’t working. Just as in almost every other in-custody death, the SD card was missing, or the camera was out for maintenance, or a magnet destroyed the video, or it was misplaced, or terrorists stole it because they hate us for our freedom, or some other complete lie. The stories behind malfunctioning cameras are reaching epidemic proportions in this country. For the sake of clarity, in this case the officer claims the SD card was missing.
Luckily, we don’t have to take Sgt. Henry’s word for it. Trooper Anthony Piercy, the officer that took Brandon into custody, called his supervisor a short time after the incident and a mic recorded his part of the conversation. He was so concerned about his activities that he was worried about losing his job. He wasn’t worried about going to jail because cops don’t go to jail for wrongdoing while wearing a badge. Some of the most important quotes from the conversation are:
“I probably did a bunch of things wrong there,”
“I guess, so, keep me posted on if I’m still going to be employed or what’s going on.”
What was Sgt. Henry’s sin? Aside from attempting to tell the truth, he advocated for officers to receive better training before being put on the water.
Those of us that are concerned with police accountability always say “I’ll start believing there are good cops when they start exposing the bad.” We’ve been presented with an officer that is putting his name, career, pension, and livelihood on the line to obtain justice. We need to protect him as if he was one of our own because he is one of our own. He’s fighting the same fight we are. We need to make sure this officer has every resource he needs to get the truth out.
That means doing everything we would do if this was an activist being harassed. We need to be contacting the Missouri Highway Patrol, we need to be contacting the Attorney General, we need to make sure he’s protected legally, and we need to be prepared to investigate and make public any past or future wrongdoing by anybody that attempts to tamper with this witness.
The fundraiser that was set up by community members is designed to pay his lawyers directly. If there is any money left over, it will be donated to the West Des Moines Community Schools Scholarship for Brandon Ellingson, a scholarship set up to honor the memory of Brandon Ellingson, the young man that died while in custody of the Missouri Water Patrol. Yes, you read that correctly. Any excess money doesn’t go to the Fraternal Order of Police or some other cop charity. It goes to a scholarship honoring the victim.
If the movement for police accountability is going to make any meaningful reform, we have to be prepared to back up the few good apples with the same ferocious dedication that we use to attack bad cops.
There’s a petition available here requesting a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding Brandon’s death.
To the Missouri Highway Patrol: You need to back off and let this officer present his testimony without being harassed. At this point, your department’s activities have been nothing short of witness tampering. Anything less than adhering to the law and allowing the truth to surface will result in your department receiving a press funded enema that will flush out every illegal, immoral, and unethical activity your department has ever been involved with.