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 was 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 Fifth Column published the above in June as part of an article profiling the community’s fundraiser for the officer who wouldn’t let the young man’s death go unanswered. That fundraiser succeeded in raising almost $9000 for the Sgt. Henry’s legal defense fund. Sgt. Henry penned an open letter after winning the legal battle brought on by the department seeking revenge. It is published below in full:
Dear Brandon Ellingson supporters,
There are no words to express my appreciation and thanks for the comments, support, and contributions to my defense of the bogus internal charges that were filed against me by the MSHP. Effective today, I will have completed my Water Patrol career of 29 years and 11 months.
On May 31, 2014 at approximately 5:15 pm, I, along with the rest of the world never would have imagined what happened to Brandon Ellingson, and how it affected so many people. I also never thought my career would be defined by this horrific crime. But, it did and here we are. This has always been about Brandon Ellingson. Even with the ensuing and outrageous behavior by members of the MSHP, I have never lost focus of what or who this is ultimately about. I hired the best defense attorney I know of to defend me, because I knew the MSHP would try everything they could to discredit me so they would prevail in the civil litigation, just as they made every attempt to discredit Brandon Ellingson in the Coroner’s inquest, but failed. They used these same tactics against me, but in the end, they failed to realize their efforts were just more of the same behavior they had been demonstrating since Tony Piercy killed Brandon.
I am trying hard not to harbor any ill feelings toward my accusers. I have turned the page and want to fully focus on where the MSHP doesn’t want to go, Justice For Brandon Ellingson. As I have mentioned before, there will be no winners in any of this. I was vindicated as the MSHP knew their case would not withstand scrutiny in a neutral court of law, but it was not a victory. Hopefully, those responsible for the death of Brandon Ellingson, and the ensuing cover-up will have to answer for their crimes in both criminal and civil courts. The system failed Brandon Ellingson, his family, and society in general. It is our responsibility to ensure this never happens again.
Obviously, I owe Chet Pleban, and his law partner, Lynette Petruska, who worked dilegently behind the scenes, a tremendous amount of gratitude. Chet worked on this case tirelessly, working numerous hours pro-bono. He has a deep and sincere interest in this case. I also don’t think we would have prevailed without the help of Leslie Chamberlin, Lori Ellingson Calluzi, Jodie Gratias, and Lori Hayden for their extensive work on this Facebook support page. Believe me, this page and media links contained within it were brought up in Judge Beetem’s chambers. I just smiled while Chet responded like no other person could. The combined effort of everyone who supported Brandon Ellingson and myself obviously made the difference in the outcome of this situation.
Thank you so much.
Sergeant, Missouri State Water Patrol, Retired
Personal Note: I’m not exactly someone who would be called “a friend to law enforcement.” It should be noted that prior to writing the article in June, The Fifth Column checked with members of the community about Sgt. Henry’s past. We asked about any possible use of force issues and if anyone was aware of him breaking any rules or laws. One person indicated that Sgt. Henry had stopped while on duty and helped fix an issue with a stalled boat for a citizen. “He was on the clock, so that was probably against some kind of rule.” The stalled boat certainly could have been a safety issue, but from we were able to gather about Sgt. Henry he was just being neighborly. In other words, the guy is Andy Griffith. It appears that Sgt. Henry will be making good on his promise to obtain justice for Brandon Ellingson.